Like a Knife

Dead Ringer by Annie Solomon
(Warner, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61229-4
Angelina Mercer has spent most of her adult life being a party girl. Her latest sugar daddy has just kicked the bucket, and Angelina is sending him off in grand style – by throwing a wild party in his Memphis mansion. She’s forcing herself to have a wild and crazy time when the Feds coming knocking on the door.

Federal Agent Finn Carver needs Angelina’s help and he’s none to happy about it. Seems her long lost mother was married to a man connected with the Russian mob. It also appears that her long lost stepfather is responsible for a recent theft of plutonium – enough to arm a nuclear weapon. The Feds need Angelina to gain entrance into Victor Borian’s Montana ranch and ferret out the stolen goodies.

Adopted, Angelina has been desperately trying to gain access to information on her birth mother. So even though she has a deep distrust for law enforcement, when Finn lays all of his cards on the table, she agrees to help. However, Angelina’s distrust of the law isn’t the only thing standing in the way – Finn also has a deep distrust for women that fit Angelina’s “type.” Can these two find the stolen plutonium and fall in love without killing each other?

Nothing gets my rocks off more than when I find a romance novel with non-traditional elements in it. Solomon throws in the biggest non-traditional element of all by giving the reader a heroine who isn’t a cookie-cutter Pollyanna Pure. Angelina is a heroine that doesn’t take any bull. She calls ‘em like she sees ‘em – which continually puts her at odds with straight-arrow Finn. It also doesn’t help that she has a tendency to use her party girl image as a defense mechanism. She immediately tries to put Finn in his own compartmental box – and almost immediately realizes that she can’t. While he tends to behave like an ass towards her, Angelina cannot deny that not only does she want Finn’s respect, but also that for the first time in her life she truly wants a man.

Naturally Finn distrusts women like Angelina because of a traitorous other woman. While this is a very traditional element in many romance novels – the author does something a little different here by making the betrayal Finn suffered really big. This is a guy with a good excuse. He immediately butts heads with Angelina because he figures she’s cut from the same cloth, but slowly realization begins to dawn on him. Angelina is her own person – a person Finn has come to respect and care about a great deal.

The romance here takes quite a bit of time to build. Angelina and Finn have a very combative relationship for a good majority of this book – so it takes them some time to wake up to their true feelings. Blessedly, the author does not give readers one of those dreaded “I hate you, have sex with me, I hate you” types of romances. When these characters finally get their happily ever after, this reader was left with the feeling that they were moving onto something better.

The suspense here is sort of middle of the road. I had this one pegged by the time Angelina made her way to Victor Borian’s Montana ranch – but the author keeps the suspense ratcheted up enough that I was forgiving. There is also a wonderful, climatic finish that had me glued to the pages.

Readers who want characters away from the same-old-same-old romance conventions need to run to the bookstore right now. Angelina is by far the most different and memorable heroine I have come across in a long time. She’s prickly, wary, slow to trust, a hard-ass, a party girl, and a little girl lost all rolled into one messy package. Pairing her up with a straight arrow, slow to trust, he been down wrong hero, provides plenty of combustible moments, making Dead Ringer compulsively readable. Try it – you just might enjoy your trip away from the ordinary.

--Wendy Crutcher

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