Off Limits
by Michele Albert, contemporary (2003)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-82056-0


Alright, Michele Albert, confess: you pinched Carrie Feron and stole her lunchbox when you two were kiddies in the playground, didn't you? I can't think of any explanation as to how a publishing house known for savvy marketing can screw up this author's book - what, six times in a row now? Michelle Jerott or Michele Albert or whatever she will call herself next now that she's with another publisher is actually a pretty good author.

Her characters are smart people, both male and female characters, mind you. Her plots are generally well thought out when two out of three "romantic suspense" books out there have the main characters running around like idiots while a serial killer yawns in the background. But explain to me how this author gets the worst covers ever and the worst distribution ever (there's a very good reason why this book is the last Avon book I manage to buy this month). You'd think this author is some dirty linen the way Avon doesn't know what to do with her.

Anyway, let's go on with this one, Michele Albert's swansong for Avon. Off Limits is about Bobby Halloran, the maverick cop with baggages, crossing paths with Emma Frey, the by-the-book cop of the New Orleans Police Department. Emma is not too pleased when she's partnered with this guy who doesn't dress right, speak right, or act right in what seems like a simple case of missing person. But this case soon turns out to be a little more complicated than she'd initially expected. How lucky for her and Bobby that they both kick-ass in all the ways that count.

The main problem I have with this book, like the same problem I have with this author's last few books, is that the pacing can be very uneven at times. When the book is slow, boy, it's really excruciatingly slow. When the pace kicks up, it's like an adrenaline-powered rollercoaster ride. But there's a simple kind of pleasure in reading about two smart and capable main characters that don't come off like superheroes. Bobby is tortured, but he remains very human under the weight of his baggages, and there's never a question of him being anything but a knight in very rusty and tarnished armor. Emma, however, doesn't need a rescuer as much as she could use a helpful ally. She's smart just like she should be, she being a good cop and all, and there's no outlandish dumbing down of her character for the sake of "exciting" drama.

Despite its very uneven pacing, Off Limits is a lovely read because it's so refreshingly honest in portraying its characters as capable and noble characters that love each other - no gimmicks, no deliberate sequel baits begging me to buy their upcoming books, just a story that's supposed to entertain the readers of this book and only this book. A friend remarked that this insolent reluctance of the author to write inane but bestselling romantic suspenses is the cause of her downfall. I can only hope that somehow, this author finds the audience she deserves and makes Avon really look silly for dropping her in favor of two more Julia Quinn clones in their roster. Off Limits is a lamentable testament as to how an underrated author can continue to fly under the radar for all the wrong reasons.

Rating: 85


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