by Suzanne Brockmann, contemporary (1999)
Fawcett, $6.50, ISBN 0-449-00256-X

How do you define romance? Me, I define romance as the bonding between two characters who share not only sexual attraction, but also mutual interest, an ability to compromise and bring out the best in each other, and yes, a high degree of affection for each other. Judging by my definition, Bodyguard is a spectacular failure.

Alessandra Lamont is convinced that the only asset she has of value is her perfect body and beauty. When her soon-to-be-ex has the gaucheness to turn up face-down in a river, this ornamental wife finds her life in danger. Her late husband has been playing fast and dirty with mob money, and Big Daddy Mafiosi is coming for dinner. FBI agent Harry O'Dell, tormented over the death of his son and ex-wife (I wasn't there to save them! They died... because of me!) ends up her bodyguard, and no, there's no I Will Always Love You playing from the speakers.

Bodyguard has all the fine elements of a thriller, a romantic suspense, anything but a romance. I can't see any reason why these two people fall in love - there is no quiet moment between them. Whenever they do talk, it's catty bickering - she accuses him of being a female dog's spawn, he calls her a dumb woman-of-ill-repute. The only thing they share seems to be a love-hate sexual attraction, the emphasis seems to be more on hate. I blink once and next thing I know, they're in bed. For goodness' sake, the last thing these people need is sex to screw up their minds.

Harry talks as if he's paid a dollar each time he utters the F word. I don't have a problem with that - being "one of the guys" for most of my life, I have learned some words I can teach Harry (in several languages too). However, when Harry persists in thinking so negatively of Alessandra for so long, when all he says to her (or to his colleagues about her) seem to be either backhanded praises or outright slurs on her intelligence or morals, his language becomes really ugly. Harry comes off totally misogynistic at times, and it's not a pretty sight.

Even worse, despite all his angst and torment, Harry is too caught up in the inertia of his self-pity. His reaction to every emotional upheaval in his life is to run away. Run, run, run, and oh, he loves denial too. That's okay for the first 200 pages, but when Harry persists in this behavior by the last two chapters in the book, he ceases to be a hero. He is, to be blunt, pathetic.

Alessandra's love seems more like a mix of pity and desperation for succor from her ordeals. She's as credible as a romance heroine as Harry is a romance hero - they seem to be nothing more than two ships passing in the dark, coming together for nothing for than a momentary bliss from the many problems plaguing their lives.

Harry's problems are many, and he is a nincompoop when it comes to dealing with them. His treatment to his children is unforgivable (my favorite scene is Shaun turning the tables on him in a dramatic confrontation, from which Harry - as usual - runs away), and his treatment of Alessandra sometimes borders on mental abuse, the worst form of abuse as far as I'm concerned. And in the end, she proposes, his children come back to him, and Harry doesn't learn anything about dealing with his problems headlong like a man.

There's a secondary love triangle between Harry's blockheaded moronic partner George, his ice queen of a frigid ex-wife, and a showgirl who is the wronged woman as far as I'm concerned.

Hence, as a romance, Bodyguard fails miserably. Kim and Shaun are the two most interesting characters in this mire of unlikeable characters, and they are, unfortunately, more victims than survivors. Great thriller though.

Rating: 53

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