The Art Of Desire
by Selena Montgomery, contemporary (2002)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-264-9

If a fairy godmother (I mean the Cinderella kind, but if you prefer the image of Ian "Call Me Serena" McKellan dressed up in ballet tutus, hey, feel free) waves her magic wand and Selena Montgomery becomes so good, Suzanne Brockmann will be quaking in her boots as she drowns down an entire vineyard. Damn if Ms Montgomery can't do a script, complete with megalomaniac villains, to make a James Bond scriptwriter turn green with envy. Terrorists, intrigue, espionage, ooh.

But oh my head. Her characters spend almost all their waking hour bickering over the smallest matters, and they are so shrill that they can make my eardrums bleed. Bicker, bicker, bicker. Memo to Ms Montgomery: please write adult characters in your next book, thanks.

The plot, I can say, is about secret agent Phillip "Dead/Not Dead/Dead/Not Dead" Thurman (sorry if you don't get that, it is a joke related to the prequel book, Rules Of Engagement) recuperating from an undercover infiltration of a terrorist cell run by zealots. He meets Alex Walton, a friend of a friend, at the wedding of the main couple in Rules (warning: Rules is just as shrill as this book), and sparks fly. Or supposed to. Someone is trying to Alex, however, and it may be related to some mementos she brought back from a stint as an arist abroad.

Heroine Alex (sorry, but yes, she's a woman) is an interesting character. She is a woman who falls in and out of love every week, but she's not fickle. She's an artist, see? And to the author's credit, Alex does think and act like an artist. Phillip is macho, heroic, and all so gung-ho.

Then comes the childish and shrill bickerings, the circular want/don't-want push-and-pull, the tedious inability for Alex to commit, and other tiny, annoying lil' irritants that add up to one giant ugly mountain of annoyances. Character development is stillborn, character motivations display chameleon-like traits to change according to plot, and I wonder where I can get drunk to blunt the pain at the lowest price in town.

Seriously, if Ms Serena can wave a magic wand, or Ms Montgomery really takes more time to create more fully realized characters, Suzanne Brockmann will be quaking in terror. As it is, right now Ms Montgomery is still learning to fly.

Rating: 56

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