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A Private Eyeful by Ruth Jean Dale
(Harl. Temp. #709, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-25809-7
**
A Private Eyeful is the last in the five book 'Hero for Hire' series. The series, beginning with JoAnn Ross' five-heart book, I-800-HERO, began with a bang. It looks like it's ending with a whimper. Before I rated this book, I went back to make sure of the wording difference between a two and three-heart review. I can't rate this book as acceptable. It really is a 'think twice' recommendation.

Nicholas Charles is finally going to meet his boss, Samantha Spade. In past stories, she's been in another room or on the phone, but now she'll be playing a secondary role. Samantha needs Nick to accompany her to Las Vegas, but she's handicapping him because she won't give him details. In the hotel lobby, Nick spots a striking woman, but he has to stay with Samantha to find out why she needs him.

The woman is Cory Leblanc, described as a small-town girl from Houston. Feel free to read that sentence again. Won't Houston residents be amused? Cory has been invited to Las Vegas by her uncle, who hasn't shown up yet, causing her some concern. Cory has just broken her engagement and quit her boring job. She's looking at this trip as a lark, a chance to really change her life, a chance to break out from her boring, monotonous existence. Each night she calls her good friend Crystal, who always remains offstage, for advice from clothes and makeup tips to how to snare the attention of hunk Nick Charles.

Nick has loose time on his hands. Guarding Samantha has become easier. Her two ex-husbands are on the scene and are happily escorting her around. That leaves Nick with the opportunity to romance Cory. He makes no bones that this will be a vacation quickie, with absolutely no possibility of some permanence. He won't even tell Cory his occupation or where he lives.

With characters named Nick Charles and Sam Spade, you know that a mystery is afoot. When Nick is finally told the reason for accompanying Samantha to Las Vegas, his axis shifts. He now has reason to think that shy, unassuming small-town Cory may be an accomplice to the bad guys. Cory's trust in him is shattered when he accuses her of collusion. Too bad her lust level didn't diminish.

These characters did not come alive. While Nick and Cory spend their two weeks in Las Vegas entertaining each other as Cory waits for her uncle and Nick waits for Samantha to do something, the narration reads like a diary entry. Each night he leaves Cory at her door, with both of them sexually unfulfilled, even though Cory has made no secret of her attraction. His reticence is baffling. He's the tease in this equation.

The tenth day of togetherness was much like the others. Nick and Cory played poorly in a golf tournament in the morning, then spent the afternoon lounging around the pool. After dinner and dancing at the lodge, they found themselves once more before Cory's door.

If you want page upon page of this kind of plot interest, then you're in luck.

Let's get back to the mystery. I really can't give details. Because the mystery is so elemental, any hints would be giving away too much. Let me just say that there was no surprise, no interest, no excitement, no pleasure in reading the resolution.

Dashiell Hammett, the creator of these two legendary characters, might not be amused to see how his characters have been homogenized, sanitized and cannibalized. At least we're spared Asta, the schnauzer. As the story progresses, the literary allusions become worse.

What clinched my dissatisfaction with this story was realizing that the characters would have been better suited for mainstream fiction. For the most part, they were vain, unlikable, with little depth or honor. I'm just sorry that a series which showed such initial promise had to end on such an unappealing note.

--Linda Mowery


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