Dead Ringer
by Annie Solomon, contemporary (2003)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61229-4

Annie Solomon's follow-up to Like A Knife is a much better romantic suspense novel in every way. It is just too bad that the romance isn't as interesting as the suspense. Normally this won't affect me too much, but in the case of Dead Ringer, I'm a little disappointed that the "bad girl" heroine isn't bad as much as she's a "designed to be redeemed even if she's not that bad" type of lady. I'm also slightly annoyed by the hero's continuous assumption that the heroine is "that type" and hence not "his type" even as he lusts after her.

Angelina Mercer was a rape victim that never found any justice in her situation. As a result, she decides to make herself invulnerable to emotions by playing the party-crazy bad girl role to the hilt. When her latest friend and perceived sugar daddy kicks the bucket, she throws a party and forces herself to act wild. Because you can't be happy if you like parties, I guess - there must be something inherently wrong, emotionally or mentally, with a heroine that wants to party. Hmmph. Anyway, Angelina is the perfect bait that Federal Agent Finn Carver needs in his quest to capture Victor Borian, a crime boss connected to the Russian mob. (Do those Russian still have the money and energy to run international organized crime syndicates anymore?) Her mother was married to Victor and Angelina is a dead ringer for her mother. If she can gain entry to Victor's Montana stronghold and discover the location of some stolen plutonium, he will tell her all about her long-lost mommy. And like all these silly heroines looking for daddy or mommy, she bites the bait and be the bait, so to speak.

Despite the author going out of her way to keep Angelina safe in the story in some contrived plot machinations, the suspense is pretty good. The writing is clean and it manages to evoke a taut and tense atmosphere, which only adds to the suspense in this story. I'm not too pleased though with the use of the Psychotic Jealous Other Woman thingie - why do these books always have crazy women in them? The violence in the denouement scene is cool though.

The characters are disappointing - Angelina is a typical "bad girl" that, deep inside, is a hollow and hurt little girl that needs love so that she can be wholesome and happy. Finn has been betrayed by his wife before, yadda yadda yadda. Despite these characters coming straight out of a romance novel central casting session, Ms Solomon manages to portray a decent romance between these two people. It's nothing too emotional or original as it is generally another one of those "bad girls proving themselves worthy of the hero's approval" tales, but it's well written enough to be convincing. It helps, of course, that Angelina is a decent heroine that can think and take care of herself. Finn has his alpha male moments, but despite his bluster, he never crosses the line to being a stupid jerk. He may be a jerk at times, but he never lets his misogyny cloud his thinking.

Dead Ringer is a pretty good romantic suspense read. It's not too original in its execution and its reliance on stereotypical characters and villains can leave much to be desired, but it's well written enough to be a welcome streak of variety in a subgenre oversaturated with serial killers.

Rating: 82

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