by Thea Devine, historical (1991)
Zebra, $4.50, ISBN 0-8217-3467-9
Thea Devine's Angel Eyes, published back in 1991, is stylistically so different from her books today that it is as if someone has kidnapped Thea Devine a few years back and replaced her with that malfunctioning robot that can't write in anything but choppy sentences. There are no italicized fragmented sentences in Angel Eyes. There are actually paragraphs and complete sentences here, fancy that!
The themes in this book are typically Ms Devine's though: sordid family secrets, erotic love scenes, and a dumb bunny heroine. However, the sordidness, the sensuality, and the heroine's state of nitwittery are on a more realistic scale compared to the recent more over-the-top books of Ms Devine's. So in a way, I get a better story with characters that, well, resemble human beings just a little bit, but when it comes to sensuality and purely campy pleasure, Angel Eyes is tame compared to the author's later books. There is one added obstacle the reader has to get through in this book: the heroine is really hard to like, even when compared to the usual likability levels of Ms Devine's main characters (which isn't that high in the first place).
Poor Angelene Scates! Her mother sent her away when she was a child to a convent to be raised as a fancy lady, but now Angelene has to return to her mother Josie's inn in Oak Bluff, Kentucky. She is not happy. Her mother expects her to clean and deal with customers at the inn and That Will Not Do for Angelene who knows she is destined for Better Things. Ms Devine gives Angelene a good reason to flee her family: the twin brothers Raso and Tice are very simple men who leer at her and make her uneasy, her other brother Bobby has suspicious motives, and her mother Josie direct her boys to kill the men that frequent their inns and keep these men's money and possessions. But Angelene is already putting on that I'm Too Good For My Family, I Want To Leave airs before these sordid details come to light, so she's already rubbing me off the wrong way the moment she appears in the first chapter and starts whining.
Angelene flees to her estranged grandmother's place - even when she's desperate, she never forgets that she's destined for Pretty Things and her rich grandmother can give her these Pretty Things - with the aid of misogynist alpha dude Rake Cardigan. With a name like Rake, he must be a tool, after all. They have plenty of sex, Angelene's brothers go on a killing spree, and Rake has his secrets too. Can Angelene find Pretty Things that she knows she is destined for? Can Rake swallow up his ego and marry a woman who is richer than he is? Why should I care? He's a tool and she's a materialistic self-absorbed bitch, but Ms Devine acts as if they are good people I should root for. This lack of self-awareness on the author's part is what makes her characters hard to like. They are tools who act as if they're hoity-toity righteous people instead.
Despite the main characters' profession of love, there is very little chemistry to convince me of their grand love. Angelene is too devoted in pursuing wealth and status that everything, including Rake, comes off as a stepping stone for her. The author has Angelene making an unconvincing turnaround when she thinks that she's in love with Rake and it is quite annoying that Ms Devine seems to operate under the assumption that a woman can be in love or in money but not be both, never both. Rake is more bent on assuaging his ego - he abandons Angelene he feels that she doesn't deserve him (and naturally, she has no say in his decision) and walks back in when he finally has money and expects her to be grateful that he's back in her life.
In the meantime, Angelene is so cold and so obsessed in cultivating wealth and status for nearly the entire story that it is hard for me to view her to be as much in love with Rake as the author claims, not when Angelene is so self-absorbed and takes the people (including Rake) around her for granted really badly.
Angel Eyes is not the best book by this author. But maybe in what seems like a contradictory statement but in fact isn't, it's also one of the most well-written books by this author. Won't it be great if Ms Devine can find a happy middle ground, writing like she does in the 1990s while incorporating the sleazy sexual merry-go-rounds that make her later books such fun?
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