Getting Her Man

Hide in Plain Sight

Off Limits

One Way Out

Tough Enough
by Michele Albert
(Pocket, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-1-4165-3139-5
Michele Albert's Tough Enough would make perfect airport reading. Its fast pace would help while away the time, and its simple plot would guarantee minimal attention. As with other such books, it is likely to fade quickly out of mind once it is out of sight.

Will Tiernay and Mia Dolan were college sweethearts. If Mia had not been offered the chance to study in Venice, they might have gone for the long haul. Instead, she opted to move in a very different direction, but didn't know how to initiate a healthy break-up. Will learned their relationship was over the worst possible way — when a man answered his early-morning phone call to Mia.

Heartbroken, Will got on with his life. After a career in U.S. law enforcement, he joined Avalon, a secret organization that hunts down stolen art. His latest mission: investigate Haddington Reproductions, a Boston-based firm that makes commissioned replicas of priceless objects. One of its current projects is a Byzantine reliquary. Rumor has it that an insider is planning to replace the real thing with the fake.

Once in Boston, Will is shocked to discover that the love of his college life works with these authorized counterfeiters. He is determined not to jeopardize his mission, but he isn't against a replay of their old relationship. With one significant difference: this time, he intends to be the one who walks away. Will begins to think differently when he realizes he has endangered the woman he still loves.

The adventure isn't the most inventive, and the mystery isn't the most puzzling. And yet, a nice balance between adrenaline-pumping action scenes, sexy bedroom encounters and light-hearted verbal banter keep the pages turning. Where the book falls short is with the characters and their relationships. Since Will and Mia jump into bed early on, it's hard to tell how well matched they are. Reminiscing about the golden days of yore might work for a couple of months. And then what?

Nor is there much scope for them to grow independently. Mia seems nice enough, but she suffers from the absence of a clearly defined role. Given her limited involvement in the adventure storyline, she is neither a butt-kicking action heroine, nor a woman-in-distress. She may have some regrets about the past and some preoccupations about her future with Will, but not enough to generate an engaging subplot. It is only towards the end of the book that she has to face a minor ethical dilemma. The rest of the time, she is relegated to the constraining, uninteresting and secondary role of the tough guy's girlfriend.

Will comes closer to hero material. Circumstances force him to make some important decisions. They aren't always the right ones, but they ensure his character goes through a learning curve.

The novel introduces several secondary characters, including a handful of villains and several operatives who are to star in future Avalon missions. It takes pains to add complexities to the former. In fact, some of the bad guys and gals are more intriguing than Will, Mia or their allies. This unexpected focus makes sense given the series Albert is planning. The villains will feature prominently in the unsolved mystery that ties the different books together. I nevertheless can't help regretting that Albert doesn’t give her main characters the same depths. It might have ensured a more memorable book.

--Mary Benn

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