by Nancy Warren, contemporary (2004)
Brava, $14.00, ISBN 0-7582-0583-X
Despite being published as a Brava, Nancy Warren's full-length debut Drive Me Crazy has the same level of sensuality as that of a, say, Cherry Adair novel. This book is in trouble when the one single scene - and only one - that brings a tear to my eye is the one where the secondary hero offers a gesture so simple yet so breathtakingly romantic to the secondary heroine. But that is the only scene that affects me with any emotion other than disinterest, exasperation, or an urge to hire a lawyer specializing in sexual harassment lawsuits for the heroine.
The main romance is between Duncan Forbes, supposedly an art professor, and Alex Forrest, a very annoying "I look like a porn star but I will swear that I am not beautiful!" librarian stereotype. I cannot stand these two. They are immersed in a way that I find too ridiculous to be believable into a mystery involving a dead body in Alex's library and a missing Van Gogh painting. This one starts off as a standard romantic suspense story where sex scenes are substitutes for emotional connection, and even so, it's a fragile connection at best. Duncan's attitude at that point towards Alex can't be in any way described as "realistically male", if realistically male refers to beer-guzzling Neanderthals that think of women using only two letters in the alphabets, T and A. No, Duncan's reactions go beyond Neanderthal Male right into Authors Writing Ridiculously territory.
Let me illustrate. The opening few sentences of this book is: "Duncan Forbes knew he was going to like Swiftcurrent, Oregon, when he discovered the town librarian looked like the town hooker. Not a streetwalker who hustles tricks on the corner, but a high-class 'escort' who looks like a million bucks and costs at least that much, ending up with her own Park Avenue co-op. He loved that kind of women." Charlie Sheen, is that you? It gets worse - here's what he thinks of Alex's breasts: "they ought to have a 'for sale' sign on them". It is very hard not to be crept out by a hero that thinks like a pimp. And Duncan is a very romantic fellow, as evidenced by romantic come-on lines to Alex like: "You could be secretly terrified of men. You could hate sex. You could be frigid."
If I'm her, I'd demonstrate my passion right there and then by taking the coat rack and shoving it up His Royal Arsehole until his rectum perforates like the passionate high-class whore that he thinks I am. Alas, Alex is just what he describes: she's one of the Strictly Harlequin heroines who looks like a hooker, dresses like a hooker, but has the mental capability of a gnat. When challenged by Duncan's claim that she is frigid, she must show him that she is not, and she does this with the painful gravity like a prisoner waiting for his death row execution. The author gives Duncan a lot of Tortured Past to justify his Pimp Daddy smack-talking actions, but I find him as likable as some gum that got stuck on my shoe. As for Alex, what can I say? She's a Strictly Harlequin trademarked Idiot With Breasts; Pump Me With Love Barbie.
Their romance is like the tap on a beer keg. Murder? Just switch on the Terror and Suspicion Mode. A few pages later, they are lusting after each other despite Alex panicking over a dead body only a while ago. The whole sordid affair is as realistic as breast implants.
It is only in the later half of the book, when the silly mistrust is cleared and Alex and Duncan finally start acting like human beings that I finally warm up to them. Their story becomes markedly better because by that time the story flows more naturally and the characters' connection starts to develop a little beyond physical attraction. But I can't help thinking that it's a case of a book that starts off so badly that it doesn't fully recover from its shoddy premise and from how its attempt to be "aggressively sexy" goes awry and becomes offensive, to me at least. If the author has displayed the fluid pacing and scene-building that she does for Alex and Duncan in the later half of the book throughout the whole story, I may care even a little about these two characters.
What saves the book is the romance between Alex's cousin Gillian ("Gill") and Tom, the one that got away until now. At the surface, Gill is the stereotypical Slut Gone To Evil Big City Only To Get Screwed By Bad Men And Inflicted With Junkie Habits while Tom is the Smalltown Man To Show Slutteth Repententh The Light. But compared to the robotic Harlequinized sex of Duncan and Alex, these two offer a welcome haven where emotions actually provide the basis of a relationship. Gill is vulnerable and sympathetically so while Tom, oh Tom. I never cried during Jerry Maguire's "You had me at hello", I pooh-poohed every minute of Four Weddings And A Funeral, I snorted my way through My Best Friend's Wedding, scooped bile from my liver during Sleepless In Seattle, but oh! Tom's "I'm twelve years too late but I finally made it" actually has me tearing up that I have the put the book down to wipe my eyes. That beautiful man, those beautiful words, the beautiful scene that culminates in that simple but so wonderful sentence - oh!
The secondary romance is good. The main romance kicks off on a really bad start and I don't feel that it manages to recover from the main characters' obnoxious behaviors that lead to their first contrived sex scene, even though Alex and Duncan's love story ends somewhat higher on my personal preference scale than I anticipated. I can only hope that Nancy Warren will come out with a less uneven follow-up book to Drive Me Crazy.
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