Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-45840-0
Romantic Suspense, 2003
Jane Graves’s Flirting with Disaster is a bouncy road-trip romantic action adventure story instead of being a typical romantic suspense story. It’s worth a look, especially if one enjoys stories of handsome men and gorgeous women on the run from bad guys and falling in love amidst their many adventures along the way.
Dave DeMarco, cop, and Lisa Merrick, pilot, grew up in the same town. She was the town bad girl, he was the golden kid with the perfect girlfriend, and they shared one kiss before he went off to marry his girlfriend Carla. It’s a kiss that came out of nowhere – okay, maybe from somewhere as they were new friends attracted to each other but trying to deny this attraction while doing school homework together. Then they parted ways. Today, Lisa calls Dave for help. She has learned that she is working for people that smuggle drugs on the side, and when she tries to notify the authorities, they sabotage her plane and send armed men after her. Now in hiding in Mexico, she asks Dave to come help get her out of trouble. Dave, now a widower and single father, comes at once. When guys start firing at them, that’s when he realizes that Lisa may be telling the truth instead of being delusional as a result of her plane crash.
There’s a subplot that mirrors Lisa and Dave’s adventures: Lisa’s mentor, Adam, faces an attempt on his life but he too manages to escape through a lucky turn of circumstances and runs to Sera, his much younger female friend whom he has deeper feelings for. Lucky for him, so does she.
I have a great time reading this book because the author manages to weave together a tale that is simultaneously brimming with humorous repartees as well as danger. It helps that when the story edges this close to campy B-grade action movie territory, the author cheerfully acknowledges this by having Dave remark on it. The characters are also well-developed and likable. Lisa is a typical bad girl with vulnerabilities, but at least she has made good for herself. Dave is a slightly tortured sort. The flashbacks are a little too corny for my liking (Dave comes off like a soapbox instead of a person) but as adults, these two have great chemistry together. The secondary romance fares less well – Adam and Sera come off as two people more in love with the idea of unrequited love than the concept of love itself, if I am making sense here.
I do have one complain though. The author fails to balance the romance with the action properly. Instead, she compartmentalizes her story into chapters that are “romance” interspersed with “action”. Dave and Lisa can be on the run in one chapter, but the next chapter can easily see them spending pages either having sex or psychoanalyzing their emotions for each other. The abrupt switch of mode from “action” to “romance” often makes me wonder whether it is wise that these two people spend so much time sighing over love when their lives are in danger. Because these characters have the baffling luxury of time-out moments when they want some, there is never any real sense of danger in this book. How authentic can the sense of danger be when one can spend time chit-chatting with friendly innkeepers and exchanging life stories when only a few pages ago people are spraying bullets at one’s behind?
It is not easy to balance out the romance and the suspense in a romantic suspense book, but in the case of Flirting with Disaster, the author spends pages developing the romance, sometimes at the expense of the external conflict. While I like the romance and I don’t mind the external conflict as both are enjoyable to read, in this book both the romance and the suspense seems to work against each other. Hopefully, the author will achieve a better balance in the future. In the meantime, though, this one is just so much fun.