by Genie Davis, contemporary (2006)
Zebra, $3.99, ISBN 0-8217-7977-X
The Model Man is Genie Davis' debut offering from Zebra, which is why this book is priced at $3.99. Zebra wants everyone to try out their debut authors, you see. I don't know why Zebra chooses to market this book as a contemporary romance because while there is a romantic element in the story, the story is narrated in first person (the heroine Christy Harris is telling the story - she's the "I" in this story) and offers the reader not a single peek into what the hero Joe is thinking, and the bulk of the story focuses on a murder mystery rather than the romance. I'd say this book is better off marketed as a cozy mystery or a chick-lit style romantic suspense. I'm not anal about categorization a book, mind you, I'm just saying all this so that readers will know what to expect from this book after they read this review. This book is a little bit more mystery solving than kissing-and-loving.
Another tell-tale sign that this isn't your average romance novel is that Christy really wants to be an actress since she was sixteen but when her big break in LA never came, she soon moved on to working for telemarketing conmen before graduating to her own (charlatan) psychic service when she's not sneaking into parties using pilfered invitations to help her friend Louie steal some expensive crates of champagne to be sold off. And get this, the heroine does all this without a single shred of remorse and she certainly doesn't have any sick grandmothers or pathetic hungry siblings to take care of - as one would expect a typical romance heroine will feel and will have. There is no pearl-clutching here about sins and guilt, people.
Christy is doing well in her "career" when she gets an extraordinary client: a detective from Texas, Joe, wants her to help him get some information using her psychic gifts by accompanying him to the site of a murder. Christy happened by chance to read about this murder in a trashy newspaper while she was working at the telemarketer's place recently so she manages to come up with some half-baked psychic mumbo-jumbo thingie that she hopes will placate Joe. Besides, she thinks Joe is cute. Libido soon overwhelms common sense and those two have sex right after leaving the murder site. Joe will soon drag Christy into an adventure involving dead bodies, missing ill-gotten money, and more.
The Model Man is a very interesting story in the sense that it is definitely not a typical romance novel or a romantic suspense story. The closest I can think of for comparison purpose are Stephanie Bond's chicklit-mystery hybrid stories for Avon. The mystery in this story is actually very intriguing because it involves the death of a former good-looking and popular male physique and fashion model Ricky LittleJohn (yeah, go ahead and snigger) who soon crashed hard due to drugs and bad company to the point that who knows what he did that led to his death. While Joe is predictably not who he claims to be and his role in the events leading up to Ricky's murder is very easy to guess early on, the mystery itself offers plenty of interesting and even macabre twists and turns. Ricky is also a pathetic yet fascinating character - he's like the star of a story created from the mating of a Jackie Collins novel and a Leonard Elmore novel. The snippets from the trashy newspaper about Ricky's life are too funny and clearly my favorite moments in this story.
But while I like the overall premise of the story, Ms Davis fails to keep the momentum of her story going. The first third of The Model Man is good - there are many moments of cynical and effective one-liners that set up the tone of the story nicely while Christy is being set up as an intelligent heroine. I also love how Christy describes how she obtains those party invitations - Ms Davis makes everything sounds so easy that I am tempted to move to LA and party the rest of my life there while pretending that I'm Angela Lansbury's long-lost stepsister from Hong Kong.
Unfortunately, despite her understandable reservations about taking on an assignment with a cop, Christy soon succumbs to lust and sleeps with Joe. That's okay, we're in LA after all. But then Ms Davis tries to pass off the attraction between those two as something more than lust, at least on Christy's part, and that I just cannot buy. Christy doesn't even know his last name! Love? Please. And by getting her main characters to hit the sack so soon, Ms Davis cuts off any sexual tension that could have been built, instead reducing the love story to scenes of Christy waiting by the phone and wondering when Joe will call. Yes, yes, I know that's typical in real life but come on, if I want real life I'd go watch Dr Phil. Also, instead of Christy and the reader discovering the extent of Joe's feelings for her, the "romance" is now reduced to waiting and finding out the extent of Joe's lies. And trust me, Joe lies a lot to Christy in this story. Therefore, at the end of the day, Christy knows only one thing about Joe: he lied to her about pretty much everything throughout this story. Ms Davis then has Christy and Joe happily going off into the sunset! Excuse me?
Yes, Christy is lying here and there for a while about her identity to Joe early on in this story so she has no right to want honesty from Joe. My point is, she doesn't know anything about him at the end of the day and it's the same for him when it comes to her as well. The happy ending, therefore, is not even a little convincing. Personally I'd prefer that the two characters start all over again by the end on a clean slate and begin dating like normal people would just to see if they can really click under ordinary circumstances. Christy's easy acceptance of the "true love" between her and Joe is too cavalier for me, especially when she is intelligent enough to know that Joe has been lying non-stop to her to the point that he deliberately places her in danger without warning her about what he is doing. Her "So what, I lied too!" attitude is bizarre because while she lies, she doesn't send Joe marching blindfolded to the firing squad, so to speak, while he does that to her. Since I have no access to what Joe is thinking, all I know is that he lies and she thinks it's okay because she loves him and she's convinced that he loves her too. Ms Davis is not going to sell me a happily-ever-after under these circumstances - no amount of contrived scenes of cuddling under the night sky can convince me, I'm afraid.
The villains are cartoonish to the point that they are more ridiculous than menacing and the author also commits the classic mistake of having the villains taking time to explain their entire plot to our main characters at gunpoint. Until the denouement when our villains turn into Looney Tunes baddies and they start expounding and even cackling as they reveal their plots with glee to our main characters (give me a break), the mystery is most rivetting. I find myself intrigued enough to keep turning the pages. I'm disappointed with the cartoonish pay-off but on the whole, the mystery is an entertaining one to follow. Ms Davis also has a very nice, sharp, and catty sense of humor that I enjoy. This book has plenty of delicious lines that have me chuckling, although I confess that I stop chuckling as the story progresses because when it's clear that the hero is giving the heroine nothing back in return but lies and more lies, suddenly the story isn't that funny anymore.
I feel that Genie Davis cutting off the budding romance by forcing Christy and Joe to hit the sack pretty much at the very moment they meet is that one huge mistake that the rest of the book never fully recovers from. Instead of getting the main characters developing a credible bond of affection between them, now Christy has to spend her time figuring out just how much Joe has lied and how much more he is continuously lying to her. This isn't exactly the best way to sell a romance story if you ask me - it's more like the standard storyline in a season of The Bachelor.
Therefore, I'd say this. The Model Man is an entertaining cozy mystery story with a throwaway romantic subplot, although the denouement to this mystery could have been done with so much better, or at least in a less cartoonish manner. The heroine can be quite gullible at times to Joe's deception but she can piece together clues very quickly and on the whole she's a sharp lady with a cynical wit. With humor and an interesting mystery subplot, I'd say that The Model Man is a pretty good read especially for readers wanting something a little different from the usual stories featuring serial killers and overly-tortured unhappy main characters. Just don't expect too much of a romance, though, because that's what this book fails to deliver. An entertaining read, yes; a good romance, no.
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