Monday, December 17, 2007

Laughter Reviews, #12

Time for another book review with the focus: funny or not?

Romantic Suspense

Hitman attempts to protect food writer newly embroiled in an old feud and a current mystery.

What Works
Agnes is a fantastic heroine. Fully living up to the 'Cranky Agnes' name under which she writes her food column, yet effortlessly able to gain the reader's sympathy and admiration. She is smart but vulnerable, passionate but cleareyed, ruthless when necessary but tenderhearted towards underdogs of all species. She responds to life's challenges and disappointments by perfecting her culinary skills and developing an oddly logical etiquette to go along with them (e.g. shoving a bride's face into the wedding cake displays equal disrespect for person and pastry; it is bad manners to yell or shoot at a person while they are eating your food; combatants will find it more difficult to be belligerent with one another once they have shared a meal at the same table, etc.). She attracts men to her side but keeps discovering she has committed to the wrong one and is trying very hard to believe that there isn't something wrong with her. Whether or not she will be able to overcome her pattern keeps pages turning to the end.

To put it mildly, the pace is fast. The first guy with a gun shows up by paragraph seven or so - and matters only accelerate from there. There is no space whatsover for boredom to develop, neither plotwise nor due to too much time spent on any one character, seeing as how the action charges up, down, sideways, and through a cast of thousands. (OK, dozens, but in a novel that amounts to the same thing). This is all the more remarkable given that most scenes take place in the heroine's home, and only rarely shift elsewhere - but those are especially explosive (mostly literally). This book is the polar opposite of the type newbie writers are warned against in which characters go to sleep at the end of a chapter, making the reader do so as well. 'Agnes' readers (at least, this one) will find it very difficult to put the book down, what with the likelihood that the very next paragraph will contain a smoking gun, or melancholy flamingo, or fatally revealed trapdoor, or beleaguered bride simultaneously outwitting a domineering mother and controlling mother-in-law, or a bayou booby-trap, or...

What Doesn't
Not only were there numerous current characters to keep track of, but many backstory ones as well, on top of which the authors chose to include a character with a double name plus nickname (why? why?). For the second half of the book Apprentice Writer couldn't be bothered to leaf back and remind herself who secondary and tertiary people were anymore; if the context surrounding them made sense, great, if not, no big loss since other characters/plot developments could be trusted to come along in no time.

Not all descriptions or timing sequences/coincidences made sense. There were two highly aggravating red herrings. Some character actions either had no normal consequences (e.g. the deliberate 'disappearance' of a highly placed government official, without any apparent followup), were incongruous with established character behaviour (e.g. the person cited as Agnes' culinary inspiration and teacher), or weren't logical (e.g. Agnes is under huge time pressure to pull off a wedding for the girl she thinks of like a daughter, yet despite seeming to have nothing else occupying her time the bride herself never lifts a finger to help nor does it occur to anyone to ask her). Despite the heftiness of the story, some questions remained unexplained.

Does any of this matter? Not really. Apprentice Writer dashed through the whole novel in such a breathless whirlwind that (except for the red herrings) these rough spots only became clear after the fact, during reflection on how to approach this review.

The authors each enjoyed highly successful published careers before teaming up. Apprentice Writer is unaware of their motivation for doing so; are they a couple? Did some type of creative writing exercise take on extended life of its own? Did they get tired of trying to make topposite-gender characters sound authentic and decided to leave them up to an unimpeachable source?

Whatever the answer, it seems to be working. Apprentice Writer became so engrossed in the story that she was late picking up junior apprentice writers #1 & #2, evilly scapegoating the innocent junior apprentice writer #3 to excuse her own tardiness.

There comes a moment in most Crusie novels when the protagonist says something unexpected that reveals their basic outlook and sets them apart from the remaining characters. In this book, that particular scene encapsulates the whole relationship between hero and heroine: the hitman (who by now has developed feelings for Agnes beyond the usual Person-who-must-be-protected-from-random-assasins type) is informed that she has been detained by police due to suspicion that she may have attempted to murder her backstabbing fiance. A regular love interest might respond with shock, worry, or even concern about his own future health. Our hero says "That's my girl!" and proceeds to make plans to break her out of jail.

But does it make you laugh? YES!
Agnes and her methods of solving dilemmas - culinary, romantic, organizational, and murderous - are unique and unforgettably entertaining. Apprentice Writer hopes this is not the last readers will learn about her way with a frying pan.

1 comment:

Wylie Kinson said...

I'm unsure of Crusie. I read one of her books and I found it 'meh', but I don't know if my judgement was clouded by all the Crusie-hype, you know?

I may try her again -- but not just yet.

Great review, as always, M.