by Leslie Kelly, contemporary (2006)
HQN, $5.99, ISBN 0-373-77133-9
Leslie Kelly's Here Comes Trouble is set in a very twisted smalltown called Trouble in Pennsylvania. How twisted is this place? Think of a sly and dark parody of your typical apple-pie and flag-waving smalltown common in contemporary romances. Trouble is eccentric, but the eccentricity can take a darker turn when the eccentric characters in question don't hesitate to do some really naughty things. There's a Hitchcock-like quality to Trouble that appeals to me greatly.
However, the biggest obstacle to this story is the premise of the story. Unfortunately, Here Comes Trouble is one of those stories where the set up is so ridiculous that some readers may not be able to look past it. I don't blame them, honestly.
Imagine this: our hero Max Taylor turns into a male equivalent of Paris Hilton after way too many drinks, if you know what I mean, and party it up like sex is going out of style and we will all have to revert to binary fission in order to procreate soon. All because of a bad divorce, you see. I can only imagine the pain of that poor man having to have sex bazillion times in order to drown his grief. This gets him in hot water when one of his conquests wrote a soon-to-be-published memoirs he is featured prominently in a chapter. When the memoirs are serialized in a tabloid prior to its publication, all kinds of strange Ladies Who Lunch throw themselves at him at the oddest places. He decides to get his lawyer to stop the publication of the novel. In the meantime, he decides to retreat to somewhere safe when he can be a very good boy in order to help his lawyer's case against the publisher, Liberty Books.
Our heroine Sabrina Cavanaugh is the editor of that book in question. When Max's lawyer starts to give Liberty Books problems, Sabrina's boss, the chief editor, suggests that Savannah goes to play some temptress to demonstrate that Max is indeed the degenerate playboy the book portrayed him as. That way, the book gets published, Sabrina gets promoted, and feminism is kicked back some fifty years! Hurrah! Naturally, Sabrina intends to do this by charming this Max, whose face she hasn't even seen clearly, into wanting her while keeping her clothes on. Funny me, here I am thinking that for the plan to work, a carefully placed hidden camera in a motel room to capture the X-rated bouncings involving at least seven different girls and a couple of lifestock going on in the bed is the least Sabrina has to do to prove in court that Max is some hedonistic degenerate. What will Max being attracted to a dim-witted junior editor prove other than his lamentable tastes in women?
And won't the court be thrilled if they learn of Liberty Books' attempts at sabotaging Max's case?
It is a sad, sad day when Max's father the very rich Mortimer Potts buying the small town of Trouble is the most reasonable thing in the set-up of this story. Anyway, Max rushes to Trouble hoping to discourage his father from yet another one of the man's silly escapades and Sabrina is on her way there too to find Max. Meanwhile, Sabrina's noble excuse for her half-hearted attempt to prostitute herself in this story, her pregnant sister Allie, is also on her way to Trouble, wanting to avoid the father of the baby, Peter Prescott. Peter, who is Sabrina's ex that impregnated Allie as a kind of revenge for Sabrina's revealing to his boss that he took kick-backs from people wanting their works to be published, is also on his way to Trouble, hoping to find a way to use Allie's pregnancy as a way to get back at Sabrina some more. Poor Trouble doesn't know what's hitting it. No, wait, it's the other way around. These poor mensches don't know what's going to hit them in Trouble.
Trouble is a town populated by nudist innkeepers, homicidal elderly sisters, and even a mysterious man living on his own in a rundown building that used to be a hotel. The quaint old-fashioned Trouble masks a genuine air of underlying menace, although it's up in the air which of the residents of Trouble, who could star in a demented dark comedy musical on their own right, would deliver the menace. There was a murder that took place years ago, a missing stash of money, and a house full of cuckoo clocks. I like Trouble. It's a nice place for all kinds of mayhem to take place.
Unfortunately, while Mortimer fits in very well with the eccentric locals of Trouble, Max and especially Sabrina are very boring in comparison to the setting of this story. It doesn't help that Max and Sabrina are very obviously the same hero and heroine (with only the names changed) that Leslie Kelly has written for her previous three full-length novels for HQN. Even the relationship of these two follow the same pattern as the author's previous books: the sexual tension is electrifying and the hero wants to play, but the heroine, after hitting first base with the hero, will mentally panic and decide that she doesn't want to play anymore. The author really needs to find a different way to seperate the hero and the heroine so that they don't hit the sack and cause the story to end under 150 pages because her repetitious characters and relationship pattern are really becoming too obvious. It's not a good thing when Leslie Kelly is making Lori Foster and Stephanie Laurens come off as subtle in their recycling of their characters and relationship patterns in their books.
Allie is also too obvious as a plot device, from her contrived reasons not to let her sister know that Peter is in Trouble to Sabrina using Allie as an excuse to become a very annoying dim-witted "I can't love the hero because I'm too busy dreaming of being a martyr!" stereotype of a heroine. The perplexing thing is that Ms Kelly is very aware of how annoying Sabrina is in her quest to look extra pretty when she's hanging from the cross. Self-awareness is good, yes, but why then would she go ahead and turn the heroine into an annoying twit anyway? Is there a rule that she has to do this? Also, the hero Max launches into a mercifully short but uncharacteristic "I'll drive you away because I'm too bad for you!" show of dementia. I don't know about anyone else but when a hero tries to drive away a heroine after he's had his way with her from Monday to Sunday, it reflects pretty badly on the hero - it's as if he's had his fun so he'll now kick that useless funbag out of his life. To be honest, I don't blame him for kicking the funbag out because Sabrina really gets on my nerves. Her constant "I wanna have sex! But I can't! Because I'm a good girl! And I have responsibilities! But does this mean I'll show willpower and keep away from the hero? No! I'll let him have his way with me and then I'll moan non-stop about how I wanna have sex but I can't because I'm a good girl, yadda yadda yadda!" drama really gets old fast.
So here's my final thoughts about this book: I like the secondary characters and the town of Trouble. Without going into spoilers, let me just say that while the murder mystery isn't the most original, I love some of the plot twists, especially those that involve the macabre train-wreck Feeney sisters. The hero and the heroine, however, are unimaginative recycled characters from the author's previous books, as is their trite and often annoying romance. This is definitely a case where the set-up and the backdrop overwhelms the main characters - it as if as all of Ms Kelly's creativity is channeled into Trouble with little left for the hero and the heroine. On the bright side, this book is much better paced than the author's previous three books which have very tedious sagging middles. Now that she's done something right with the same set of characters in her third attempt, I wonder whether Ms Kelly will come up with different characters in her next book. She should, actually.
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