License To Thrill by Lori Wilde
(Warner, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61366-5
****
Las Vegas private investigator Charlee Champagne is only scared of two things – black widow spiders, and long, lean, brown-eyed handsome men. Unlucky for her it’s the latter that comes calling in Lori Wilde’s single title debut.

Mason Gentry is an investment banker for his family’s company and has more money and good looks than the devil himself. Unfortunately, he’s also the guy who gets stuck doing the grunt work; so when his grandfather disappears with half a million in company funds, it’s Mason who gets assigned to track him down.

The trail leads to Las Vegas, where it appears his grandfather, Nolan, was scheduled to meet up with Charlee’s grandmother, Maybelline. That means enlisting the help of Charlee, who has wild child written all over her. To blue-blooded, straight-laced Mason, she’s a temptation that’s almost too much to bear. However, when they discover that Maybelline’s trailer has been ransacked, and someone takes a shot at them, they realize they’re in this mess together – for better or worse.

License To Thrill is equal parts silliness and innovation. I hope I get to meet Ms. Wilde one day, because I want to shake her hand. I’m the first to admit that romantic comedy so often fails to move me because more often than not I feel the writer is trying too hard. Slapstick, too-stupid-to-live, bumbling behavior is rarely funny. Wilde seems to have gotten this message somewhere, because outside of some silly antics towards the end, her characters are never stupid.

Charlee is a breath of fresh air. Not only is she a heroine with a kick-butt job, she’s also pretty darn good at it. When she wields a gun and saves Mason’s bacon before page 40, I knew I would like this woman. She’s smart, resourceful, and more than little gun shy. Her distrust of brown-eyed, handsome, rich men is well earned, and the trailer trash label that’s been stuck on her over the years is a bone of contention.

Mason is uptight. He’s the kind of guy who babies his vintage car, follows the letter of the law, and is always looking for healthy food on restaurant menus. Beneath all that though is a bad boy dying to get out. To say Charlee loosens him up is an understatement, and by the halfway point he’s questioning what he wants as opposed to family obligation.

Another pleasant surprise is that Wilde writes the grandparent characters are real people. Those readers looking for “kooky senior citizens” need not apply. Maybelline and Nolan are real people, sharing a real past. Watching them reconnect after so many years apart was a real pleasure to read about. It’s also refreshing to read love scenes that aren’t perfect. Frankly, Charlee and Mason share one of the most real love scenes I’ve ever read in a romance novel. That everything doesn’t exactly go according to some choreographed seduction plan was not only real, but sweetly romantic as well.

The story does resort to some wackiness towards the end of the book, and while Charlee and Mason keep their wits about them, all the antics tend to move the finish along at a frantic clip. I found myself having to suspend my disbelief in large part during these final chapters thanks to an Elvis impersonator, and a pair of dim-witted hired goons.

The fact remains though that Wilde has given the reader something different with her single title debut for Warner. She gives the reader a smart heroine, older secondary characters that could very well be real people, and a romantic comedy storyline that doesn’t resort to insulting the reader’s intelligence. If you’re like this reviewer and have all but resorted to avoiding books with cartoon covers, I encourage you to pick up License to Thrill. It was a lovely pleasant surprise, and my hope is that we see much more of Ms. Wilde in the future.

--Wendy Crutcher


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