The Sex on the Beach Book Club
by Jennifer Apodaca
(Brava, $14.00, R) ISBN 0-7582-1450-2
****
Holly Hillbay is a private investigator working in the coastal town of Goleta, California. She’s a former cop, tough as nails, and needs money. A lone operator (that’s the way she likes it) she just lost her bread and butter client thanks to her ex, Brad The Cad. However, things are looking up. A husband who thinks his wife is cheating on him has hired her. If she is, then hubby can invoke a clause in their prenuptial agreement. He thinks the lovely Tanya is stepping out with bookstore owner, Wes Brockman, so Holly infiltrates Wes’ book club to get the dirt.

Almost immediately Holly releases that hubby is off base. Tanya isn’t diddling Wes, she's playing footsie with lothario Cullen Vail. Even worse, Wes is really cute and Holly’s dormant libido kicks into overdrive. He wants to spend more time getting to know her, but she’s playing hard to get. Then Cullen turns up dead in Wes’ locked bookstore and he hires to work the case.

Apodaca puts her Samantha Shaw mystery series on hold with what is being coined a “romantic mystery” for the steamy Kensington Brava imprint. Since hot sex has been cropping up in her mystery series of late, this isn’t too much of a stretch.

Holly truly carries this story. She’s a strong woman hiding behind a chick with a gun attitude. She’s been hurt terribly by Brad the Cad, and by the abandonment of her mother, so she talks a good game and never cries. Crying is for sissies. While some readers might find the tough girl act a bit thick at times, the fact that Holly is self-sufficient is a welcome breath of fresh hair. She’s still feminine, although she hates dresses and high heels, but she can take care of herself. She doesn’t need Wes to rescue her, and she’s darn good at her job.

Wes is, naturally, hiding a big secret – and when the dead body shows up in his business he’s spooked. He thought his past was behind him, and while he had nothing to do with Cullen’s murder, he can’t ignore the fact that the body was left where he would find it. So was his bookstore just a convenient scene for the crime or is Wes in danger? And while he does not trust cops are far as he can throw them, he suspects immediately that Holly will do right by him. So he cajoles her into taking him on as a client by doubling her regular rates.

The sexual tension here is very good, as is the dialogue. The opening chapters are a bit bumpy because the author immediately jumps into the story with both feet, and has a tendency to compare her characters to celebrities (Wes is described as resembling George Clooney). However, things perk up with chapter three, when Holly’s older brothers (both cops) show up. This first appearance of Joe and Seth tells readers more about Holly’s character than her first scenes with Wes. She’s the little sister who grew up being a tomboy to two older brothers. They taught her to be tough, and she wards off their meddling with smart aleck comments.

The mystery is well thought out, although the author occasionally tips her hand. Not only is Holly trying to figure out who killed Cullen, she’s sparring with her sleaze-ball ex and trying to figure out if Wes is in danger. There are quite a few balls the author has to juggle and she ties up all the loose ends well in the end.

With a title like The Sex on the Beach Book Club, readers can expect to find a fun, sexy beach read between the covers. Never mind that Brava is publishing it in the throes of winter. It won’t change your life, or alter your emotional consciousness, but it’s a sure bet for readers suffering from the winter blues or a wicked holiday hangover.

--Wendy Crutcher


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