by Colleen Collins, contemporary (2013)
Harlequin Superromance, $5.75, ISBN 978-0-373-71893-1
The first published book by this author, ages ago, was a romantic comedy set in Las Vegas, and it made me laugh so hard. Then, after a while it became hard to find category books from Harlequin - this was before Book Depository and free international shipping - so I lost touch with the author, until now. And this happens to be another romantic comedy set in Las Vegas. Cute.
Valerie LeRoy wants to be a private investigator, but so far she's still an apprentice, working to getting her license under the mentorship of the famous Jayne Diamond. She has a problem with following rules, and with her being a heroine in a romance novel, she naturally has money problems. Surely it's harmless to accept a honey trap assignment in Jayne's absence? The money is good.
Oops, it turns out that Valerie has been misled. Her client set up her to distract our hero, Drake Morgan, so that some dude affiliated with the mob can burn his house down. Drake, you see, is a PI who wants to take the guy down. Once, he was a gambling addict and his parents hawked his mother's ring to his guy to repay Drake's loan. Drake wants the ring back. He also wants the guy taken down so that his brother is entangled in that guy's scheme and he wants to put an end to that. He can't bring the cops into the picture, because that won't be manly, so he's in this alone.
Until he ends up being Valerie's new mentor - her old mentor has some personal issues, let's just say - so now it's him and the exasperating but hot girl against the world. Can these two Scarecrow and Mrs King wannabes do their thing and get a happy ending?
The story is a pretty entertaining one, although the romance is actually pretty lightweight. The characters have a superficial connection. The author does a pretty good job fleshing out the main characters, although I'm still not sure whether it's deliberate on her part to have the heroine turn out to be annoying at many instances.
I mean, Valerie isn't halfway capable, but the story ends up over-rewarding her and making her seem like the private eye of the year, when in truth the hero carries her through most of the story and, when she's left to her own devices, he wisely keeps her in the dark about what he is really doing. Normally I'd wish for the heroine to be more pro-active in a story, but Valerie has a tendency to act first, regret later. I'm still not sure whether she's learned her lesson by the end, hence my wondering whether all the high praise heaped on her in the end is warranted. There seems to be a disconnect between how I see her and the author sees her.
Drake isn't that smart either - and really, what's with that name? The whole one guy against the mob thing - and all mostly for a ring - seems pretty silly to me. But at least when he says he'd do something, he gets it done well, so that's something. Valerie doesn't have that luxury, as she's forced into the role of a "cute" and "sassy" heroine who is often too impulsive and emotional for her job. The fact that Valerie has a tendency to burst into tears has me thinking that she'd probably better off in another vocation. Maybe making coffee for her boss?
Having said that, Valerie is a pretty well-drawn heroine, even if the, er, drawing of her is an annoying example of feisty gone wrong. So is Drake. It's disappointing, therefore, that these characters don't have much chemistry here. I'm told repeatedly that they are attracted to one another, but it's a quick progression from lust to love without any credible build up.
The story has some zany turns in the plot, and there are some amusing moments to enjoy. But the romance is pretty flat, and the heroine's unfortunately stuck playing the newbie who, at the same time, has an overinflated opinion of her own capabilities. All things considered, this one falls squarely into the average territory.
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