High Stakes
by Angela Winters, contemporary (2004)
Arabesque, $6.99, ISBN 1-58314-418-8

What happened to Angela Winters? Goodness, for an author that previously delivered reliably entertaining books featuring memorable characters, her writing and characterization seem to have a turn straight down the toilet. Crammed with relentless head-hoppings, abuse of fragmented sentences, half-baked suspense, big misunderstandings, and more, High Stakes is an excruciating read - it's just like the First Draft That The People At BET/Arabesque Forgot To Edit But Published Anyway.

Our truly gullible heroine Sabrina Scott, on the flimsiest of reasons, decide that her fiancÚ Clark Hunter is a gold-digger and dramatically flees to Vegas to get a new job while weeping and eeking in unnecessary melodrama that All Men Are Bastards. I mean, seriously, Sabrina's complete uprooting of her life because of this makes her come off as, er, mentally very fragile, and this is one impression of Sabrina that lingers on long after the story has ended. Since she is so wealthy, why not just get her daddy's favorite judge buddy to slap a restraining order on Clark or something?

Fired by her father from his newspaper job after this mess, Clark sulks and moans and stalks Sabrina until she has fled. When he gets a job at another newspaper and is sent to Vegas to cover a boxing tournament, he discovers that Sabrina is now working as a marketing executive for the hotel, Acropolis. And being Sabrina the Dingbat Douche, she is naturally unhappy with her job because she finds that the boxing match taking place in the hotel is on the whole rather too dirty in every way for her. It turns out that the boxing match is dirty and the promoter will do anything - anything! - to be the new Don King. The usual "romantic suspense" thing unfolds.

Sabrina is really painful to follow. She comes off like a mentally-challenged waif that alternates between weeping dramatically, fainting, shrieking in hysterical anger, or running away in tears throughout the entire story. If she has any capability to think, she doesn't show it here. Clark is creepy in that he comes off like a bad-tempered mule that stalks his exes and is unable to move on after a relationship. He's like the very annoying ex-boyfriend on The Sopranos that daddy has to hire a few friends to gun down and feed to the fishies at the end of the day. The characters' overblown tendency for drama will be amusing were they not on the whole as dumb as bricks.

With a suspense plot that is as predictable as sunrise and too much headhoppings, High Stakes is the downward spiral of a formerly good author unfolding in full gory technicolor. Ms Winters will really have to step it up in her next book. No, scratch that - she must step it up in the next book before this book surely has to be the bottom of the barrel for her.

Rating: 45

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