Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7615-0
Contemporary Romance, 2004
Fans of Jane Goodger – and there can’t be that many of you out there if she can’t stay published under that name, surely – will be interested to know that she’s back at writing as Jane Blackwood. The Sexiest Dead Man Alive however is a contemporary romance although it still has the two-dimensional characterization present in her Jane Goodger books. It would be still be an enjoyable tale if the hero isn’t so hung up on believing that he is to be blamed for everything that’s wrong in the world. Such tendency to overdramatize his pity parties get really tedious after a while.
Rose Pisario thinks that she has found It – the Dream Job other mere chefs and cooks can only fantasize about while watching the Fab Five in action in Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and thinking, “Damn, so much fame and money for so little effort! I hate them! Hate!” See, she is to cook for a boss that she will never have to meet in person – he communicates with her through the phone – plus he isn’t demanding and he pays her really well (eighty grand a year). The job is as good as being Jennifer Lopez’s professional nipple icer, surely! Even better, her boss has a sexy voice and she gets to fantasize a little while doing her job.
Little does she know that her boss is actually former heartthrob Declan McDonald who managed to ignite the loins of teenaged girls everywhere once upon a time despite having a name that is far from Mick Jagger-esque in nature. Declan goes on a self-imposed exile because he blames himself for the death of his brother. But he can only survive for so long before he longs for human company and food that isn’t TV dinners 24/7. Maybe he should have consider the other more pleasant alternatives available to has-been celebrities: become guest judges on American Idol, write tell-all books, or commit dramatic suicide.
Declan hires Rose because he is taken with her when he first spots her on the camera (wow, great… talent) and now he finds it hard to stay away from her. When she discovers his identity, romance seems to be in the air. However, Declan’s past will soon catch up with him.
Despite having some humor, The Sexiest Dead Man is actually more of an emotion-charged drama, thanks to Declan’s tendency to throw pity-parties and drag everyone screaming into his vortex of Anguish, Self-Blame, and Despair. Rose is a better character in that while she has been burned by men before, she manages to remain optimistic about relationships in general. Her relationship with her grandmother and her personality are refreshingly down to earth and even normal for a romance heroine, although she also displays an overzealous craving for kiddies, hubby, and home that I find rather unnerving.
But in the end, Declan behaves too predictably like a stubborn fool who insists on being a martyr for too long. The Sexiest Dead Man becomes a frustrating test of my patience because Declan just won’t snap out of it. His Poor Little Rich Boy persona really grates and Rose is more patient with him than I would be. Then again, she’s the one with the rabid craving to have a hubby and a baby, so I shouldn’t be so surprised.
Jane Blackwood works hard to give her characters depths instead of being content at just milking the chuckles from her readers. But Declan’s personality is too much of a self-pitying person that behaves just like I’d expect an unimaginative martyr would and because the story becomes too dependent on this aspect of the hero, it becomes very predictable as a result. The premise is interesting and I like the idea of two lonely people bonding over unusual circumstances, but because the characters’ thought processes and reactions are predictable, there is a mechanical feel to this book that fails to endear itself to me as much as it could have.