Beginning With Baby

First Comes Love

Wish You Were Here

Do Not Disturb by Christie Ridgway
(Avon, $5.99, PG-23) ISBN 0-06-009348-X
Do Not Disturb would have been more if there had only been less. Everything about this story goes a little over the top, as if the author didn’t trust herself to write something genuinely amusing, so it’s taken to the nth degree just to make sure the reader gets the humor. It ends up more annoying than anything else.

Investigative reporter Angel Buchanan is heading to Big Sur for a private memorial service for Stephen Whitney, America’s famed “Artist of the Heart”. Angel has a personal reason for covering this funeral: she’s Stephen Whitney’s illegitimate daughter. Whitney abandoned Angel and her mother when Angel was only four, and she wants to debunk the man who was revered for his “family values”. An expose should do nicely.

At the memorial service, Angel meets Cooper Jones, brother of the grieving widow, Lainey. Angel is surprised to find she has a teenaged half-sister, Katie. Cooper is highly suspicious of Angel, and when she checks into Tranquility House, a retreat run by Cooper, he decides to get rid of her. Since Tranquility House is “a no electricity, no caffeine, no talking, let’s all eat tofu” kind of California retreat, Cooper figures Angel will be gone in twenty-four hours, but he reckons without her grit. Also, he’s attracted to her.

Angel, of course, is attracted to Cooper, as well. They have a serious case of the hots, and after sniping and bickering for a while, end up in bed. Soon Angel is getting to know the family and questioning her decision to write an expose. Cooper, a former hotshot attorney who has retired to the retreat for health reasons, feels he can’t offer much of a future to any woman. So they’ll just have hot sex.

This story is entirely predictable, which didn’t add much to the reading experience. Tranquility House was a big clue that the humor was going to be applied with a sledgehammer. No electricity? You know Angel is going to be addicted to her hair dryer, don’t you? No caffeine? You know she’s going to go to ridiculous lengths to get her hands on a cup of coffee, rather than just drink tea for a few days, right? Angel will go to any lengths to get her story, except when she’s a bit inconvenienced, and then she has license to whine incessantly about it. Cooper is no prize in the gentleman department, either. His suspicions of Angel should give him free rein to act like a jerk to her, yes? Which he does for far too long. I desperately wanted someone, anyone, to tell this guy where to stick his attitude.

There is a secondary romance between Beth, Lainey’s sister, and Judd, a family friend who lives at the retreat and hasn’t spoken in five years, heaven knows why. (We’re told he’s into Taoism.) Some goofy vow of silence is worth more than letting the woman he loves know how he feels, I guess. Beth has her own issues, and when they come to light, it’s pretty obvious she needed some heavy therapy years earlier.

When Angel’s deception comes to light, Cooper does the expected, whereupon the author resorts to a natural disaster to bring everyone back together. Angel has her epiphany, everyone gets their happy ending, and three days after finishing the book, the only reaction I could remember was one of annoyance. This is too bad, because when the author forgets she’s writing a contemporary comedy and stops dragging in the screwball elements, there are tantalizing glimpses of a genuinely moving novel here. Angel really does have a poignant personal history, and Cooper really does have good reason to be concerned about his long-term chances at a relationship.

Unfortunately, they remain only tantalizing glimpses. With its California Fruitcake ingredients, forced humor, and unsympathetic characters, Do Not Disturb was a disappointment.

--Cathy Sova

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