Wild At Heart
by Jane Graves, contemporary (2002)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-8041-1969-4


Her debut strikes me as pretty forgettable, but Jane Graves surprises me really with her follow-up Wild At Heart. If she has floored me herself with a super-powerful hook, it couldn't be any more glorious. I do some reservations about this book, but for the most part, it entertains me so well that I don't care that much after all.

It does start out a bit shaky because the hero Alex DeMarco, dumb jock name and arrogant swagger and all, comes off like a stereotypical twelve-cylinder alpha mule. A woman comes on really strong - think Sharon Stone with bigger icepick - on him, but when he rebuffs her, she drugs him - or did she? All goes black, but when he comes to, she's dead and the scene is such that everything points to him murdering her in some erotic asphyxiation thing gone wrong.

Our heroine Valerie Parker is a PI. She has been spying on the woman on behalf of the woman's husband, and she stumbles upon the scene of the crime. Worse, Alex was her old flame. Okay, not old flame. Try "The guy I had a mad crush on, he slept with me one night, and had my teachers kick me out of the police academy the next day".

It's all too Harlequin for me, and I tremble in fear as I turn the pages.

Still, for a romantic suspense, the suspense part is pretty well-written, even if it's another psycho woman thing. Jane Graves, in her photo, looks prettier than Adrian Lynne though. The suspense here isn't the usual linear serial killer kills woman - hee hee ha ha - nonsense: there are actually attempts to weave in flashbacks and other elements that make the whole formula feels less half-baked. The author also tries to build a more concrete past and characterization for her main characters. And she pretty much succeeds: Valerie is an able woman who for once is good at her job instead of being some accidental bimbo, and while Alex displays a smug sense of self-entitlement that puts me off and he tends to delve into self-pity too much for my liking, well, he ain't too bad either.

But the biggest failure here is the romance. Sure, Valerie has the right to be peeved at Alex over their past (sleeping with her and then fleeing as she learns that he's the one who helps her sexist superiors oust her out?), but she immediately falls back into her crush and starts trusting him over and over because... because of what, really? The guy's cute, but really, why? This is another author who uses the cheap "she can sense he's good so he's good" trick to evade the really difficult issues of her story. This is why I am not giving this book my full two thumbs up. The romance feels perfunctory, superficial, and entirely too one-sided: Valerie keeps giving and Alex just keeps taking. There's this "my man can't do wrong" feel to this story that annoys me.

Nonetheless, wow. Her debut, I Got You, Babe is filled with unfunny bad jokes and one-liners, but Ms Graves has stripped all that away to present a no-nonsense tale of romantic suspense. The suspense actually delivers. The heroine doesn't irritate or becomes a liability. In a morass of inept, badly written "Here comes serial killer, let's have sex, bwahahaha!" bandwagon romantic suspenses clogging the market, sometimes this is enough to make me raise this book over my head and burst into hallelujahs.

Rating: 84


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