by Beverly Jenkins, contemporary (2005)
Harper, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-081593-0
Beverly Jenkins closes her first contemporary romance trilogy for Harper with Black Lace (the previous books in the series are The Edge Of Midnight and The Edge Of Dawn). In this book, Ms Jenkins demonstrates something of a first from her: her ability to write very funny banters and repartees between her main characters that come off as really contemporary. What I'm saying is, her characters really do feel like spirited and witty people of today. Not many historical authors can make the transition to contemporary romances with ease, but Ms Jenkins has no such problem here, evidently.
Black Lace starts off very powerfully that I am actually convinced that I have a keeper in my hands. Ms Jenkins describes our heroine Lacy Green stuck in a slow traffic one morning in Detroit City during a sudden snowstorm. This particular scene that goes on for a few pages are so vividly described and well-depicted that I actually start to feel like I'm stuck in traffic myself! The mayor of Detroit City is Dr Drake Randolph (Drake is a real medical practitioner, by the way, not some professor) who is also called "His Fineness" on the account of his good looks and ways with women. Lacy can think of other choice words starting with F, I'm sure, to call Drake when the driver of his vehicle ends up running Lacy off the down and down into a ditch that fine morning. Oops.
On the bright side, Drake is genuinely apologetic and would of course like to make amends the best way he knows, if you get my drift, especially when he's attracted to Lacy from the get go. Lacy is a little more wary, since she has been burned by a bad relationship with a handsome and charismatic but no-good politician before. Drake however is probably smooth enough to make sure that Lacy in her crutches won't get in the way of some good-old hands-on doctoring session, but what happens when Lacy, who is also the new Assistant Director at the Department of Environmental Enforcement (and she therefore reports to Drake), crosses some dirty politicians who won't hesitate to do whatever it takes to get their way?
Now, let's get this out of the way first: despite some rather stereotypical aspects of her characterization, like that bad ex-husband thingie, Lacy is a very nicely written heroine who is smart, independent, and career-oriented without too many bewildering neuroses about sex and love. She's a very nice heroine if you're looking for a strong, intelligent, and capable heroine in your romance novels. Drake, however, is in danger of being completely flat and one-dimensional in his utter perfection as a lover, hero, and champion of society. There isn't much drama in his romance with Lacy - it's pretty much a matter of time before the clothes fall off, let's just say. Speaking of clothes falling off, the sexual tension and the chemistry between the main characters are very nicely done. Those two characters really come off as two people that like as much as they lust after each other.
The biggest problem with this story is the romantic suspense element that drives the bulk of the plot. On the bright side, the plot now comes off something I would find in those 1980s crime drama TV series like Miami Vice rather than something more ridiculous and archaic that could have come straight from a nonsensical daytime soap like the plots of the previous two books. In a way, that's a step up, although I am not exactly being very complimentary here, as I'm sure you've noticed. The plot could have been better in today's climate of CSI, let me say, instead of reminding me that I sometimes miss the 1980s more than I should. However, despite the pretty obvious lack of suspense in the developments of the plot, the biggest boil in the butt of this story is the fact that the good guys and the bad guys are so well-distinguished from the first page that the good guys end up sharing the same thoughts and saying the same things to the point that they morph into one huge boring blob of Some Good People while the bad guys are so obviously bad that they too morph into a blur of Some Bad People. This story could really use a few variety in characterization and personalities. It's hard not to be bored by a book containing many secondary players that end up becoming nothing more than an extension of our main characters' soapbox. Also, Ms Jenkins telegraphs her villains' intentions so clearly that there is no suspense at all in this story.
This book is on shaky ground when the most complex character is the villain Reynard Parker whose background is less black-and-white than the main characters'. Reynard is a hard worker that fits the definition of a self-made man (okay, with the help of the lottery and a couple of shady business associates) even as he has this severe lack of scruples. He may not be a good man, but he's definitely an interesting character nonetheless, compared to the flatly perfect and goody-goody superhero Drake and the never a hair out of place missy that is Lacy. Now, I like Lacy and I like Drake, but sometimes too much of a one-dimensionally good thing translates to too little depths.
Perhaps if you prefer your romantic suspense on the slow and not-too-dramatic side, you'll enjoy Black Lace better than me. I personally find the characters very likable, but the story ends up just dragging on and on with the good guys becoming more and more obvious and one-dimensional that I find it too easy to tune out of the story (that is, apart from whenever Reynard makes an appearance and I become a little more interested in the story). A little variety in the good characters' thought processes and personalities and a litte less unanimous agreement among all of them will go a long way in making them come off as a little better than a jamboree of peace-loving Care Bears waiting to zap heart beams from their belly buttons at meanies out there that want to spoil the environment. I'm all for saving the environment, of course, but I'm not sure whether I want to get behind a story where I find myself half-expecting Drake to rip off his clothes to reveal that he's actually Captain Planet.
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