Knock Me Off My Feet

Take A Chance On Me
by Susan Donovan
(St. Martins, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-312-98375-1
How often do you see a pet psychiatrist and a murder-for-hire detective together and assume they have anything in common? How often do you see an award-winning disco dancing hairless dog? Put these together and you have a funny, unique story from Susan Donovan.

Take A Chance On Me centers on Maryland State Policeman Thomas Tobin. Thomas is not your average patrolman. He is an attorney who specialized in prosecuting cases where people hired other persons to kill someone. Soon he was helping to investigate these crimes and now he is an undercover policeman trying to keep these crimes from occurring. In the course of his investigations, he has gotten to know Slick, a bookie and informant. Slick has just gotten himself killed (while wearing a sailor suit) and his Chinese Crested named Hairy (wearing a matching suit) was found at the murder scene. Tobin takes him home, assuming he will find a home for him somewhere.

But little Hairy, a hairless dog, traumatized by what he saw, shakes, shivers and wets himself uncontrollably. Tobin takes him to the Wit’s End Animal Behavior Clinic for help. (These are just two examples of the tongue in cheek humor.) Here he meets Dr. Emma Jenkins.

The earth moves as these two meet. Luckily for the reader, Donovan does not sink into “lust is love” territory. Lust there is, but both realize that and actually control their passions. Thomas realizes Hairy is a witness and can possibly help solve the crime. Emma has just gone through a divorce and her ex, who happens to be a heavy bettor, keeps asking her for money. In addition, Emma has just taken over custody of a 13-year-old daughter of an old friend. The childhood friend died, leaving Emma a mother.

Donovan weaves these stories while keeping Thomas and Emma off balance with their growing feelings for each other. The sexual tension builds mightily. There is one scene where they are eating dinner in an open-air restaurant, eating crabs. Emma is wearing a hot little blue dress and Thomas is stunned speechless.

The story takes a little while to get going. In fact, after about 50 pages, I was certain I was mired in a less-than-entrancing story. But once the pace grabbed me, and the sense of humor captured my fancy, I was lost in pleasure. I laughed out loud at times. The dialogue is fast paced and the story moves along nicely.

Hairy is a hoot. He is the first dog that is actually a fun character to read. LeeLee, the young girl, is genuine and yet not too pretentious.

But the real keepers are Emma and Thomas - intelligent, funny, and somewhat normal people who have unique jobs and see themselves for who they are. They have some insecurity that they fight through. They have some control over their feelings and yet, when they get together, they burn up the sheets. I truly enjoyed both of them as individuals and as lovers.

It is not often that an author takes a totally original idea and makes it work. Susan Donovan does that with Take A Chance On Me. It is a funny, almost screwball comedy that overall is a wonderful reading experience.

--Shirley Lyons

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