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Drive Me Crazy by Nancy Warren
(Brava, $14.00, NC-17) ISBN 0-7582-0583-X
***
Because I’ve read and appreciated some of Nancy Warren’s previous stories, I picked up Drive Me Crazy with some enthusiasm. This book is Warren’s first single title. The title itself is apt: there are moments when aspects of the book — particularly the main characters — drive me crazy.

Duncan Forbes arrives in Swiftcurrent, Oregon, to investigate a stolen Van Gogh painting titled Olive Trees and Farmhouse, and his research suggests that Franklin Forrest has it. While Duncan is frustrated to learn that Forrest died a few months earlier, he’s determined to pursue the investigation by questioning Forrest’s granddaughter, Alex. After he meets her and discovers that she is the local librarian, Duncan decides to pursue her, too.

Things become complicated when Alex finds a dead man in the library. For some people in Swiftcurrent, Duncan is the obvious suspect. No one knows him, he’s not planning to stay in the area long, and people aren’t convinced by his story that he’s there to research “the history of a few famous French Impressionist paintings.” However, it’s soon clear that someone besides Duncan may be responsible.

Setting aside the stolen painting angle, which while improbable, I’m willing to go along with, I found Alex and Duncan to be problematic characters. Admittedly, the first sentence was enough to raise my hackles: “Duncan Forbes knew he was going to like Swiftcurrent, Oregon, when he discovered the town librarian looked like the town hooker.” The first 150 pages confirms my initial negative impression. Duncan is an alpha hero times ten and not in a good way. Take his assessment of the way Alex dresses:

“You could be totally at ease with your body, and dress that way to celebrate your sexuality and your pleasure in your own skin. . . . Or, you could be so insecure, you project that sex goddess image as a smokescreen. You could be secretly terrified of men. You could hate sex. . . . You could be frigid.”

Note to Duncan: it’s possible she wears short skirts and high heels simply because that’s what she likes to wear.

The banter between Alex and Duncan continues along these lines. Alex interprets his gibes as a challenge, and the sex soon begins. The sex, while deserving of its NC-17 rating, seems somewhat unemotional, largely because the main characters aren’t fully fleshed out (excuse the pun) before they hit the sheets.

While this appears to be an insurmountable problem, the book takes a much needed turn for the better. The reader learns more about Alex and Duncan, so their attraction begins to feel more genuine. Duncan tones down to become an alpha squared.

There’s also an appealing secondary romance between Alex’s sister, Gillian, and Tom, a local police detective. In fact, Gillian and Tom are more compelling characters; I enjoyed reading their story.

While I can’t entirely recommend Drive Me Crazy, I plan to read Nancy Warren’s next book in hopes that she simply needs time to find her feet in the longer, single-title format. Readers who want to get a taste of Warren’s style without wading through this novel should try By the Book or her short story in Jingle Bell Rock instead.

--Alyssa Hurzeler


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