by Patti Berg, contemporary (2004)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-054476-7
Patti Berg dips into humorous "tough heroine kicks ass" romantic suspense in I'm No Angel but the result is a book that tries to be too many things and the overall package just doesn't feel too convincing.
Angel Devlin is a private investigator whose clients mainly consists of rich Palm Springs folks. Her latest dealings with mega-billionaire Holt Hudson however is of a less sinister nature: she is helping him organize a fund-raiser for an Alzheimer's disease research foundation. Holt's wife and Angel's mother suffer from this disease so both Angel and Holt are putting their extra effort into this fund-raiser. But crashing the event is Tom Donovan, Holt's godson. Tom and Holt aren't on speaking terms anymore because Tom's father broke into Holt's house twenty-six years ago and Holt shot dead the thief as a result. Tom believes that his father Chase wasn't trying to steal a statue from Holt's house that particular night and he intends to discover the real story behind his father's death. He isn't above trying to use Angel to do this. Angel wants nothing to do with Tom's plan, but drats, why does she have to feel attracted to him?
Angel and Tom are characters in every sense of the word. Tom, for example, is a former alligator-wrestler and he lives with his grandfather in an alligator farm that they both run. An inheritance has made Tom a billionaire (seriously!), as if him giving a poor gator the Undertaker treatment isn't "What on earth?" enough. Meanwhile, because you can't be a tough gal in a romance novel without having some baggages to go with the slice of tough, Angel's ex-husband Dagger Zane treated her badly and had sex with her while pressing his dagger against her neck. At least she doesn't nude mud-wrestle with midget hippos, I guess. The characters' backgrounds are too over-the-top and their actions and behaviors often coming too close to being farcical, which is good if this book is supposed to be a farce, but at the same time, the author tries to inject some sobriety into her story with that Alzheimer's disease theme in a manner that contrasts sharply with the farcical elements of the story. The mystery is actually sober rather than farcical too, with a rather nice twist thrown in late in the story. Again, this doesn't gel with the often over-the-top nature of the main characters.
Ms Berg can't seem to make up her mind whether she wants me to laugh, be serious, or be intrigued. Of course, she can try and make me do all three with her story, but I'm No Angel suffers from a case of multiple-personalities. It is trying to be Stephanie Plum, Alias, and a Hallmark drama of love and family all at one time but instead of coming off like a multi-faceted story, I'm No Angel is too much of a bewildering kitchen sink book instead. The characters are often too cartoonishly tortured, which makes this book come off like a bastard offspring of a Catherine Anderson novel and a Silhouette Bombshell book.
Throughout everything, Angel and Tom manage to exude great chemistry and sexual tension, which is the only reason why I don't consider this book an outright mess. Ms Berg isn't above crippling Angel with some frustrating "feminine" (read: silly and visceral) moments but Angel and Tom do have a nice thing going here. It is just too bad that their baggages are too much of a fabricated kind of quirky and their actions off the bed have a premeditated "let's be a wacky kind of tough" feel to them.
I'm No Angel isn't a particularly bad book, just a book without a clear and definite mood or voice. It can't make up its mind whether to be over the top, under the line, left of the middle, or right of center and the result is a totally disoriented me. Still, the signs have been there in Patti Berg's previous few books that she is heading towards the comedic romantic suspense route and I'm No Angel is her first outright dip in that direction. I'll just be nice and chalk this book up as the result Ms Berg's tentative experimentation in that direction and wait for a few more books to see how things will go from here. Hopefully she'll find a way to put the comedic, suspenseful, and dramatic elements in her next book in a more cohesive manner.
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