The McKenzie Artifact
by Alison Kent, contemporary (2005)
Brava, $7.99, ISBN 0-7582-0676-3


The last two books in the author's Smithson Group secret agent series are duds but The McKenzie Artifact is a decent step back in the right direction. I do wonder though whether the author has tried to bite off more than she can chew by tackling a plot that cannot fit within the allocated 116 pages of this book, not unless the author takes her authorial knife and chops off a few dangling bits here and there. Which is what she has done here, by the way.

Eli "Not Elias, please" McKenzie is currently undercover as a minion of Ramon, one of the badass key players of Spectra IT's Mexican division of white slavery. Spectra IT seems to be very diversified when it comes to crimes, I must say. Maybe it should change its name to something that doesn't lead people to mistake it for a bust-up dot com company. Eli has won Ramon's favor, but complications arise just as he is stepping in to release the latest twelve women that would be exported into a life of prostitution. Our PI heroine Stella Banks is trying to track down the missing daughter of her office manager and her attempts only succeed in making her the latest addition to the future exports of Spectra IT.

This short story deals with Eli helping Stella escape and dealing a crushing blow on Prostituta Mexicana in the process. Actually this story is a familiar rehash of the "fake pirate captain pretending to make a mistress out of the shivery damsel heroine to keep her safe from his marauding crew" story, complete with a humiliation-tinged scene of Stella being forced to shower before the lecherous minions of Ramon so that Eli's buddy can go and do his intel thing without being caught by those minions. As always is the case in too many romantic suspense stories, the "Oh my god, will Stella be RAPED?" drama in this book sometimes come off as more important in the scheme of things than frivolous matters like "What will happen to the other girls? Does anybody care?".

While Stella is generally intelligent and Eli is more capable than his SG-5 buddies in the sense that he doesn't do any major blunder in this story, the story does them no favors. Ms Kent tries to tackle too many things but she barely even starts on them by the last page.

Characterization? Eli is a capable agent and he thinks Stella is so hot that to him, sex with her is like a religious epiphany - his world is forever changed. I like that - power to the vagina and all that - but I wish there are a hundred pages more in this book for him to come to that epiphany in a less abrupt manner. Stella has some characterization but what little of that isn't too appealing - she is the typical model-babe type who insists that men don't want her because she wears glasses or something. In this case, it is probably a good thing that this book isn't one hundred pages longer because I don't need the high blood pressure.

Romance? This story feels awkward because Ms Kent tries to introduce some quiet times for those two characters to indulge in oh-so-juvenile "Does he like me? Does she like me?" psychobabbles that are passed off as "romantic drama", and these quiet times take place in deucedly ridiculous circumstances. Who has time to get aroused and start imagining the other person naked when they are in a shack surrounded by murderous men? Will a woman feel the itch when she has just taken a shower under the lecherous wolf-whistles and degrading stare of the bad guys that are just outside her door? Even if I have Hugh Jackman lying next to me, I don't think I'll be concerned about doing the humpty-dumpty as much as I'd like to get out of the place first. But in The McKenzie Artifact, I guess Ms Kent has to put in a sex scene somehow to justify the book being marketed under the Brava line but the sex takes place in a "What on earth?" circumstance, especially when this isn't "Ohmigod, we're gonna die, so let's make whoopie one last time" sex as much as "Seriously, this is romantic sex that will make you weep at the melodramatic sweeping passion of it all even as your loins ignite in a kundalani of apocalyptic proportions!" sex.

Because of the short length of the story, everything about it feels abrupt. Wham! They're in danger! Kabow! They're having sex! Woosh! They're in love! Aaah! Bad guys incoming! Boom! Happy ending, time to go home now. Perhaps another hundred pages would have improved things, but in its current form, The McKenzie Artifact is too underwritten to work both as a romance or an exciting action adventure. It's better than the last two books in the sense that it has a better plot than those two but it's hardly comparable to the first two books that kicked off this author's series.

Rating: 68


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