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Welcome to Temptation

Agnes and the Hitman
by Jennifer Crusie & Bob Mayer
(St. Martinís, $24.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-36304-4
The moral to Agnes and the Hitman is that good food solves life's messiest problems. When the going gets tough, the tough get cooking.

Agnes Crandall is a popular syndicated food columnist who writes as Cranky Agnes. Agnes is more than just a bit cranky; she has an anger management problem. She bashed two ex-fiances with a frying pan when she caught them cheating on her. She got probation with court-ordered therapy and community service. If you want my opinion, all she needed was a better lawyer and an all-female jury and she would have gotten off. The jerks deserved it.

Agnes is living in her dream house. She first came to Two Rivers in South Carolina with her school friend Lisa Livia when it was owned by Lisa Livia's mother Brenda. Now Agnes is buying it along with her fiancť Taylor Beaufort, a chef. All she has to do is hold Lisa Livia's daughter Maria's wedding in the house, and sheís forgiven three months' worth of mortgage payments. How hard is that? Agnes and Taylor are in the process of writing a cookbook. Agnes has already achieved fame as the author of a cookbook on mob food. Life is good.

Shane Smith is a hitman. Yeah, that's right: one of those guy who go around knocking off people other people want dead. After Shane kills them, Carpenter comes in and cleans up the mess. Nice, huh? You'd think this guy is a few good deeds short of a hero.

When the story opens, Agnes is confronted by a dognapper in her kitchen. This guy is holding a gun and wants to take her dog Rhett. Agnes throws hot raspberries at the guy then bashes him with - what else? - a frying pan. He falls backward through the wall and into the basement below and breaks his neck. It seems like the wallpaper was covering up an open doorway into the basement, but how was she supposed to know? Agnes turns to her friend Joey for help.

Joey knows more than he's telling Agnes. He knows she's going to need protection. He calls Shane.

Shane's been feeling some job dissatisfaction lately. Hanging around Two Rivers, eating great food, and appreciating Agnes's many fine qualities - and a lot of her cooking - is not a half-bad way to spend some time. There's a lot more going on in Agnes and the Hitman than just Agnes bashing guys with a frying pan and Shane rethinking his career. You see, there are mob connections, Brenda might have some ulterior motives, Taylor turns out to be a skunk just like Agnes's earlier fiances, the house needs painting and landscaping right away, and bringing off a wedding that takes a pink flamingo turn is not as easy as you might think. And that's not all.

This second collaboration between authors Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer is lots more successful than the first. If screwball comedy is to your liking and you don't mind if a book's plot and characters are way beyond plausible, then you'll have a rollicking good time with Agnes and the Hitman. You'll be laughing so hard you wonít even notice it's credibility-challenged.

I do have one real problem with the book: all that food and not a bite to eat. Itís too bad Agnes didnít serve up any recipes to go along with the murder and mayhem.

--Lesley Dunlap

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