Charmed and Dangerous
by Lori Wilde
(Warner, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-446-61367-3
During the nearly two weeks it took me to finish this book, I realized that forcing someone to watch a cage full of hamsters run frantically on their little wheels for days at a time could prove a very effective form of torture.

Maddie Cooper vowed at age nine that she would always take care of her irresponsible twin, Cassie, and she’s been cleaning up Cassie’s messes in the eighteen years since. As a result, it comes as a bit of shock to discover that frivolous Cassie has been recruited by FBI agent David Marshall to help catch an international art thief.

The thief, Peyton Shriver, has been romancing Cassie to gain access to a valuable Cezanne at the art gallery where she works. Against the express orders of his superiors, David asked Cassie to help him nail Shriver, whom David has been chasing since the cad stole his aunt’s Rembrandt ten years ago.

Now, it looks as though Cassie might have changed her mind and decided to help her light-fingered lover; the Cezanne has been stolen using Cassie’s security code. Now, it is feared, the two are off to use Cassie’s contacts at the Prado in Spain to steal another valuable painting.

Naturally, since David is deluded enough to believe that Cassie is a criminal rather than an innocent victim, Maddie must go with him and rescue her beloved sister from the nefarious clutches of a ruthless art thief as well as the willful stupidity of the FBI. To ensure his co-operation, Maddie tells David that if he doesn’t take her along she will go to the media and expose him as a civilian-endangering screw-up. David seems to find this argument compelling and a partnership is formed.

The plot is largely driven by a huge number of incredible coincidences, supplemented by convenient little explanations, making the whole thing feel as though the author made it up as she went along. I can give you an example that doesn’t involve any plot spoilers.

Since she was a little girl, Maddie (who was a tomboy who grew up to be an Olympic athlete) fantasized that the man of her dreams would propose to her in Venice while they were both dressed in English Regency costume. This story just happens to take Maddie and David to Venice during Carnevale, where they just happen to be helped by a police helicopter pilot who just happens to have Regency-era costumes in his chopper that he and his wife just happened to wear to a Carnevale celebration that just happen to fit David and Maddie who just happen to be soaking wet and in desperate need of a change of clothes.

In fact, the entire book labors under a total lack of credibility that became tiresome. Law enforcement officials in several different countries are eager to provide David with whatever he needs at a moment’s notice, no questions asked. And not one but two forgeries of major works of art, good enough to fool experts, are produced at a moment’s notice. There’s wacky fun, and then there’s just out-and-out contrivance.

The romance consists mostly of the hero and heroine mentally lusting after various of each other’s body parts at mostly inappropriate moments, and some rather bizarre descriptions of passionate encounters. “David tasted like champagne and chicken noodle soup and Camembert cheese and sesame seed crackers.” Does that sound romantic to you? It sounded to me like he needed to brush his teeth. Heaven only knows what the author was thinking when she wrote: “Flick, flick, flick, went his tongue. Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle went her groin.” There’s just never anything sexy about the word ‘groin.’

There is lots of energy, for sure, but too much of the time it’s the kind of energy produced when inept roller-bladers keep running into each other. For a while it’s funny, then it gets monotonous.

During the course of the investigation, Maddie and David cover several countries on two continents. Unfortunately, the story goes nowhere.

-- Judi McKee

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