Saturday, June 28, 2008

Laughter Reviews #19 - Keeper

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



Secret agent seeks to obtain sensitive material from British divorcee expatriate turned notorious Venetian courtesan.

What Works
First off, the setting. Apprentice Writer adores Italy, so unfolding the story in the superlatively romantic city of Venice guarantees boatloads (hee!) of reader goodwill without a single word having been read. Gondolas, opera, art, famous landmarks, steadily recurring snippets of Italian - all these atmospheric ingredients were splendidly applied to the story (though oddly and to AW's dismay, the Italian obsession with cuisine wasn't. Not one gelato to be seen.)

Second, the trademark Chase verbal & emotional sparring between hero and heroine was in full force, to convincing and amusing effect. This was especially fun on occasions when genre stereotypes were reversed:

" '...I'm a jewel thief! Have you any idea what it does to me to see you give away a fortune in gems?' 'I have a good idea now,' she said. 'It's as good as an opera.' The look he flashed her must have been the kind his Italian ancestors had bestowed on inconvenient spouses, moments before issuing the orders for poisoning or strangling. 'You're beautiful when you're angry,' she said."

"She'd fainted because she was not used to running. 'Have you ever run in stays?' Francesca said to James. 'Oh, why do I ask you? You're a man. Of course you have.' (note: this is especially funny because of a preceding scene where James has impersonated Francesca to smoke out a villain and is very proud of not having ruined her gown by bleeding on it or falling in the canal)"

"...She stormed out of the room. To her displeasure, Cordier didn't follow her...Magny looked at the door through which she'd dramatically exited. 'Are you not going to chase her, fall on your knees, vow undying devotion?...' 'No' (said James.) 'Well then, would you like a drink?' 'Yes.' "

What Doesn't
Should authors remain figures shrouded in mystery? Or reach out to fans by means other than manuscripts to communicate on a more 'regular person' level?

AW doesn't know the answer, but in this case, an insight to creative process shared by the novelist may have had unitended effects. In her tour of blogland to promote this title, Ms. Chase mentioned that the seed was planted while watching James Bond make a building collapse into a canal in Venice. Which is certainly interesting (AW for example watched that same scene and has no completed manuscript to show for it), but she closed the book feeling vaguely let down by the hero. This was not really his fault, poor thing, since he does engage in swift and decisive action where required and has a talent for seduction, thievery, and being in costume - all without question Bondish.

And yet. Somehow, it didn't feel enough. If AW had been expecting a simple jewel thief, she may have been utterly content with the story, but the 007 association raised the bar (though it is true that car chases, insane gadgety inventions, and footchases through a volcano or down a ski-slope would be a tad difficult to pull off in 19th century Venice.)

Also, the inclusion of a single scene taking place in England in the POV of the primary villain was puzzling. Why just this one (since what happens to this character later in the story is told entirely at a distance, on the level of a newspaper report)? Why point out the presence in that scene of an accomplice when the only other mention that character receives is to note her absence from the villain's side later on? Odd, but then AW is not a multi-published literary icon. She will have to trust that there are sound reasons for these manuscriptal decisions, which may, perhaps, be revealed with the next Chase installment.

Highly enjoyable, but even the charms of English/Italian James 'For My Country' Cordier could not shake the status of AW's favorite Chase hero. Rupert 'Mr. Impossible' Carsington's place in her heart remains secure (see previous Keeper review.)

But does it make you laugh? YES
YSW is not a romantic comedy per se, and contains many a dramatic and/or highly emotional moment. But the moments that are lighter are so entertaining that AW can unreservedly recommend this book for readers who need a lift to their spirits.


Carrie Lofty said...

I heart Rupert. No one can take his place, but I'll keep looking.

Amy Ruttan said...

Sounds like a great book.

See I like the books that are witty and funny without trying so hard to be. :)

M. said...

carrie - i feel the same!

amy - i agree, trying too hard for the joke often backfires.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

'Are you not going to chase her, fall on your knees, vow undying devotion?...'
'No' (said James.)
'Well then, would you like a drink?'

That's hilarious. I love your 'But does it make you laugh?' criteria. I've never read Loretta Chase, but her Rupert Carsington sounds awfully intiguing.

Wylie Kinson said...

I look forward to this one. Like Amy, I love a book that's funny without trying.

M. said...

julia - if you read only one book by this author, i sincerely hope it would be 'mr. impossible'. this doesn't mean the rest of her backlist is not worthwhile - it absolutely is - but that was my introduction, and it still stands IMHO above the rest.

wylie - i doubt you'll regret it. you and i often seem to like the same literary types of things.

Ana said...

Well, you do know how much I loved this book! : )

I loved the parts you chose to quote. So funny.

Rupert is amazing.