All She Ever Wanted

Almost Home

Daniel's Gift

Golden Lies

Just the Way You Are

Love Will Find a Way

Summer Secrets

One True Love

Some Kind of Wonderful

The Sweetest Thing


Played by Barbara Freethy
(Signet, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-21969-4
My rating for any particular book depends heavily on the put down/pick up test: that is, if I put it down, am I eager to pick it up again or does housework seem an appealing alternative? When I was one-third of the way through Played, I felt absolutely played out, I felt the urge to clean. At that point, if I hadn’t been reading it to review it, I would have abandoned it for good.

Christina Alberti is an art historian and certified gemologist. Her father’s connection to shady art thefts has threatened her career. (Any sensible heroine would make a quick career shift and get a long way away from her father’s reputation, but this kind of heroine never considers such a thing.) Christina is presently working for Barclay’s, a prestigious auction house in San Francisco. The Benedetti family from Italy has entrusted some of their treasures to Barclay’s, among them a large, extremely valuable yellow diamond necklace. As the story opens, Christina is modeling the necklace at a pre-auction party. Together the beautiful art historian and the diamond make a stunning vision.

J.T. McIntyre is an FBI agent working to capture Evan Chadwick, first introduced in the author’s companion book Taken. Evan was J.T.’s college roommate; his actions destroyed J.T.’s family. J.T. believes that Evan is planning to steal the Benedetti diamond.

Christina is approached by a man who identifies himself as a professor and an old friend of her father’s. Suddenly there is smoke in the room, and the partygoers dash for the doors. Christina grabs the diamond and runs for the stairs. The smoke was the result of smoke bombs not a fire.

Christina returns the diamond to the anxious auction house owner and quickly departs. Suspicious, J.T. follows Christina not to her apartment but to a house where she hikes up her dress, climbs a tree to a second story window, and enters. J.T. follows her into the house where he finds her in front of an open wall safe. When someone enters the front door, she calls out a warning. Her behavior and unsatisfactory answers raise yet more questions in J.T.’s mind. Nevertheless, they can’t help being attracted to each other.

The day of the auction approaches. Tension mounts. Christina senses something is amiss with the diamond. She questions whether she really saw her father outside the auction house. J. T. looks closely at everyone wondering if Evan, who’s a master at disguise, has penetrated Barclay’s security.

In a romantic suspense novel, I expect to see romance and suspense. The suspense plot is a major failing of Played. The exposition, the initial stage of a fictional plot where necessary background is established, is far too long and suffers from ponderous pacing. The synopsis above is somewhat misleading because it covers the first third of the book, but the plot doesn’t really get going until halfway into the book. The back cover blurb alludes to events that take place in the second half of the book. But is there ever any doubt that the diamond will be stolen?

When the plot finally really kicks in, it depends on Evan having played a fast one. It’s hard to accept that J.T. would be so taken in. Isn’t this guy supposed to be an FBI agent with all the resources of the Bureau behind him? Did he forget the “Investigation” part?

The romance in Played is inserted as if it’s an afterthought. Christina and J.T. are both physically attractive people, but that’s not enough to convince a reader they’re meant for each other. At one point, they’re hiding in a coat closet. Other romance couples have found themselves in the same location and have come close to incinerating the coats. Christina and J.T. don’t even raise the temperature.

It doesn’t help that Christina suffers from some classic Gothic heroine characteristics. Her dad seems to be a few cards shy of a deck, but she loves him loves him loves him and he’s all she’s had all her life so if Daddy sends her a questionable message, she never questions. She’s a spineless victim more suited to be the heroine in a Victorian melodrama. It’s a safe bet that before the book’s end she’s going to end up alone in the dungeon at midnight or in some equivalent situation.

Readers who first met Evan in Taken may be interested in checking out Played. With its many weaknesses, however, most readers would be well advised to play with something else.

--Lesley Dunlap

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