Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-82103-6
Contemporary Romance, 2002
Risky Business is a very uneven debut by Suzanne Macpherson. The opening chapter makes me fear for my life. But as it rumbles towards the finishing line, I find myself charmed despite my reservations about the premise and characters. If there’s one thing I cannot peg on this book, it’s the label “boring”.
Marla Meyers is a gorgeous model who, alas, is a walking disaster magnet. She trips, she falls, she stumbles. If there’s a banana peel somewhere in the vicinity, her legs will automatically drag her there to trip and fall over. Or at least, that’s the impression I get from reading the first few chapters, and I am about to send this book for some cheap exorcism conducted by some loonybin street prophet by things improve tremendously.
Since she is a walking disaster magnet, her agency decides to get her face insured. So she just has to approach Tom Riley, an underwriter who hasn’t sold any policy in a long time and needing money bad, for that purpose. Would you buy an insurance policy from a salesman whose office is cockroach-infested and who is wearing taped-together glasses? That’s a romance heroine for you.
For the insurance thing to work, Tom must be Marla’s bodyguard 24/7. She decides to pass him off as her boyfriend. “Oh boy, someone’s been dipping into Mommy’s secret Harlequin Temptation stash,” I mutter as I try to keep my eyes from rolling upwards.
Actually, I am kinda already halfway in heaven. A short (compared to the heroine, that is), poverty-stricken hero who is in good terms with his ex-wife and who wears taped-together glasses? A supermodel with no hang-ups about her looks, occupation, or sexuality? Okay, so there are plenty of overused, familiar characters: the heroine’s gay best buddy (complete with fashion advice and wardrobe), the hero’s minority best buddy, the psychopathic stepmommy, and several more. But I find myself liking the gay best friend Anton. Sure, there are some typical plot devices too – Anton giving Tom Riley a make-over to reveal the inner hunk, for example. Marla’s klutziness turns out to be a series of “accidents” caused by baddies, but I’m more thankful than anything for that revelation. I don’t think I can take a bumbling vapid heroine.
But Marla is anything but vapid, just as Tom is pure, delicious Nerd Lust personified. Never mind the overblown and cringe-inducing prologue – I’ll skip it if I were you – Tom is actually a cute guy who lacks the larger-than-life money, suaveness, and polish of a typical romance novel hero: he’s broke, he’s delightfully cynical and down-to-earth and even brusque at times, and his lack of polish is so adorable. Marla is also a nice heroine who, despite the obligatory “Daddy oh Daddy, I hate my Mommy and I love you best!” family drama mama thing of hers, comes off as refreshingly normal. Maybe too normal, since she’s supposed to be a popular and hot model, but hey, any heroine who comes off as a coherent character instead of a walking, ticking patchwork of sexual neuroses is always okay in my books.
I find Marla and Tom’s relationship very nice indeed. It flows fine and natural. The chemistry’s there, and these people seem to really like each other. Risky Business, however, is strange in that while there is very little contrived or forced in the characters, the plot is all about contrivances.
It probably says a lot about this author’s voice and style that despite setting her story in a plot best described (kindly) as “absolutely hogwash”, her characters – fun, likeable, and memorable characters – manage to win me over and keep me reading to the last page. And even then, the nice feelings I have from reading about Marla and Tom manage to linger around a little longer. I think I’ll take this book as a promise of good things to come from Suzanne Macpherson. Let’s hope she delivers.
In the meantime, while not the best of books, I can honestly say that I have no regrets reading this book. “A delightful new voice” may be a trite phrase abused by everybody who wants to write for Romantic Times, but in this case, that probably fits Suzanne Macpherson nicely.