|Don’t let the James Bondesque title and cover blurb fool you – this he-man hero might be an undercover operative, but the heroine isn’t window dressing who will meet her maker before the final credits. You Only Love Twice is quite a complicated and captivating tale, and one that is also quite political – weapons of mass destruction, anybody? Conspiracy theories about evil in high places in our government? In some ways the tale of intrigue is actually a bit more compelling than the romance, which is saying a lot, because the romance is complex, sweet, and hot.
Cartoonist Marlie Montague lives alone in suburban Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator of the successful “Angelina Avenger” comic series, which allows her taller, sexier, more assertive alter ego to live out both her fantasies and her paranoia about government conspiracies. And she should know about conspiracies – her father was accused of treason during the first Gulf War, then shot while allegedly trying to escape. Shot by his best friend. Even though Marlie was only was eleven, she knew that something was fishy about the whole tale, but was helpless to do anything about it. Angelina Avenger is not helpless – not ever.
Joel Hunter, her new neighbor, is not the kind of hunk you expect to show up on your doorstep in suburbia with a measuring cup, looking to borrow a cup of anything – except maybe trouble. Joel is on an undercover surveillance assignment and his target is Marlie. An ex-SEAL, he is now with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and this assignment was cooked up by his ex-father-in-law, Joel believes, as some sort of punishment. And this is punishment; Joel’s got cameras all over her house and has been watching her every move for a couple weeks. He doesn’t believe that the Angelina Avenger comics are any more subversive than MAD magazine, and the assignment is particularly punishing for him because it was his father, a Naval officer, who shot and killed Marlie’s father 15 years earlier.
Marlie doesn’t know who Joel is or was, but she hooks up with him in short order because she opened her front door expecting the UPS man and got, instead, a calm but deadly visitor who announced that he was her assassin. Listening to her inner-Angelina, Marlie hauls her butt over to the new neighbor’s because, although she has no fondness for military men (and she’s pretty sure he is one), she does have a fondness for staying alive and thinks he is the most likely candidate on the block to keep her that way. They are soon on the lam together as Marlie tries to figure out which of her recent plots was close enough to the truth to get the government, or some other entity, on her case.
I was hooked on this book – and these characters – from the first chapter, if not the very first page. Wilde is a master of snappy prose, and the characters’ inner dialogue was vastly enhanced because Marlie has two personas – herself and Angelina, the sassy-mouthed, butt-kicking, dare-you-to alter ego that more than holds up her end of the conversation. Turns out inner dialogue is much more interesting than inner monologue.
This book was also blessed a set of fully formed characters who are allowed to grow from experience (at least the primary ones were, while those in the secondary romance remained a cipher). These could have been your standard issue alpha-male and ditzy counter-culture babe; they are instead much richer, and more interesting, multi-faceted beings who have quirks, core personalities, and life-experiences that are fascinating to discover. Joel in particular seems pretty self-aware for the neo-Neanderthal Marlie labels him.
In the end, I was amazed at how much just plain fun this book was – it’s hard to imagine how government conspiracy, flight from the law and assassins, death and betrayal could be construed as comedy, but the writing and dialogue keep this surprisingly lighthearted. How could it not be when one of the primary characters is a comic book persona? Too bad Angelina can’t have her own sequel.