Femme Fatale
by Doranna Durgin, Virginia Kantra, and Meredith Fletcher; contemporary (2003)
Silhouette, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-21850-8


As an avid fan of stories about espionage and spy stuff, I have some qualms about picking this book up - Femme Fatale is a Silhouette book after all - but the beautiful cover and the fact that I've always wanted to read a Virginia Kantra book (I've heard so much good things about the author) finally make me purchase this book. This is an anthology of female spies working for the Stony Man Farm finding love while kicking terrorist and crime kingpin ass. Reminding myself that this is a Silhouette book and so I should really lower my expectations to a generous negative value, I begin to read.

The first story is Doranna Durgin's Shaken And Stirred. I wait for the heroine to do stupid things. I wait for her to scream and shriek and get kidnapped by the bad guys. I hope the hero saves her and ends my torture quick... hey, wait a minute, what on earth? The heroine Bethany Riggs, codename Flashdancer, actually kicks ass! She is really good! She is smart! She flirts! Goodness, how many cosmic laws has Ms Durgin broken by now? I mean, is it natural that a spy heroine acts like one cool and smartass spy?

I give a whoop of joy and start all over again, and Shaken And Stirred is pure fun. Beth is a dancer that extrapolates her talents in performing and doing flexible things with her body to be a good spy who knows her disguises, undercover performances, and deadly martial arts. She's also sharp and smart, and while she has the hots for British M16 agent Jason Chandler, she never lets this attraction zaps her brain cells into grey matter omelette. These two agents meet when an informant dies during her rendezvous with Beth and Jason mistakes Beth for the murderer. This misunderstanding clears after Beth has caused Jason to fall down unconscious and fled to reevaluate her situation. Soon Jason begins tailing after her as she tries to track down information that will put away a terrorist kingpin.

This one is a cute cat-and-mouse tale with plenty of old-fashioned sexual tension mixed with rivalry and antagonism that slowly melt away into mutual admiration. Jason is the by-the-book type, while Beth is the maverick sort without going all stupid, and they are a pleasure to read. My only quibble is that this one is way too short.

Meredith Fletcher's The Get-Away Girl is a little more grim in the tone but just as fun, as the built and strong heroine Kylee Swain is an undercover agent, expert martial art practitioner, and stuntwoman all in one. While trying to sneak into a terrorist boss' yacht one night - after kicking ass in some gratuitous kungfu babe scene that is just so cool - she encounters the Australian ex-agent turned mercenery Mick Stone who's the baddie's chief bodyguard. He finds himself trying to protect her as she tries to put his employer in the slammer where everybody waits for him to pick up the soap.

This story has some really amazing action scenes - the one where Kaylee handles a speeding vehicle even as bullets fly, for example - but it doesn't really work too well in a novella format. I can imagine some readers - not me, though - feeling less than understanding for a hero that willingly lets himself be employed by a terrorist kingpin. Mick isn't an Anne Stuart type hero and that's because there's just no room for the author to develop him much here. I'm not the type to demand that my heroes and heroines be absolute paragons, but I am often bewildered by the motivations of a man clearly with some scruples left working for a man he knows to be scum of the Earth. I can't help thinking that Mick could have been a fascinating hero if the author has time to flesh him out more.

As it is, The Get-Away Girl is a pretty entertaining read even at a superficial level. Kylee isn't a waif in any means - her "Get-Away Girl" moniker describes her ability to get out of trouble. Mike, opaque characterization aside, has an irritating tendency to call Kaylee "sheila" (remember, he's Australian - or so Ms Fletcher will remind me ad nauseum in the story. And why Australian? Hugh Jackman is hot, but he'll still be hot if he hails from Andorra. Australia has nothing to do with anything, right?). Still, he's alright.

The biggest disappointment is Virginia Kantra's End Game. Victoria Grayson is undercover in a quest to nab a drug kingpin when she meets Bishop Taylor, a DEA agent who could darn well blow her cover if he chooses. This one is disappointing because Victoria is such a moo-moo. After two spy babes that kick ass and make no apologies for being as good as their male counterparts, Victoria's constant state of babbling insecurities, nervousness, lack of confidence, and a supremely annoying tendency to let her emotions override her brainpower - UGH! I could barely finish this one, and I forced myself to only to see if Ms Kantra will redeem the story. But no luck there, I'm afraid. Of all three novellas, Ms Kantra's is the most tiresome and the heroine is more of a too-ubiquitous stereotypical "no brain, too emotional" idiot that is more like a quota system pity recruit than anything else.

So in the end, the heroines of Femme Fatale are like two Charlie's Angels and their stupid sister. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the novellas by Ms Durgin and Ms Fletcher. While Meredith Fletcher is a comparatively new author to romance (Meredith Fletcher is actually Mel Odom's pseudonym), Ms Durgin writes novel tie-ins for Angel and Buffy. I make it a habit never to touch TV and movie tie-ins, but it seems appropriate that Ms Durgin will write a supremely kickass dynamo agent heroine for her story here. Virginia Kantra's story is the most derivative and the closest to following the "damsel in distress" formula. Ms Kantra's novella is an aberration.

Still, two out of three isn't bad at all. I suspect that fans of kickass heroines like Farscape's Aeryn, old Buffy, that Alias nitwit when she's not crying, old Dana Scully, Lara Croft, Xena, and other proud and strong women will enjoy this anthology as much as I did. It's really too bad that Silhouette hasn't just excised Ms Kantra's novella to free a little more room for the other two authors to make their novellas a little longer.

Rating: 88


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