Through what can only be viewed as a quirk of fate, I found myself in a situation where there were only two books on my desk. Setting aside the fact that someone cleaned my personal space without my express permission – I am now unable to find anything – I was in a quandary. It was time to select my next review vict— book. Choices? A book called Viva Las Bad Boys! versus a book called Scoop.
For professional as well as personal reasons, I went with the latter book.
Scoop is the story of a wanna-be investigative reporter (something we’ll explore in detail in a moment) who foils a suicide attempt, only to learn that the wanna-be dead guy doesn’t quite make it after all. Before and after the dude is offed, people are very intrigued by the conversation our heroine, Cauley MacKinnon, had with the man. You know, people like the FBI, Customs, criminal gangs, reporters. This is very curious to Cauley, and when she’s nearly killed by one bad guy, she decides to play detective.
Oh, what a bad ideas we tend to have when we are stressed.
Let us get the obvious out of the way: if you’re going to write a novel called Scoop, you have to acknowledge that, well, you have a lot of live up to. Specifically the Evelyn Waugh novel of the same name. Especially if you’re going to set your novel, even peripherally, in the newspaper business. Comparisons are inevitable. Just sayin’…
Cauley is one of those heroines who perplexes me. Literally. I can’t quite place my finger on her age, but I’m guessing around thirty. She’s divorced from her lyin’,cheatin’ doctor ex-husband that she helped put through medical school (if I followed the threads correctly). She left Texas, headed to California, got her journalism degree, and returned to Austin to work at one of the local newspapers. That gig didn’t work out because she ended up boinking her boss.
This means she’s now writing obituaries for the other paper in town. But Cauley really wants to be an investigative reporter when she grows up. She’s perpetually broke yet wears Prada. Men all over the book fall in lust with her, yet she’s a walking disaster area. I do not mean this in a good way. This is a woman whose house gets torched and refuses to make an insurance claim because she’s already made another claim recently. Good judgment is not Cauley’s strong suit, and it makes her a weak character overall. She’s also the kind of character who has a critical conversation with a man who ends up dead — a conversation that everyone wants to know about — yet can’t recall the basics. I mean, this stuff happens, you really wrack your brains. People are dying left and right.
Oh, and Cauley’s tortured with guilt because Scooter Barnes, a reasonably good friend of hers, is dead. He was, the beginning of the novel, suicidal. Apparently, that was his second suicide attempt. Somehow, Cauley talked him out of the first. She also talks him out of the second, but he ends up under observation. Like in a mental health facility. Yet Cauley spends way too much time agonizing over the fact that she didn’t get the man the help he needed. Hello? She convinced him to go to said mental health facility. That’s pretty much helping a guy get the help he needs. What more should she have done — vet potential psychiatrists? Schedule his appointments?
This is fake conflict. I don’t like fake conflict. Of course, looking back, most of the conflict feels forced. Cauley has some sort of rivalry with another reporter, but, shades of Stephanie Plum, this is because the other reporter was sleeping with Cauley’s then-husband. Her internal conflict, as noted above, doesn’t jibe with the story. And the external conflict, the meat of the plot? Oh dear.
This novel falls into that newish category of chicklit-mystery. Both elements were underserved here. Cauley is surrounded by a cadre of snappy friends (including, natch, the obligatory gay guys next door), but their purpose in the story is to serve as window dressing. They don’t advance the story. They don’t have distinct personalities. They don’t have anything to do but clean Cauley’s house before her dates and after her fires. Every now and then, Frazier tosses off the kind of good line that makes me see her real talent, but so much is buried in this mess of a story.
The mystery, which morphs from “why does Scooter want to kill himself?” to “why did someone kill Scooter?” isn’t well-developed. There is Nazi gold and murderous Argentinians and double-crosses, but I’m not exactly sure why everyone was so convinced that Cauley was the key to solving the mystery when she spent a good portion of the novel unable to recall key elements of her conversation with Scooter. Put another way, why did anyone assume she knew anything?
What’s even more interesting — if you’re me and trying to review this book — is the fact that the FBI is hanging around. A supposed Customs agent is on the case. Some guy that Cauley went to high school with is suddenly very eager to get her phone number. Sure, they all have a serious case of the hard-ons for Cauley, but something has to trigger the belief that she was given information by Scooter. I’m simply not convinced that her presence in the shed with him when he was trying to kill himself is sufficient.
Let me try again. If you’re a bad guy (and I know this is a stretch because PBR readers are like super heroes) and it appears that someone, even if she is the world’s most inept wanna-be investigative reporter, is clueless that a crime was committed, do you keep pushing and pushing and pushing until she thinks, “Wow. I think there’s some bad mojo here. I’m going to dig until I find it.” It’s like these people want to get caught.
It seems like I’m nitpicking, and I am. Most of the novel is consumed by people trying to worm information out of Cauley. She dutifully recounts her conversation to everyone she meets (this chick has no filter) — naturally forgetting a key fact until the plot requires her to remember it — and, frankly, there’s nothing worth cutting off an ear over. Eventually, she does the reporter thing and, sure, puts clues together, but none of them seem to be outside what law enforcement already knows. All things considered, I’m not sure why our master criminals couldn’t solve the mystery on their own.
Then there were things. Little things like Cauley parking in an adjacent parking lot yet walking across the street to the building (I had an ARC, so hopefully this was fixed in the final book). Bigger things like Cauley spending far too much time researching the ultimate 70’s vehicle, the El Camino, yet not doing a double-take when a colleague says she lost something important in the backseat of one. And even bigger things like the dated feel of the novel. The use of disks rather than CDs. The fact that an investigative reporter relies on Lexis-Nexis but doesn’t consider Google. The scene where a guy carrying what I am lead to believe is a gun that can level a building skips through airport security without pause. Uh, hello, Homeland Security? Even if a dude is pretending to be Customs, you don’t waltz through the screening process without some guff about the big gun.
Cauley is coming back in another book. It’s one of those series where the romance starts in one book, isn’t resolved, and carries over from book to book to book. And while I realize that nobody is really marketing this book as a romance, Cauley’s relationship with FBI agent Tom Logan is possibly the best part of the book. Things are interesting when he’s on the page. Also, so little page time was allotted to the man.