Loverboy
by Michele Jaffe, contemporary (2004)
Ballantine, $14.95, ISBN 0-345-45923-7


Okay, how many of you went out and bought last year's Bad Girl? Maybe we should all get together and form a band specializing in cricket chirps because there can't be that many of us if Ballantine dares to show us all the finger by packaging Ms Jaffe's latest, Loverboy as a two-in-one volume with Bad Girl. On the upbeat side, Bad Girl is a really good book so this two-in-one omnibus is a better value for money for readers yet to purchase Bad Girl. On the down side, Loverboy is nowhere as good as Bad Girl - readers impatient for Ms Jaffe's romantic suspense follow-up may want to wait for the paperback edition.

Too many authors jump on the romantic suspense bandwagon when the subgenre is completely wrong for them, but Ms Jaffe's niche is definitely this subgenre compared to her wretched historical romances. While Loverboy is unfortunately implausible at too many places and the characters are nowhere as interesting as those in Bad Girl, it is still a very thrilling book so easy to lose myself into. Ms Jaffe's tendency to use skanky scenes, truncated sentences, and abrupt head-hoppings serves her well here. The result is a fast-paced and exciting read. Only when I make the mistake of pondering over what I've read does this book fall apart.

Imogen Page, our heroine, seems to be cobbled together from generic stereotypes of her kind: she's an ex-FBI agent who is tormented by the death of her brother called in to help profile and capture a serial killer, Loverboy, who has evaded the Feds five times before. The boyfriend in question is Benton Arbor, the friend of the missing nuclear physicist Rosalind Carnow who is suspected to be the latest victim of Loverboy. I'm sure either there's a dockside named after Benton or vice-versa. That or his parents are just pure sadistic fiends. Loverboy is sending happy parcels to Imogen, daring her to track him down and catch him. The clock is ticking, the pulse is rushing, and the game is on.

Unlike Bad Girl which emphasizes credible romantic suspense while humanizing the tormented main players in the story, Loverboy feels like a book cobbled together according to bestseller romantic suspense formula guidelines. Benton Arbor is a billionaire hero behaving like a nuisance busybody intruding into police procedures and everything about him, from his gratuitous super-duper wealth to his stilted alpha male dialogs, feels derivative - he's a stock Romantic Suspense Hero. Imogen is tormented like Prozac is running out of fashion but she doesn't come off as a person as much as a token Tortured Romantic Suspense Heroine. The suspense becomes more unbelievable as it progresses, with the villain becoming another cartoonish omnipotent super psycho. The identity of the villain is the biggest let-down of the story - it is begging for boos and howls of derision from the reader.

Loverboy has a lurid, exaggerated feel to it, which is okay if it wants to be another skanky, ultra-nasty romantic suspense where the main characters operate in a pressure cooker. Ms Jaffe writes a frenetically-paced story that delivers the appropriate thrills and scares but the suspense isn't as tightly-crafted as it should be and there is a very generic feel to the story. The bigger question may be this: is Mariah Carey going to sue over the whole Loverboy/"Those Ballantine scumbags copied my baby-tee idea... at least put in a rainbow, you bastards!" thing on the cover?

Rating: 73


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