Risky Business
by Suzanne Macpherson
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-82103-6
***
Marla Meyers may look like the supermodel she is, but underneath her blonde good looks, she’s also a superklutz. In fact, her modeling agency has just told her to get her face insured before she walks down another runway. Which is why she walks into Tom Riley’s dingy insurance office that fateful morning and into the adventure of her life. Tom may dress like he got his clothes at Goodwill, wear a Colombo trench coat and a day-old beard stubble, but his eyes are the color of rich, dark chocolate, and he’s got a body to die for that his disreputable wardrobe can’t hide. And when Marla tells him why she’s there, he can’t wait to write up the policy. It will get him caught up on his child support, get his office equipment out of hock, catch up the bills, and maybe even pay a couple of months rent.

The problem is that his boss isn’t as happy about the policy as Tom is, and requires him to keep a 24/7 eye on Marla for the next thirty days to make sure they don’t have to pay up. So in short order, Tom meets Anton, a gay hairdresser who’s Marla’s best friend; Rita, who owns the modeling agency; B.B., Rita’s gambling-addicted son; and Paris, another model who seems to have it in for Marla, even though Marla swears they’re friends. And the accidents keep happening - Marla falls down the stairs, trips into a wedding cake at a charity fashion show, has an allergic reaction to feathers in her costume, and Tom is going nuts trying to keep her and his commission safe.

Anton helps him clean up his appearance with donated clothes from his last boyfriend, but Tom knows that there’s no way he and Marla will ever be able to get together, no matter how many sparks fly every time they’re together. He comes from a huge Irish-Italian family, lives in a roach-infested apartment, and spends every penny he makes, and he doesn’t make many, on Max, his ten-year-old son, who lives with Tom’s ex, Doris, in the ’burbs. Marla might have grown up on a farm in Indiana, but she makes a million dollars a year, lives in a luxurious penthouse apartment, and is definitely one of the beautiful people. He’s a beer and baloney guy, and she’s champagne and caviar all the way.

Marla, on the other hand, is certain that the accidents are all really accidental, although she’s enjoying having Tom around to protect her. The only problem is that he’s messing up her carefully organized schedule. She’s leading a double life, as a supermodel, and as the author of a series of detective stories with a decidedly hard-boiled ’40s style.

Marla, Tom and Anton are great characters who come to life quickly. The plot has enough twists to keep the reader interested and on edge, and the excerpts from Marla’s latest book are amusing and add to the story as she writes Tom and his seedy appearance into her plot. Unfortunately, the scene during which Tom and Anton solve the mystery of the accidents depends on two of the less-realized characters, and the action and dialogue sound more like a bad B movie than anything else; very different from the first half of the book. An East Indian cab driver named Rama who spouts metaphysical psychobabble also adds to the mix and the mix-up. Rama’s dialogue and appearance as a “swami” type character verge on insulting, and he adds little to the plot other than some rather lame comic touches. Doris is also written into and out of the plot in a very deus ex machina way, providing the reason why Tom is struggling financially, and then conveniently getting herself out of the way later in the book so Tom can have custody of Max.

While Macpherson shows her skills in setting up the plot and creating several memorable characters, her last hundred or so pages is not as tightly written nor as believable as the previous 300. The quirky characters don’t work as well, and the laughs seem to fall flat. Risky Business is proof positive that too many pratfalls can all too easily seem lame rather than laughable.

--Joni Richards Bodart


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