The Sexiest Dead Man Alive
by Jane Blackwood
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-7615-0
***
Reading this book, I thought of ice cream made with low-fat milk. It can be fun and it can be tasty, but it just isn’t as satisfying as the version made with more substantial ingredients.

Now 32, Rose Pisano has cooked at a respected neighborhood Italian restaurant since she was a teenager, but she wants to open a place of her own (some chapters begin with delicious-sounding menu items like Pappardelle with Beef Rib Ragu and Parmigiano). When she learns about an opportunity to become private chef to a recluse at eighty thousand dollars a year, she goes after the job for the chance to move closer to her dream.

At the interview, Rose finds out why someone is willing to pay so much money to an unknown chef with somewhat limited qualifications. She will never meet the man she’s to cook for or know his name. They will communicate via the house intercom and security cameras, and she will send his meals to him in a dumbwaiter. Rose accepts this weird but lucrative deal.

During their conversations about menus, Rose finds herself weaving fantasies about The Voice. Because The Voice is deep and sexy, she assumes its owner is, as well. She’s half right.

The Voice belongs to Declan MacDonald, a former pop superstar whom everyone believes dead. Declan, for reasons not immediately revealed, decided to hide “until things calmed down, until he was ready to confront the hoards.” So far, it’s been two years.

During his self-imposed banishment, Declan has been writing anonymously for Angel’s Songs, a company that offers personalized songs for terminally ill children. The book has a sub-plot in which a mother, deeply affected by the song written for her child, tries to find the writer.

There were a lot of things to like about this book. It’s lightly humorous and entertaining as the title and cover promise (although at first I thought it would be about a vampire). It drags a little here and there but, for the most part, it proceeds at a briskly readable pace that carried me along. And there is a cast of vividly sketched secondary characters to add depth. The author did a superb job of making me understand Rose’s ambivalence towards her remote mother, while the difficulties of the couple who lost their child to leukemia were, I thought, the book’s most emotionally compelling relationship. If only the author had applied that same lucid economy of detail to her main characters.

Rose is friendly and easy-going, with an irreverent sense of humor. I enjoyed the way she cracked herself up, and I particularly liked the way she consciously decided to go with her feelings and live in the moment, even though it might mean heartache later.

I understood why Declan was intrigued by and attracted to Rose; I wasn’t sure what she saw in him. Rose finds Declan irresistibly sexy (he’s extremely handsome and a practiced charmer); she pretty much melts whenever he touches her and conversation grinds to a halt. So I believe in the lust. Other than that, however, we’re not shown much of what makes him emotionally compelling to her – he’s too much in denial to make a lot of romantic gestures and they don’t spend a lot of time doing things together or talking about much other than food. So I don’t believe in the love.

Declan is, to be blunt, whiney and self-obsessed. I think I’m supposed to sympathize with his reasons for hiding, but his ‘I’m not worthy’ shtick and his conviction that the world revolved around him got old fast. Unfortunately, he clung to this attitude right up until the end of the book, at which point he discovered that two years of self-flagellation were all a Big Mistake. Big relief for Declan, big letdown for the reader.

In spite of that, Declan’s slightly shallow charm does jump off the page, so he became more annoying than obnoxious.

Summer is probably the perfect time for this book to come out. Like that low-fat ice cream, I can recommend it if you’re looking for a light, pleasant treat and aren’t expecting Roasted Chicken Wrapped in Bacon with Gnocchi and Roasted Endive.

--Judi McKee


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