Once A Thief
by Kay Hooper, contemporary (2002)
Bantam, $7.50, ISBN 0-553-58511-8


This is so wrong. From the foreword, Kay Hooper clearly intends to rewrite her early 1990 Loveswept series Men Of Mysteries Past for a "wider" (read: non-romance reading) audience, but what she actually does is to take Hunting The Wolfe in this book and squash out all the fun bits, leaving a dry, soulless husk of a book. In fact, I don't know what the author is thinking. If she wants to put the cat burglar Quinn in the main billing, she shouldn't have kept him so much in the background.

Oh, and I should warn you, the story here will continue onwards into the next book, Always A Thief (out in early 2003). That one is no doubt an expanded edition of (maybe) The Trouble With Jared and (definitely) All For Quinn glued together. The first book in the original quartet, The Touch Of Max, is barely, er, touched in Always A Thief.

This story revolves around an exhibition of priceless art and gem stuff called Mysteries Past. These are the people that share the limelight in this story: Maxim Bannister is the millionaire who owns the priceless stuff in the museum. Wolfe Nickerson is the womanizing head of security. Jared Chavalier hangs around acting all mysterious. Storm Tremaine is the computer expert who may or may not be a double agent, much to Wolfe's consternation. Morgan West is the exhibit director. Quinn is the infamous cat burglar who will be drawn to the exhibition.

And yes, Interpol is keeping a close eye on them all. In fact, this whole exhibition has a more sinister intent: it is a bait to lure Quinn out in the open.

In the original quartet, the first book, The Touch Of Max has Max falling for a traumatized woman who is also a mole. The second book, Hunting The Wolfe, has Storm getting Wolfe all hot and bothered even as she plays intrigue like a deft hand. Book three, The Trouble With Jared is Jared's story. In all these three books, there is a running subplot of Morgan West and Quinn crossing each other's parts in a relationship that is flirty as much as it is antagonistic. The culmination of their relationship is the adorable finale, All For Quinn.

Once A Thief starts out sometime after Max's honeymoon. Readers of the original quartet will recognize the set-up as the early stages of Hunting The Wolfe. Ms Hooper, however, removes most of the romance, adds in more "suspense", and in the process reduces everyone - Wolfe, Storm, Morgan, Quinn - into dull, stock romantic suspense characters. Actually, the suspense is pretty dense and unsophisticated, just like in the original quartet, but the quartet redeems itself with its zany characters and high-wire premises. Here, the suspense is dull, the characters are flat, so this is pretty much the equivalent Ms Hooper taking an AK-47 and shooting to smithereens her collection of priceless Ming vases.

For a guy who's supposed to be the star, Quinn remains a murky fellow in the background. The best parts of this book are the ones that are lifted with little modifications from the original books, while the author's "enhanced content" are dull, unexciting chase scenes, Wolfe looking serious, Storm looking lost, and Morgan exasperated. When Ms Hooper adds in some psychic stuff, I throw my hands up in disgust.

What happened to the beguiling, mischievous Storm? The self-effacing Morgan who's a mix of Pamela Anderson and a Harvard scholar? The witty and debonair Quinn? Max and Jared don't even register.

Frankly, I don't care for this book at all. If this is what "shades of gray, ambiguities of motives and personality" (as Ms Hooper puts it in her foreword as she explains why she wants to rewrite the books the way she wants them to be written) is, I'd say Ms Hooper got it right. This book is gray, its motives are ambiguous, and the characters' personalities are so ambiguous they are in fact pretty much forgettable!

Bravo, Ms Hooper! A splendid job indeed. Now let me toss this book aside and cross off Always A Thief from my to-buy list and go reread the original Men Of Mysteries Past.

I gotta love it when these ex-romance authors go all suspense-y and then - woo-hoo, inspiration - take out their old books, strip off all the romance stuff to the point of NC-17 nudity, and then happily proclaim that the final results are what they always wanted to write in the first place, clueless to the fact that when they remove the romance from their books - the only thing that made them good - what's left aren't that good at all. I'd find the whole thing amusing if I hadn't forked out $7.50 for this book.

Rating: 53


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