Signet, $7.99, ISBN 0-451-21912-0
Romantic Suspense, 2006
Christina Dodd’s voice is not translating very well into the romantic suspense. Ms Dodd’s heroes are often exaggerated in their arrogance and bravado, and while these traits are fine if the heroes in question are some pirate or a duke who can do anything thanks to the privilege of his birth, it’s a very different story when we are talking about a contemporary hero. Trouble in High Heels already suffers from a cartoonish plot, the last thing it needs is an arrogant hero who speaks like a parody of a drunk Julio Iglesias trying to pick up underage girls. Allow me to quote one of the more embarrassing “When Eurotrash Attacks!” moments of our hero Roberto Bartolini (not to be confused with the fidgety weirdo that starred in that sappy Life Is Beautiful swill):
“I like that you have expectations, and that I fulfill them. Most Americans women, they can’t say what they wish. They haven’t the words, or they’re too shy to use them. I always pitied them for that deficiency. But you… you speak to me and I am mad with passion. Do you want a madman?”
Maybe it’s just me but I suspect that the words American woman always use where Roberto Bartolini is concerned are: “How much for one hour?” Then again, Roberto with his background of having many, many ex-lovers all over the place that he may or may not have stolen jewelry from is exactly what he sounds like, if you ask me: a stereotypical cartoonish gigolo.
When it becomes apparent that every man from Roberto’s family and his friends speak in this manner, I just have to go, “Eeeeuw!”
Our heroine Brandi Lynn Michael has a dysfunctional family. She has a half-sister and a half-brother, thanks to a father who keeps marrying and then divorcing his wives when they fail to provide him with the specific kind of family life that he wants. When she’s not angling for the affection of a father who seems incapable of delivering any, she’s angling for a ring on her finger from Alan, her boring boyfriend. Alas, Alan calls just after Brandi has moved to Chicago to take up a job at the law firm of her father’s best buddy Charles McGrath. He’s married another woman after he’s gotten her pregnant and he blames Brandi because apparently she’s a cold fish and therefore she drove him into the arms of another woman. Or something like that.
Brandi decides to attend Charles’ party that evening wearing the sexiest red dress she can find, hoping to find some kind of one-night stand that will make her feel desirable again. She finds one in Roberto, but soon when her apartment gets vandalized and more sinister things happen to her, she realizes that Roberto may be involved in some diamond theft plot that she’s unknowingly barged into.
Trouble in High Heels has many elements in its plot that are dated and make it feel like a late 1970’s contemporary romance rather than one more relevant to the twenty-first century. For example, Brandi is constantly surrounded by lechers and women who hate her (with one or two exceptions who don’t feel threatened by her beauty because they are of a certain age group, if you know what I mean) and her reputation is always on the line. Yet at the same time Ms Va-Va-Voom and her body of a sex goddess can still feel inadequate as a woman and needs a man to make her feel beautiful. For all her talks of independence, Brandi is as independent as a secretary in a Mills & Boon romance novel from the 1970’s: she eventually defers to the men who always turn out to be right. I love how she apologizes to Roberto for “using” him for sex – I’m sure the “mad with passion” Roberto is so offended that a hot woman is offering him sex with no strings attached. Brandi’s attitude towards sex, men, and love are typically a throwback to the days when heroines are secretaries and heroes are European lords.
Roberto’s attitude and actions are often very confusing. Ideally, Roberto is Brandi’s ally and lover. But as the story progresses, Roberto clearly shows that he has secrets and he isn’t above sabotaging Brandi. (Naturally, Brandi is weak and she cannot stop Roberto from walking all over her.) But at the end of the story when everything is revealed, Roberto’s actions don’t make sense. It seems to me that Ms Dodd is using Roberto as a plot device rather than a consistent character because Roberto’s motives and personality change from chapter to chapter depending on Ms Dodd’s whims. One moment he’s bullying Brandi into doing something she doesn’t want to do and then using sex to lull her into an agreeable mood, then the next moment he’s trying to help Brandi out from a jam that his own actions caused her to be in. Too often Roberto will say or do something that will either publicly humiliate Brandi before her colleagues that she is trying to impress. He will then brush her protests aside by saying something insipid such as they’re still shagging so that’s all that matters in the end. And then he’s telling her that he cares for her and he’s taking her to meet his family. And then he’s saying that there are secrets he can’t let her know – secrets that are intertwined with the family that he’s taking her to meet. Very confusing character, this Roberto. He makes me think that Ms Dodd is making things up as she goes along when it comes to this story.
Ultimately, the relationship between Brandi and Roberto degenerate into a tedious rut where he’ll say or do things that will embarass or exasperate her, she’ll protest, and he’ll then do something sexual that will send that silly cow of a woman into forgiving him because she lo-ooo-oves him. Because Roberto is a confusing mess of a character, I can’t really get into the relationship to work up the patience needed to endure those two and their silly games. Factor in the hero’s over-the-top arrogance, unintentionally hilarious cringe-inducingly corny dialogs (“I savor the silk of your skin, the strength of your arms”), and exaggerated sluttiness as well as the heroine being constantly treated by other men as some kind of stupid skanky bimbo just because she’s so beautiful but she doesn’t give it out to them and I start to feel like I’m reading a Diana Palmer novel.
And I don’t know what to say about the writing.
She had a fever, and she’d given it to him.
She was young. She was beautiful. She had gifts men would kill for. That Roberto would kill for. Turning his head, he kissed her fingers and banished the cold that had possessed her since she landed in Chicago. He made her heart dance, her blood warm. His perfect body exuded power, and she controlled that power.
What on earth? Come to think of it, this story should have been one of those Sheikh stories because the ridiculous campiness and the unintentionally hilarious prose are off-the-scale in this book.
Still, never mind the dated feel of this book. Perhaps that can be overlooked. The inconsistent characterization is harder to overlook, however. There are also very obvious errors in continuity, especially regarding Brandi’s background. So yes, the campiness I can take – and be amused by – but on the other hand, the whole slipshod abundance of character inconsistency and continuity issues in this book suggest that a tighter editing should have been exercised before this book is allowed to leave the printing press. Oh, there is trouble alright.