Tropical Getaway
by Roxanne St Claire, contemporary (2003)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-6276-9

Tropical Getaway doesn't impress me, but Roxanne St Claire does. Is that an oxymoron? Like Deirdre Martin, this author's debut is flawed - and most of the flaw rests on the heroine's shoulder - but I like her voice and style. The book itself is riddled with bewildering character behavior and motivations and contrived plot devices but the author manages to keep me reading nonetheless to the last page.

It's a feat in itself, because the heroine Ava Santori makes me want to throttle her pretty much every page she's in. She is a chef at her family-owned restaurant when she gets a phone call. Oh! Her brother Marco, who left home so long ago, is dead! He was a sailor at a cruise ship, and the ship somehow chose to sail right into a tropical storm. Maybe they caught a live broadcast of Ava's whining. Now, abetted by a scummy lawyer, she storms down to the island of St Barts to sue the cruise line owner Dane Erikson's ass.

It is amazing that the author can make me symphatize with Dane when I'm sure I'll act just like Ava if I'm in her situation. The thing is, Ava's reaction to Dane is often so over-the-top that she comes off like a loon. She's guilt-ridden over not being in her brother's life more often, et cetera, and maybe I should make allowances for her grief if she comes off as irrational. Accusing Dane of deliberately sabotaging his cruise liner and killing his own staff may not be that irrational when one considers that he has insured his ship for forty million dollars. In this situation, Ava is not inclined to be kind or sensible, not when she has lost someone in a situation that points towards sabotage or gross carelessness.

But, frankly, Ava annoys me. The instant attraction between Ava and Dane is a truly bad misstep on Ms St Claire's part. I'd prefer these two taking the time to learn the truth about each other before they start feeling attracted to each other. These two's "Hate you! Want you! Hate you! Let's have sex - oh, and I hate you!" nonsense gets really old fast. Dane is fortunate in that he is portrayed as the symphatetic guilt-ridden man who just wants the truth to be known. Ava, alas, is written as the typical shrill "Hate you! Want you! Damn you!" character that can drive my blood pressure up the stratosphere. She comes off as irrational while he comes off as some masochist to keep being attracted to her even when she's at her shrillest worst.

The suspense plot - "What happened out there that night on the liner?" - is okay, but I have to sigh at some of the more contrived elements, like the Jealous Ho Type who conveniently leaves a journal for everybody to find and read, oh please.

Still, the author has a very nice style of writing in that she manages to pull me into the story and keep me interested in turning the pages to find out what happens next. Whenever some flaw jolts me from my reading - see Ho's Tell-All Diary above - something else will balance that flaw and keep me reading (usually Dane, who is really a nice hero). The scenes where Dane is reminiscing about Marco or dealing with his emotions are mostly very well-written. If Ava is a better other half for Dane, this story would resonate with great drama and poignancy. Ms St Claire can be very good at being sentimental without coming off as corny or cloying.

So while Tropical Getaway may be a flawed debut, it does its job as far as I'm concerned. It makes me intrigued enough to wonder what the author will come out with in her next book. I know it is in every author's contract nowadays to write sixteen related books at one go to form a series, but may I ask that Ava does not make an appearance in the inevitable sequel? Or that if she has to, she is struck mute? Just a thought.

Rating: 79

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