Whole Lotta Trouble
by Stephanie Bond, contemporary (2004)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-056542-X

It occurs to me when I sit down to write the review of Stephanie Bond's Whole Lotta Trouble that my reviews of her previous two books for Avon never mention how I actually appreciate her attempt to fuse comedic elements of a chick-lit novel with romantic suspense to come up with frothy tales rarely encountered in the formulaic romance genre. I actually appreciate this better than Ms Bond merely jumping on the suspense bandwagon and coming out with yet another serial killer story. I think I can be forgiven for that lapse because those two books aren't particular successful results of Ms Bond's experiments. Whole Lotta Trouble isn't too successful either but it's the best she's come out with so far. Therefore, it becomes easier to appreciate what Ms Bond is trying to do.

There is a possible double-edged sword effect here because as long as Ms Bond keeps coming up with flawed books that are essentially the same story again and again, I can assume that she's still experimenting. But after she's come out with a book that I like, I may start to view her subsequent "three girlfriends stumble upon a murder - OH! MY! GOSH!" books as unimaginative rehashes. Hopefully Ms Bond knows when to step up the game and be more subtle when it comes to rehashing a formula, even if she's handicapped from the start by being published with Avon.

Here, three women who must have read too much Olivia Goldsmith decide to band together and get back at a womanizing scumbag literary agent for his sins. Editors from different publishing houses Tallie Blankenship (no jokes please about her last name), Felicia Redmon, and Jane, sorry, "Jan" Glass have their own reasons to get back at Jerry Kay. Tallie refuses to be intimate with Jerry so Jerry assigns a plum novel by a successful mystery author to her rival who plays the casting couch game with Jerry. Hmm, I think Tallie works for Dorchester. Felicia was Jerry's lover until the break-up and she learns that he has been slandering her while she is still carrying a torch for him. This must be a Random House editor. Plain Jane, sorry, Jan learns that many aspects of the novel Jerry was dangling before Tallie and other editors is pilfered from a manuscript that was previously rejected by Jerry. Ohmigosh, I think that editor who played Jerry's game must be working for HarperCollins! Just kidding, people.

Anyway, the three women decide to trap Jerry, tie him up in a hotel room after making him wear S&M bondange gear, and take incriminating photos of him that they will spread with glee to their colleagues. Unfortunately, Jerry shows up dead the next morning and now our poor The First Editors Club wannabes are in deep trouble with the cops.

Actually, I've given away half the book with this short synopsis alone, which is my way of saying that this is not some fast-paced mystery story. Whole Lotta Trouble starts off as a comedic Angry Women With Grudges Bonding romp that culminates with their revenge before morphing into a mystery. This time, the shift in the tone of the story is more seamlessly done and the premise is more plausible and interesting than silly people stealing clothes at the boutiques they work at. The characters are more well-drawn with the exception of Plain Jane who is a more one-dimensional, er, plain Jane character. Felicia is a hoot as a career woman with a domestic side that she tries to keep hidden, for example. The romance is very subtle, though, and there is virtually no point-of-view from main heroine Tallie's hero, the cop Keith Wages. But there are plenty of chuckles to be had here to make up for the lack of strong romance where I'm concerned.

The weakest part of the book is the mystery, though. To be honest, it's hard for me to care too much for the story after the murder of Jerry Kay because the book tapers off into formulaic territory. Ms Bond, for now, is stronger when it comes to dishing out laughter than suspense. The resolution of the mystery is ridiculous but perhaps it's meant to be that way because the last few chapters of this book are pure farce. I can't help thinking that Ms Bond should have gone the dark crime comedy route and ends the book with Jerry getting murdered by our three heroines, who then share a toast and a wink to the reader, because that, to me at least, would have made this book so much stronger. As it is, Whole Lotta Trouble is a book that builds up on strength and momentum until the midway point when Jerry gets his desserts and then peters off into a whimper by the last page. Still, this book is better than the previous two efforts by the author, so maybe her next book will be even better. I'll see. We'll see.

Rating: 75

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