If You Dare
by Adrianne Byrd, contemporary (2004)
Harper, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-056537-3


Just what is it with authors jumping onto the romantic suspense subgenre when they are ill-equipped to do so? I imagine that there must be some seminar conducted by RWA where authors pay to be hypnotized into believing that they can write anything they put their mind to. Okay, maybe a few select authors can but Adrianne Byrd doesn't seem to be one of these authors if her debut Harper book is anything to go by. While her previous romantic suspense novels for Arabesque are decent because of the author's deft hand with characterization, here everything seems to be cobbled together from the most unbelievable overused plot devices around without rhyme or reason.

Our hero is a multimillionaire retired art thief Damien Black who is waffling about making one last stunt when he encounters the museum director Angel Lafonte. Since Damien's superhero name is La Fantome, I wonder what the author is thinking when she gives Angel's family name as Lafonte. "La Fantome shag-o-tante Lafonte" sounds like a deranged off-Broadway production where naked actors whack each other's posterior with feather dusters. From here, the story degenerates into a convoluted series of twists and turns that give me a migraine just from trying to recall them.

Among these contrived twists include Angel's brother hiring Damien to steal to cover Sean Lafonte's debts and Sean selling off Angel as a mistress to the bad guy. What a charmer, huh? Angel gets the thumbs up from me for telling her brother to take that skanky proposal and shove it where the sun doesn't shine, but that doesn't take away from the fact that these developments stand out like sore thumbs as very awkward plot devices designed to get Sean and Angel together and subsequently create conflicts for them in the most implausible manner possible. The suspense plot comes from someone actually carrying out the art heist and Sean getting implicated in the crime. And somewhere in the mess of awkward twists and turns, there's a charity auction, a cell phone switch, and other plot devices that are up there with canned laughter when it comes to being contrived.

Ms Byrd's strength is in the way she depicts the relationship between her main characters and their friends and family members and therefore, If You Dare feels natural, flows smoothly, and is great to read only during the quiet scenes when these characters are free to be real people without having to jump through plot hoops. Otherwise, If You Dare feels like an overly-staged overly choreographed Siegfried and Roy tiger show. Very little about the premise feels real and credible, especially in a book that is obviously not written to be campy. If Ms Byrd is keen on going down the romantic suspense route further, she needs to find a way to make her premise at least more credible if realism is not an option. If You Dare doesn't seem to be aware of how ridiculous it can be and this lack of self-awareness ultimately sinks this book.

Rating: 57


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