Crazy Love by Tara Janzen
(Bantam Dell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-24278-9
My mom used to make a dish she called "enchiladas;" two of its ingredients were, I kid you not, Campbell's Tomato Soup and ground beef. I can still enjoy this dish, so long as I think of it as being "tortilla tomato surprise," and not as anything resembling enchiladas. Crazy Love is like that casserole Ė fine if you love it for itself, but disappointing, if not ridiculous, if you expect it to be something that it is not.

Crazy Love is book five in a series about the Special Defense Forces (SDF), a super-secret pseudo-government group that reports to a general in the Department of Defense and is under the protection of an anonymous contact at the highest levels of the State Department. The SDF guys are a bunch of former teenage thieves that live and work out of a garage full of souped-up cars. Dylan Hart is in charge of the group, and he has just returned from a hellish assignment in Jakarta where he was drugged up, chained up and busted up. It is possible he only has 36 hours to live, as a result of the experimental drugs he was shot up with in Indonesia.

Auto mechanic and agent-in-training Skeeter Jeanne Bang has been working with the SDF since one of the agents saved her from a violently abusive family. She is a barely civilized, tattooed, combat boot and fishnet wearing 20-year-old who likes to work on cars and race them. Dylanís been out of the office for awhile, so he wasnít aware that Skeeter had been out getting shot at on missions. Dylan doesnít want her going on any more missions; he has always felt overly protective with her. More than over-protective, in fact Ė Dylan has been attracted to Skeeter for some while, but would never do anything about it because heís her boss and because, well, heís 42 and sheís 20. Against his better judgment, and maybe because he might only have 36 hours to live, Dylan succumbs to pressure and takes Skeeter to Washington DC on a mission to steal a secret file from a Senatorís home during a fancy soiree. Of course there are bad guys there, and Dylan and Skeeter face extreme danger, but not so much danger that they canít explore their mutual attraction.

Crazy Love is full of unlikely people doing unlikely things, and much of what they do doesnít make a lot of sense. Maybe this is because we are picking up in the middle of a continuing story? Not having read reading previous books in this series is a serious handicap. It is just not possible to keep it all straight, in no small measure because of the confusing cast of characters. Not only do all of the men work together for the SDF, but the women appear to be connected in various ways as well, and connected to SDF agents other than their husbands. There is a surfeit of names Ė given, sur-, nick- and perhaps a shortened surname that isnít quite a nickname. Even the cars have names, and since there are quite a few of them, this only adds to the confusion. Why do cars need names, anyway? This confusion is only compounded because the secondary romance, to be featured in the next book in the series, gets extensive play here, and these two characters appear to have been in previous books as well.

I also have to admit that the love story didnít do much for me Ė an age gap of 21 years is borderline icky. Unlike many obstacles in romance, this is one that actually is insurmountable, unless one of them turns out to be lying about their age. There is just too much disparity of life experience and expectations for these folks to make a realistic connection. At the same time, this isnít as big an obstacle as it could be because, except for Dylanís constant musing about how he canít be involved with her because heís twice her age, the age difference doesnít really show up Ė weíre told that itís a problem, but donít really see it as a problem.

All that said, I have to admit that I read this book start to finish in one setting, even staying up to the wee hours to do so. The story line was quite compelling, all else aside. So if youíre not expecting deep character development or a largely realistic plot and can put up with not quite knowing whoís who, this is a tasty dish that you can consume in one setting. Just donít go into it expecting enchiladas.

--Laura Scott

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