Paradise Island

Sun Valley by Gena Hale
(Onyx, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-41039-4
A golden opportunity is lost on page 14 of Sun Valley when heroine Neala Delaney begs federal agents to take her back to Denver and let the mobsters who are after her just shoot her in the street. Granted, she voluntarily placed herself in witness protection, but she can’t stay on a cattle ranch in rural Montana!

Alas for readers, the agents don’t rise to the bait and the book continues with Neala firmly planted at Sun Valley Ranch. (Where’s a good hitman when you really need one?) On the other hand, any reader willing to slog through the implausible silliness that is Sun Valley has only herself to blame if she ends up thoroughly irritated and out seven bucks.

Neala Delaney, lounge singer, is asked once again by her Uncle Sean to help save the U.S. Government and act as an operative. In the past, “Neal” has worn a wiretap into a Columbian drug cartel, helped break up a Mexican smuggling ring, and infiltrated a harem run by a Middle Eastern ambassador. Somehow I doubt that our covert operations groups are so desperate for operatives that they need to place civilians in crucial positions for major sting operations.

This one should be simple: pick up a “package” from a senator’s wife, and bring down a Chinese mafia group in the process. Oh, and by the way, Neal’s current boss is involved. Neal and the senator’s wife are out of luck when they have to hide in a closet and the senator ends up dead. Neal, after hearing the background story (which is hidden from readers until the end of the book) sends the senator’s wife away and agrees to offer herself as a witness for the prosecution, provided she is placed in witness protection.

We next meet Neal getting off the plane in Montana, where she’s being sent to Sun Valley ranch to hide out. Neal is busy throwing a major temper tantrum at being hauled off to the boondocks. She’s also worn a backless red cocktail dress under her coat, “expressly to irritate her keepers” (this woman volunteered for witness protection, remember). Neala had been expecting a luxury suite at a fine hotel, complete with cable TV, bubble baths, and lots of room service - just like she’d seen on TV. Meet Neala. Her initials are TSTL.

The tantrum goes on for six looooonnnnggg pages, then Neal sneaks away, steals the agents’ rental car, and ends up out of gas on a highway. Guess who picks her up? Will Ryder, owner of the Sun Valley Ranch, a man who isnot happy to babysit this woman for the next eight weeks. But one look and they start lusting. She’s wearing a hot dress in cold Montana, therefore she’s really a tease and a tramp, just like his late ex-wife. He’s a coldhearted cowpoke with a great body but all wrong for her.

Sheesh, just write the script yourself - you’ve read all of this a hundred times. There is absolutely nothing new or entertaining here, unless a “heroine” in a snit for two hundred pages is your idea of great reading. The secondary characters are just as irritating, chiefly a twenty-year-old daddy’s girl in denial and a stereotypical overbearing father determined to force his daughter into a marriage for his own ends. Any humor this might have held, with both women vying for Will, is buried under a series of catfights that sound like something you’d hear in a junior high cafeteria. Will really wants to get rid of Neal, but he’s hot for her, dammit. Neal can’t wait to get away from Will and Montana, and by the third or fourth time she tried to escape, I just wanted her to fall off a cliff or get run over by a horse. To hell with her misery - put me out of mine.

And the climax is just as annoying. For rural Montana, how likely is it that virtually every character is involved in the original murder?

Sun Valley is the third in a trilogy. I didn’t read the other two, and this isn’t going to make me want to pick up the author’s next trilogy, which is a spin-off of this one. Shrill, immature heroines, stereotypical heroes, and implausible plotting make this a book to avoid. The most provoking part of the book may be the cover quote by a Big Name Author and the book’s dedication - to that selfsame author. Amusing? Insulting? Draw your own conclusions.

--Cathy Sova

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