Loaded by Shari Shattuck
(Pocket, $6.99, V) ISBN 0-74346384-6
Callaway “Cally” Wilde seems to have it all. She’s young, beautiful, and filthy rich. She has a butler and lives in a huge house with a glorious view. Dig a little deeper and Cally has a seriously dysfunctional family, a hefty amount of emotional baggage, is incredibly lonely – oh and someone is trying to kill her.

After leaving a business meeting, Cally finds herself shooting a crack addict in self-defense. It seems like a run of the mill robbery attempt, until another incident leads the handsome police detective on the case to believe that someone is out to silence her – probably for her money. Since Cally was the sole beneficiary named in her late father’s will, and numerous claims have been brought forward over the last two years – it appears that one of her nearest and dearest doesn’t exactly wish her well. The question is – who?

I’ve taken to calling certain types of noir/crime/suspense fiction “macho guy books.” You know, books featuring slightly surly heroes who drive fast cars, sleep with fast women and get beat up a lot. Well Loaded struck this reviewer as a “macho guy book” written for women. Shattuck easily portrays the seedy and glitzy sides of Los Angeles, and she gives her heroine plenty of rough edges to work with.

Cally has issues. She has kept everyone in her life at arm’s length for a variety of reasons. She was devoted to her father, and when he died that left her with a mother nicknamed Attila The Mum, a half-brother who loathes her, a needy sister-in-law, and a stepfather who likes her well enough but is married to the aforementioned Attila. As for personal relationships, once she inherited the money, Cally didn’t know what exactly men were after – so she kept things strictly sexual. She’s a hard girl to get a handle on, and while the first person narration helps, it took some time for this reader to really crawl under her skin.

While my uncertainty about Cally held me back for a little while, Shattuck has such an engaging first person narration style, that it’s hard not to get sucked into the story. The suspense angle is also well done – as while it’s apparent early on that a member of her family is somehow involved, the author literally kept me guessing to the end. There are more red herrings floating around in the last one hundred pages than at a mystery writers’ conference.

The secondary players are also well fleshed out. Most notable is Detective Evan Paley who is working Cally’s case – and in most instances Cally herself. There’s enough sexual tension between these two to heat Cally’s expansive home, with some wattage left over to take care of the swimming pool. He’s smart, sexy and best of all – he’s got her pegged from the moment they meet. The dysfunctional family, the female butler, the best friend stuntwoman, and a slimy lawyer round out the colorful cast.

However the best parts of this story are often the little added touches that swim below the surface. Cally literally changes over the course of this story, as while she is closed off emotionally in the beginning, she’s more open at the close of the last chapter. There are also a handful of references to drug addiction – as Cally is a recovering cocaine addict – that painted vivid images in my mind with only a mere sentence or two.

Loaded marks the first entry in the Callaway Wilde series. Shattuck is also an actress, and if book one is any indication her day job may have to take a back seat to a promising new career as a writer. I didn’t want to stop reading and it kept me guessing – two surefire criteria I use when deciding between “good” and “bad” suspense novels. Loaded is good, and more importantly, it’s different. Readers looking for female characters with some hard edges will want to hop on at the ground floor.

--Wendy Crutcher

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