All The Man I Need
by Tamara Sneed, contemporary (2004)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-98730-7

One of these days someone at RWA should do all these romantic suspense authors a favor and pass a memo telling them that just because they have robbers and secret agents in their stories, that doesn't mean that it is okay for the story to rely on so many coincidences and other what-on-earth cop-outs. All The Man I Need has dramatically tortured characters living a facade of superheroic melodrama with no inbetween that this story comes off like an MTV/BET collaboration on giving us all an updated hip and urban version of a Wagnerian soap opera.

Lana Hargrove, our heroine, is super good at her job as a PR person at the super successful PR firm which she owns, but all that tough flirty gal facade is just an act. Inside, she is a girl with Very Big Daddy Issues (which is understandable since Daddy here is Frank Hargrove, an infamous art thief) as well as Self-Esteem Problems. Her Issues lead her to do very predictable things, like her wanting to marry a total Mr Wrong for all the wrong reasons. Someone wants her dead, and Frank, suspecting that one of his many enemies is behind this dastardly plot, hires Justin Larkin to keep an eye out on his daughter without her knowledge. Oops, too bad, she sees him following her in a dark lane one day, confronts him, and knows now. Justin has a secret, however. He is actually trying to track down her father and bring him to justice.

Naturally, the timing of this secret coming out is exactly like I expected it. Along the way, the villain is obvious from the moment this person arrives into the story doing all but carrying a neon sign on the head saying "Villain - ME, ME, ME!", the author's depiction of a bank heist comes off like a third grade kiddie plot to raid the kitchen larder, and there are plenty of bewildering coincidences, cop-out lucky breaks, and other leaky plot developments that make the suspense aspects of this story a complete flop. As for the romance, the main characters don't come off as well-developed as they should be. The potential for depths is there, such as in Lana's tendency to play along with other people's impression of her in order to avoid being hurt, but Ms Sneed never develops her characters beyond superficial "hurt Daddy's gal" and "tortured undercover action man" stereotypes.

With a predictable romance and a completely bewildering "suspense" plot, All The Man I Need may be actually more than the author can handle, I suspect. All that flying around and people shooting at each other while exchanging cheesy tough guy talk - ugh. This book is way over the top without a reasonably solid foundation to put at least one of its foot upon.

Rating: 58

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