Getting Her Man

As Michele Jerott:

Absolute Trouble

All Night Long

A Great Catch

Her Bodyguard

 
Off Limits by Michele Albert
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-82056-0
****
† Avonís farewell gift to Michele Albert is the ugliest front cover art Iíve encountered in some time. Not only is it poorly drawn (my 9 year old son with delayed fine-motor skills could have done better), but the absurd figures look nothing like the novelís hero and heroine. The packaging presents the book as yet another screwball romantic comedy, when itís really a fairly serious romantic suspense novel. So if you believe that you shouldnít judge a book by its cover, take a chance on Off Limits. Its intelligent characters and scorching love scenes made me wonder why Avon insisted on consigning this talented author to midlist purgatory. †

Albertís faithful readers may be familiar with Bobby Halloran, who made his first appearance in Absolute Trouble (written as Michele Jerott) and returned in last yearís Getting Her Man. Heís a smooth-talking, overzealous New Orleans cop who doesnít like to play by the rules. Put him together with Emma Frey, who recently moved to New Orleans after she wore out her welcome in the LAPD by testifying against several rule-breaking policemen, and watch the fur fly. †

Well, sort of. This isnít quite the battle of the sexes that the back cover (which doesnít do Albert any favors either) suggests. True, Bobby and ďEarnest EmmaĒ begin their partnership as adversaries, but they learn pretty quickly to understand and help each other through an intriguing case. Chloe Mitsumi, little sister of a convicted mobster and drug dealer Jacob Mitsumi, disappears after reporting that her house has been burglarized. Complicating the case is the fact that Bobby helped put Jacob behind bars Ė and that he and Chloe were briefly lovers. When the dead bodies of Jacobís former henchmen start turning up, it appears that Chloe has important information or objects in her possession, and Bobby is determined to protect her, even against her will. Emma wants to solve the case but she doesnít trust Chloe. Is her antipathy because Chloe might be tied into her brotherís crime network or because sheís jealous of the womanís prior involvement with potential heartbreaker Bobby? †

It took me a while to warm up to Bobby. I never read Getting Her Man, and Absolute Trouble was released five years ago, which might as well be an eternity considering the number of books I read each year. So I didnít understand why the otherwise sensible Emma would fall in love with such a hothead who seemed to delight in flaunting the rules. Albert should have provided a little more backstory for her newer readers. But by the end of the novel I was intrigued by this man whose bravado covers up a troubled personality that is dangerously close to the breaking point. When Bobby falls for Emma, he falls hard without apologies, and although he has a macho protective streak, he never treats her as anything less than a professional equal. Despite initial denial, he changes enough to admit that he might need help to prevent professional burnout. †

Emma is an admirable heroine who tried to do the right thing in Los Angeles but wound up destroying her career there instead. Sheís straight-laced and shy, but she opens up for the right occasion, like a co-workerís barbeque, or Bobbyís lovemaking. Sheís a good cop too, and solves the case while displaying an abundance of professional competency. †

Probably the most intriguing character in the novel is Chloe Mitsumi, whose outrageous behavior and appearance prevent most people from seeing the human being inside. Although Albert dangles obvious sequel bait in the form of two friends of the heroine from Getting Her Man (they will get their stories in Albertís upcoming books from Pocket), Chloe would make a much more interesting heroine if Albert ever decides to tackle her story. †

Prospective readers should note that despite the cartoonish cover, there are some very serious issues addressed in the novel, including domestic abuse, burnout and death. Thatís not to say that the novel is humorless, but itís no lighthearted romp. †

Michele Albert never fails to deliver an interesting story with decent characters who eschew Big Misunderstandings and other idiocies. Obviously Avon didnít know what to do with her since she didnít conform to their requirements for ditzy heroines and sometimes asinine plots. I wish her better luck at Pocket; she deserves a successful career. †

--Susan Scribner


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