by Suzanne Simmons, contemporary (1997)
St Martin's Press, $5.99, ISBN 0-312-95633-9
Suzanne Simmons' The Paradise Man features a likeable couple stranded in paradise where the serpents in question come from a plot that isn't as intricate as it would like to be and too much moments of skank from a villainous duo. When it comes to Suzanne Simmons and her stories, one thing I like about her is that she always try to incorporate an unusual theme in her stories. Or sometimes she uses a familiar theme - in the case of The Paradise Man, it's a missing galleon the Bella Donna and the rumors of a fabulous treasure in its sunken remnants - but approaches the tackling of this theme in a way that's far different from any other and certainly not routine. So for all its flaws, "boring" is certainly not one of them.
Jane Bennett has come to the imaginatively named Paradise Island armed with maps and the manifest of Bella Donna to solve the mystery of the ship's sinking and locations. The reason she is doing this is because her father that was obsessed with Bella Donna went missing when she was ten after reporting that he had located the three-hundred year old vessel. She hopes to learn what happened to him. So it's really not about the treasure. Really.
Jake Hollister looks like a beach bum, but he is actually a millionaire looking for a direction after getting bored with making too much money. He currently runs the bar that he has won in a poker game. Hmmph, I wish I can say myself that I get bored of making zillions of dollars and am now writing reviews on a website from a cramped apartment because I'm really struck by some fancy ennui that came from having too much money. When he's not looking for some directions apparently all his money can't buy, he goes swimming in the waters on his private beach. He catches Jane swimming in the nude, takes one look at those legs that seem to go on forever, and suddenly realizes that the everything is finally pointing at one direction, if you get my drift. Maybe if he helps Jane, he can help himself too in more ways than one.
The Paradise Man is a well-written tropical island romance when it comes to well-evoked atmosphere. The scenery is lush and the description can be very generous the point that this book is like a vicarious vacation without having to sell a kidney to finance a trip to Bermuda. Jane and Jake make a pleasant couple that work well and love well together. They have pleasant chemistry and their story is driven by external conflict. While on one hand this book is quite short and the characters aren't given too much depths, on the other hand Jane and Jake manage to remain a pleasant and agreeable couple.
But also in the picture are two villains posing as siblings, "Megs" and "Tony St Cyr". Not only are these two a dumb pair of villains since Elmer Fudd and Marvin the Martian retired, there are also some skanky scenes meant to provide some dirty sleazy moments. Not only do I not find these scenes fun (my reaction is more like "Oh golly gee, who drove the icky train into the story?"), the overall pleasant mood of the story is ruined by such gratuitous moments that do nothing for the story. I also have some minor problems with the surprisingly easy discovery of the Bella Donna. The author does a good job building up the clues to leading to that moment, but when I reflect in the way Jake and Jane manage to locate the wreck, it seems rather too easy especially for a vessel that has managed to elude treasure hunters for three hundred years.
With a nice atmosphere and nice couple that work very well together, The Paradise Man has its share of fun and romantic moments. As long as one can overlook the cringe-inducing villains from skanksville, this book may work well with readers looking for a romance story set in a tropical getaway with as little internal conflicts and misunderstanding issues as possible. While this book is nowhere close to heaven, it offers some pleasant moments of escape into the author's fictitious corner of the world.
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