For the Love of Pete
by Julia Harper
(Forever, $6.99, PG-13 )  ISBN  978-0-446-61918-9
****
A run-in with the downstairs neighbor she's dubbed Lips of Sin leads to disaster and hilarity when Zoey Addler's one-year-old niece, Pete, is kidnapped right under her nose.  Leaving her hard-earned car running in the middle of the street, Zoey hops into Lips' BMW and insinuates herself into the chase.  

Lips, as it turns out, is Special Agent Dante Torelli, making a comeback appearance after last year's title, Hot.  Zoey, of course, knew that her sister, her niece, and her sister's boyfriend were under protection; Ricky was supposed to testify against a Chicago mobster called Tony the Rose.  Naturally, she blames Dante for Pete's kidnapping, and then Pete's second kidnapping from a convenience store - by two Indian grandmas.

Not-so-hot on the trail of the grandmas, Dante and Zoey bicker their way through the snow to southern Illinois, where they pick up the trail of the purple minivan.  Tony DiRosa's tough guy, Neil, is right behind them.  Unbeknownst to Dante and Zoey, however, is the fact that Neil's given up on Pete - he's more concerned about Neil, Jr., who was also in the vehicle the Indian ladies stole.

Tony the Rose has a feeling that the situation - which was supposed to be merely the assassination of Ricky and the FBI agents guarding him - has spun too far out of control, and sends his best hitman after the whole lot.  Dante Torelli, operating outside of his agency now that he's a suspect for the entire string of crimes, is pretty much the only hope for Zoey, the Indian ladies, Pete, and Neil, Jr.

 Dante's assignment in Chicago had been two-fold: keep Ricky Hernandez safe until he could testify while secretly investigating a bad seed in the Chicago office.  Since the traitor tied back to Tony the Rose, the plan worked out well, at least until people started dying and kids started being hijacked.  Then he got stuck with a bossy poet with a day job as a whole foods store clerk - not to mention getting shot at daily.  Dante's world is going to hell in a handbasket, and suddenly his entire focus is on a woman he's only known for the duration of a lengthy car chase.

 Madcap to say the least, For the Love of Pete is flamboyantly off-the-wall.  Though the premise itself is a somber one - the kidnapping of a child (even if the child has an unfortunate nickname for the even more unfortunate name of Petronella Spicy), this comedy of errors will bring out a few grins, if not outright laughter.  Dante, as hinted at in Hot, is an edgy guy with the requisite hidden soft side and Zoey is both so normal and so quirky she's impossible not to like.  In fact, Zoey rates right up there with a character out of a Jennifer Crusie novel.  

It's the secondary characters that really make the book, though: Neil, the mob guy in anger management classes, the two Gupta sisters-in-law, constantly arguing with one another, and even Neil's bossy wife, Ashley provides a great deal of entertainment.  Though so many plot twists make it hard to keep up on a few occasions, For the Love of Pete is a guaranteed good read, and will definitely put Julia Harper on more than one must-read list.

--Sarrah Knight


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