Tropical Getaway by Roxanne St. Claire
(Pocket, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7434-6276-9
***
Roxanne St. Claire’s contemporary debut, Tropical Getaway, is an uneven read with enough sparkle to make her an author to watch. Too often, new contemporary authors toss in a suspense thread almost as an afterthought. Here, the suspense plot is well thought out. It’s the romance, and the heroine, who need more work.

Chef Ava Santori gets a call at her family’s Italian restaurant one day informing her that her younger brother Marco is dead. Marco, disowned by his family some years earlier, had apparently been working as first mate on a luxury sailing ship when it disappeared in a hurricane. All 21 of the crew were lost. But the owner, Dane Erikson, had insured the ship for 40 million dollars. Furious, and not a little guilty, Ava heads for the Caribbean to claim a chunk of the money from the greedy bastard who sent her brother to his death.

Dane is taken aback when he meets the young woman who looks so much like his close friend, Marco. To find out she’s Marco’s sister doesn’t bring any solace, as Ava immediately lights into Dane with accusations of selfishness and recklessness in sending his ship into the eye of a storm. After pitching a hissy fit on the beach after the memorial service, Ava is introduced to a young woman who was apparently Marco’s fiancée. Cassie urges Ava to get to know Dane. He’s well-respected by the islanders and his crew. Ava insists he’s a bloodsucking leech out to reap the insurance reward.

Dane couldn’t be nicer to Ava, though by now she was trying my patience. He takes her aboard one of his other ships, tries to get to know her, shares his memories of Marco. Ava stubbornly clings to her determination to make Dane pay, though she begins to waver a bit when a smarmy lawyer shows up, wanting her to sign onto a class-action suit against Dane and his company. Plus, she’s tremendously attracted to Dane, and the feeling is mutual.

Ava finally starts to admit that Dane may be an okay guy, but if he didn’t deliberately send the ship into the storm, then what really happened? The suspense heats up when Ava and Dane start to get closer to the truth.

As a contemporary romantic suspense, this one is pretty good, at least in the suspense department. The story moves along at a brisk clip, the events seem plausible without being forced, and the secondary characters move the story along without taking over the plot.

What didn’t quite fit was the supposed connection and attraction between Dane and Ava. Dane is portrayed as a ladies’ man who has just never found the right woman. If Ava, with her spitting, bitchy accusations, is a candidate for instant attraction, I have to question his sanity. For the first quarter of the book, Ava comes across as a guilt-laden woman who knows she screwed up in turning her back on her brother, so she’s going to take out her helpless rage on Dane. Marching down to the Caribbean to demand an insurance payoff smacked of blood money. I never really warmed up to her, and some of her actions were borderline stupid to boot. The climax is brought on by Ava doing something pigheaded and foolish, and the reader can only sit in dread, knowing what’s coming and unable to skim past it.

Dane handles his own guilt by treating Ava with patience and kindness. As a hero, he’s a peach. The author doesn’t skimp on letting readers see Dane hurting and vulnerable, either. He’s lost a good pal, and it’s not brushed over. His supposed attraction to Ava, however, remained more of a mystery given her high-handed personality.

Despite the heroine’s flaws, Tropical Getaway is a solid first effort that will entertain a lot of readers. Keep an eye on Roxanne St. Claire.

--Cathy Sova


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