by Roxanne St Claire, contemporary (2004)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-7729-4
I have a weakness for stories involving thieves, provided they are well-written. Roxanne St Claire's French Twist has a premise revolving around an ex-cat burglar and some stolen priceless antique vases, but it is so slow-paced and the characters so ridiculously tortured that it comes off like a snoozy apologia for its thieving characters instead of a seductive tale of romance and intrigue.
Luc Tremont, the security expert of an exhibition in the Versailles Royal Palace, has a secret. He was once Nick Jarrett also known as Scorpion, a master thief. When he was captured, he traded his old career for one where he helped and advised the FBI in exchange for his freedom. Our heroine Janine Coulter, the curator, only knows him as an annoying and high-handed fellow that is trying to make her job unnecessarily tough. They especially clash over the priceless three vases made especially for King Louis XIV's mistress. Janine wants the world to see them, Luc wants to keep them under tight security. She is not aware that Luc is concerned about a thief taking up the Scorpion identity to commit his thefts. Janine also has a second motive for becoming a curator: her mentor died trying to discover these vases and now she hopes to learn something, anything, that can back up her belief that the fellow's death is not suicide but murder. Then the vases get stolen and our hero and heroine will have to travel all over Europe to recover them.
French Twist is set in "exotic" locations compared to the usual American smalltown or Scottish/Irish village overkill, but it's quite sad if this is the only reason for one to read this book. But there's very little this book offers in terms of excitement, intrigue, or even romance, unfortunately. Ms St Claire apparently believes that her actually straightforward intrigue subplots are very complicated because she has many different characters explaining step-by-step every detail of the intrigue set-up so often that redundancy soon sets in. As a reader, I am also robbed of suspense in the story because of this. Because the plot is laid out in the open for the reader's scrutiny from the get-go, it's just a matter of waiting for the characters to learn what the reader knows. This is a bad move on Ms St Claire's part, because a storyteller should never reveal her cards so early that the reader is forced to become merely observers instead of active participants in her story.
Things will probably still be fun if the pace isn't so slow. The romance here mostly consists of long-winded interior monologues or exchanges between our main characters where they reveal and ponder over every detail in their tortured, tortured lives. Is Ms St Claire trying to get me to sympathize with Nick/Luc because of his oh-so-so-so-SO sad past? Come on - there's one reason why books like Sidney Sheldon's If Tomorrow Comes and the movie The Thomas Crown Affair are popular. They're fun. The characters do fun things. They may have sad pasts, but they don't spend hours bombarding me in the head with it while giving me that "love me, I was so misunderstood" sad puppy hangdog expression. If Ms St Claire has trusted me to enjoy her characters' actions instead of expecting me to judge her characters harshly and cast them aside because they are not Moral enough for me, she might have racheted up the pace and made this book so enjoyable instead of bombarding me with the dull and plodding pace of this book. There are some action scenes in this book, but they occur only occasionally, stuck between long scenes where everyone just talks, mopes, sighs, and worries.
Maybe I am being too hard on this book, but that's because I'm really disappointed at how this book could have been so good only to end up so dull. French Twist has all the classic mistakes of a romantic suspense novel - transparent and unconvincing suspense elements, characters being tortured instead of developed, and awkward pacing. Instead of running and jumping over rooftops, it is too concerned about whether I will like it or not to the point that it merely treads carefully, step-by-step, all the while reminding me that Yes, The Characters Are Sad, Love Them Pleasepleaseplease.
Books like this should never, ever be boring. Alas, French Twist is.
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