|There is something much too familiar about Susan Andersen's Coming Undone, and I'm not talking about the return of old characters. She recycles the well-worn plot of a bodyguard falling for his rising-star client, but adds no new twists. In fact, there's very little about this book that doesn't read like a paint-by-numbers production.
Priscilla Jayne (P.J.) Morgan, an upcoming and coming country music star, has just fired her mother as her manager. Not willing to accept this public disavowal, her mother goes on a smear campaign that causes both the public and the record company to question P.J.'s sanity and reliability. To protect their investments, the latter hire a watchdog whose main task is to ensure the country singer keeps all her promises. The man they enlist is Jared Hamilton.
Jared and P.J have a past. As runway teenagers seeking shelter in the streets of Denver, they once helped each other. Those adventures are told in Hot & Bothered. Now they are back together as grown-ups with a very different set of problems.
Needless to say, P.J. is disappointed that the boy she once idolized should turn into a man who buys her mother's and the press's lies. She retaliates by giving him the slip on several different occasions. Jared always catches up with her and quickly discovers that she is as straight as an arrow. He is about to put an end to his watchdog role when he realizes that there are other reasons for him to shadow P.J. Several incidents suggest that her life may be in danger. Then, there's the sizzling attraction between them. Though the lovers quickly cave into their desires, they have to wait for their happy-every-after. They must first deal with the threat against P.J. and with Jared's reluctance to acknowledge his emotions and needs.
Despite the presence of a deranged fan, there is very little suspense in this story. Jared is so efficient and P.J.'s staff is so supportive that I never doubted things would work out. Such certainty is an absolute requirement for the ending of a romantic suspense novel, but a few more jolts and surprises along the way usually means a more stimulating read.
I also didn't buy Jared's inner conflict. Yes, he has an excellent excuse to steer away from emotional commitments, but there are equally good reasons why he shouldn't shy away from P.J., not least of which is their shared experience on the streets. His main tactic in keeping his distance consists in giving her multiple orgasms while holding off his own pleasure. Why complain of such devotion in a lover? Because there's a big difference between consideration and the need for absolute control. Ultimately, I found this unromantic behavior moronic. The man may be a topnotch investigator, but he lacks the humility and the intelligence to recognize what matters most.
P.J. is a more likeable character. She has taken more hits and abuse than most, but manages to pull herself up time and time again. Honest and straightforward in her dealings with Jared, she is prepared to acknowledge her desires and confront their problems when he only wants to run away. Frankly, she deserves much better.
A secondary romance between P.J.'s lyricist and her guitarist rounds up the book. Andersen's subplots are frequently more interesting than the main story, but not so this time. These older and more experienced characters have some of the authentic quirkiness of Andersen's other creations, but their conflicts are resolved much too quickly. Ultimately, their story felt more like filler than like a genuine contribution to the story.
Coming Undone is certainly not Andersen's best. Still, underneath the facile solutions and the stilted imagination lies a glimmer of her much touted talent. Let's hope she exploits it more in her future books.