You know how it goes — I read a gazillion books a year. Sometimes they blur together, especially if I go on a bender. Things can get weird when that happens. Like when I (accidentally) pick up a Linda Howard book in the grocery store. Honest, I meant to get orange juice, but I went in the wrong entrance.
I digress. So, being a good citizen (I have a badge in Book Buying), I read the back cover. Okay, this was mostly because I never know who might be reporting back to my husband, and I wanted to create the impression that thought went into this purchase. And I’m reading and I’m thinking and I’m trying to remember, “Did I read this before?” Then, being of sound mind and marginally okay body, I realized the book was a sequel.
Here’s the deal. I read To Die For, the book that made its sequel Drop Dead Gorgeous possible. Not that To Die For needed a sequel, and, frankly, had one never materialized, the world would still function with clockwork-like efficiency. On the other hand, Drop Dead Gorgeous is such pure fun that I’m glad Linda Howard made what could be construed (by the Great Unwashed) as a gratuitous gesture. To think, I could have spent the afternoon working or something.
In the first novel, someone was trying to kill Blair Mallory. In the second novel, same song, second verse. The first book (which Blair, as narrator, informs the reader should be read for the backstory to this book; in television, it’s called breaking the fourth wall. In books, it’s called snark) ended with Blair happily involved with hot, alpha cop Wyatt Bloodsworth. In the previous novel, he’d dumped Blair after a few dates because he rightly determined that she was topping the high-maintenance scale.
So true. Blair is exceptionally high-maintenance. In our first novel, Wyatt moved beyond this fact, aided by the fact that Blair is also hard-working and results-oriented. Sure, she was in the murderous sights of her ex-husband’s new wife. Did that stop her from accomplishing her goals? No. Which means that in Book Two, Wyatt is reconciled to the fact that she’s who she is and he’s feeling indulgent…as long as she meets his 30-day deadline to plan and hold their wedding. No more trying to schedule around family commitments.
As punishment, she puts him in charge of the flowers.
Galvanized into action, Blair moves at warp speed. Quite literally when a car deliberately tries to mow her down in the mall parking lot. Blair ends up with cuts, bruises, and a nasty concussion. You try to plan a wedding with your head spinning, and not in a good way. Also, recall that overnight stays in hospitals wreak havoc on tight schedules.
Ostensibly, Blair hasn’t (recently) pissed anyone off enough to ignite murderous rage. No evidence, no motive — what’s a cop to do? Oh, right. Tell his high-maintenance fiancee that he’s a busy dude and not at her beck-and-call. Yes, I can see all the women out there cringing. Blair doesn’t take this brush-off as well as he hopes. Yet, even as she senses she’s being followed, she also continues with her wedding plans…even as doubts creep into her mind.
She’s proven right in a big way, and I appreciate the fact that Howard didn’t go into a whole Big Misunderstanding subplot that would have destroyed my faith in humanity. Possibly one of my favorite things about this author is that she lets her characters act like grown-ups. They can be downright petty and irritating, but they don’t belabor the point merely to extend the page count.
This isn’t a new-fangled Linda Howard suspense novel. The someone-else-wants-to-kill-Blair subplot isn’t as violent or compelling as it was in the first novel (or most of Howard’s recent works). It is the exploration of the relationship that fascinated me.
Like To Die For, Drop Dead Gorgeous is written in the first person. Everything we see and understand is filtered through Blair, and I like how Howard balances her tendency toward violent action with Blair’s very real interaction with the real world. Blair is the type who notices a bad dye job on a hospital nurse. She’s the type who grows angry when she’s not allowed to participate in a crime scene investigation. She’s the type who realizes that an extreme haircut involves a certain level of sexual compromise. She’s the type who gets really angry when someone comes between her and her dream wedding. And her running dialogue remains true to character.
Linda Howard has a great first person voice. She doesn’t go too far into melodrama, nor does she go too far into easy jokes. One of my favorite aspects of Howard — and the one that only I seem to focus on — is her humor. She’s funny. She’s really funny. Funny is hard, and she’s good at it. This may not be the deepest, most intense book she’s ever written, but it was a sheer pleasure to read.
In a way, Howard goofs with romance stereotypes left and right. Blair is, sure, a heroine, but she’s also petty and mean. Wyatt is a jerk. Once a romance hero and heroine declare everlasting love, it’s supposed be pure perfection forever. This is the epilogue I’ve always wanted from a novel. No miracle babies, no simpering appearances in subsequent novels.
After the last book ended, these two alpha characters are still jockeying for position and trying to figure out how real life works. They do underhanded, sneaky things — Blair manipulates Wyatt into a remodel — and they try to find common ground even as they plan their wedding. You read these books and wonder how in the world fighting, sparring, unmatched characters are going to last beyond the final page. This is how it happens.
They grow up together.
My biggest complaint with this book was the big scene with the would-be murderer. Said villain sneaks into the garage while Wyatt isn’t looking as he backs out of the driveway. Wyatt looks. He pays attention. I’m sorry, he does. Sure it all worked out just fine, but I didn’t believe this scenario for a second.
I’m not going to quibble. This isn’t my favorite Linda Howard book (still, yes, Open Season — surely someone want to lovefest this one with me). I probably won’t even reread this one. But if, oh, there’s another book featuring one of Blair’s sisters, I’m going to put aside my usual crankiness and pick it up. Linda Howard has earned my sequel trust — and we all know I don’t bestow that easily!
You can find Linda Howard here, okay, you can’t. No website. You can buy Drop Dead Gorgeous here or here.