Now or Never

Sooner or Later

All or Nothing by Elizabeth Adler
(Delacorte, $23.95, PG) ISBN 0-385-33380-3
Elizabeth Adler used to write Judith Krantz-type novels full of glamorous but troubled women finding true love. Lately, however, she has switched to romantic suspense. Perhaps her editor suggested that she could emulate the successes of Nora Roberts, Tami Hoag and Linda Howard with this new genre, but I don't think it was a good idea. All or Nothing is a disappointing read.

Despite a childhood spent in poverty, Al Giraud, private investigator, has made a success out of himself. The former cop lives a fairly unremarkable life in Hollywood Hills, with the exception of his exceptional girlfriend.

Meet Marla Cwitowitz : "blond, thirties, stylish, sexy, good-looking and, although she looked like a movie actress, a professor of law at Pepperdine." In other words, perfect. Although Marla is rich and successful, she is looking for more excitement in her life, and wants Al to make her a partner in his private investigation business.

She gets a chance to lend a hand when an attractive local real estate agent vanishes and the client who was last seen with her is labeled as the chief suspect in what is assumed to be her murder. Coincidentally, Al and Marla saw the two having drinks together shortly before the woman's disappearance. Marla, who thinks the accused man is innocent, contacts his wife, who immediately hires Al to investigate the situation. Marla only has to pout and threaten to withhold sex from Al for a few minutes before he goes against his better judgment and agrees to take her on as a partner. But the case has several strange twists, and both Marla and Al are soon up to their necks in danger.

Perhaps Adler wanted Al and Marla to remind readers of Nick and Nora Charles in the delightful Thin Man movies of the 1940's and 50's. If so, she fails dismally. The alleged witty repartee and banter falls flat, and the reader never really cares about the characters, primarily because there is no character development or any tension in Al and Marla's relationship. They are blissfully happy from first page to last. I couldn't help recalling the ups and downs that Eve Dallas and Roarke have endured through the course of Nora Roberts' In Death series; in comparison to the depth and richness of that relationship, Al and Marla's alleged love was barely credible.

It was also difficult to empathize with the novel's heroine. Marla is so rich, beautiful and glamorous that she is annoying. She's also frequently a walking product placement, as in this scene:

Sighing, she added a brushload of black mascara, dusted apricot blush over her slanting cheekbones and on her eyelids, then added a touch of Tenderheart gloss to her lips. She spritzed herself with Hermes' 24 Faubourg, sniffing appreciatively, then drifted back to the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of Evian and a glass and walked back to the master bedroom.

Now, what did that passage add to the story other than free advertisement? Other than looking glamorous and occasionally being put in jeopardy, Marla doesn't really add much insight or assistance to the case. Al does most of the legwork and figures out the criminal's identity. Once this happens, halfway through the novel, Adler shifts gears and lets the reader in on the villain's point of view, which is neither very interesting nor helpful. Then it's just a matter of Al and Marla catching up with the criminal and seeing justice done before they are free to indulge in more rapturous love scenes.

There is a minor secondary plot concerning the fate of the real estate client who is accused of murder and his wife, but both characters are too bland to hook the reader either. There are a few attempts at screwball humor, including an overly enthusiastic female police detective, but they aren't very funny.

Two of my esteemed colleagues at The Romance Reader have enjoyed previous Elizabeth Adler books much more than I did, so I guess this is an author with major appeal that I just don't appreciate. But if given the choice between All or Nothing of Ms. Adler's future releases, I'll have to choose the latter.

--Susan Scribner

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