When the Storm Breaks

No Escape by Heather Lowell
(Harper, $7.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-054212-4
How likely is this?

After six years of experience, a Los Angeles assistant district attorney whose father is the former Director of the FBI is disbelieving and shocked when informed that there are bad people who would take advantage of a young woman coming to LA seeking fame and fortune in the entertainment industry and force her into having sexual relations with high-profile athletes.

What planet has this babe been living on?

It’s just as likely that for six years she has only prosecuted misdemeanors (sounds like a dead-end career path to me) and is completely unaware of the existence of any scummier criminal activities.

But that’s supposed to be the situation with the heroine in No Escape. A better title would be Clueless in LA.

Tessa Jacobi finds a sobbing eighteen-year-old Kelly Martin in a park. Kelly tells her she’s been raped by professional football quarterback Sledge Aiken. Aiken claims consensual sex, and the police are reluctant to pursue the case after negative publicity involving criminal investigations of other high-profile athletes. Even Tessa admits there are weaknesses in Kelly’s story. She claims to be from Denver and has come to LA to pursue a singing career, but there is no record of her in Colorado. She has a number of credit cards with different names in her purse, and her explanation is not credible.

Tessa made promises to Kelly and cannot abandon her. In spite of the police’s refusal to make an arrest, Tessa pretty much drops the bulk of her caseload to focus on Kelly. On the advice of friends within the police department as well as her father, the former head of the FBI, from whom she is mostly estranged, Tessa consults Luke Novak, a private investigator. Further investigation reveals that an ultra-exclusive private club, Club Red, may be a front for prostitution, white slavery, and other crimes. Tessa’s and Luke’s questioning will reveal a dark side to LA.

This synopsis covers the first third of the book; it takes that long to lay a foundation for the plot. Lately I’ve been disappointed in many of the romances I’ve read – they seem shorter with less depth than many of my long-time favorites. No Escape has length – 420 pages’ worth – but the plodding pace doesn’t make for a gripping read. Length does not necessarily translate into depth. Depth requires an entertaining plot and solid character development that transcends stereotyping.

Tessa has been given the now almost-requisite unhappy childhood. When her father married a super-model soon after her mother’s death, Tessa devoted herself to raising her brother while her stepmother flitted around the world to exotic locales. Then her stepmother decided to try motherhood so Tessa’s attentions were no longer wanted. She’s still bitter and refers to her stepmother as “Stepmonster” – hardly original. As a result, Tessa is estranged from all but her brother.

For a woman of her age and experience, Tessa seems excessively naive and gullible. Surely six years as a criminal prosecutor should make one a little skeptical of a farfetched tale, but Tessa swallows Kelly’s version verbatim in spite of the holes in the story. As far as her disbelief that someone could take advantage of a young woman with dreams of a recording contract ... I have this bridge for sale.

No Escape’s story moves slowly. The page count is more a factor of the book’s pacing than the complexity of its plot. The book completely fails the put down/pick up test–between starting it and finishing it, I read four other books. I cannot recommend a book that doesn’t hold my interest any better than that.

--Lesley Dunlap

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