Wendy: Leslie Kelly’s She’s Got The Look is yet another offering from HQN that reads more like a bloated category than like the single title romance the line claims to publish. The book’s jacket copy would lead a reader to expect a romantic suspense, wherein the plot focuses on the men Melody Tanner chose for her “free pass” list—a list of men it’s ok for her to sleep with no questions asked—who begin to mysteriously and coincidentally turn up dead, leading Melody to fear for the number one man on the list: Nick Walker. This, however, is not the case.
When newly divorced Melody moves home to Savannah hoping to put her life back together and learn to live as a grownup, her friend Rosemary sets an unknowing Melody up to meet Nick. Melody and Nick are instantly attracted to one another, but instead of acting on her desires Melody allows her fear of another heart break to rule her life. As Melody endlessly rehashes and battles the self-doubt her ex-husband instilled in her, she is stalked by a heavy breathing caller, robbed of her most prized and loathed possession—peacock blue underwear—and repeatedly humiliated by her friends, as she fights a losing battle with her attraction to Nick. While Melody does have a fantasy sex list, and the men on it do start to die, the story point is but a subplot buried far behind Melody and Nick’s romance, an also-ran secondary romance, and the individual character arcs.
She’s Got The Look disappoints from the start. Kelly fails to open the book at the last possible moment, opting instead for a long and unneeded setup that is further weighed down by copious amounts of back story. The pacing is marred by overly long scenes, the summarizing of off page action and rhythmless dialog that grinds to a halt with constant narrative interruption.
Coincidence plays heavily into the plot; the repeated reliance on the device strains the believability of the storyline. Nick on the cover of Time magazine flashes across a television screen just as Melody needs another man for her sex list. The day Melody moves into her new apartment in Savannah, Nick happens to be on a stakeout watching her building. Nick’s partner Dex is Melody’s friend Rosemary’s boyfriend. Two of the men on Melody’s sex list die just before she moves to Savannah while another two men from the list are murdered during the course of the book (as this plot point unravels, more coincidences are revealed). Just when Melody needs an epiphany, her ex-husband—otherwise absent for the whole of the book—calls, giving her reason to see things clearly. Where one or two story points hinging on quirks of fate could have been off-beat and interesting, propping so many pivotal points on happenstance makes for an implausible read.
The plot is further stressed by too much undeveloped external conflict. Melody’s ex-husband looms specter-like over her new life, but never materializes beyond the mental threat he poses. Melody is stalked/victimized by three men, none of whom make an impact beyond the periphery. While it’s clear that two of these three exist on the page to divert attention from the true bad guy, their presence in the story, and the menace they pose, are unneeded as the stalker is transparently disguised from his first appearance. As the men on Melody’s sex list die off, the possible threat to Nick’s life is unexplored and the storyline plays out without a payoff appropriate to the setup.
Over blown internal conflict fills the pages as Melody and Nick’s relationship undergoes little growth or progress in the first two-thirds of the story, as Melody’s fears—of the whiny woe-is-me variety—are continually returned to in scene after scene. Perhaps by fleshing out the suspense aspects, She’s Got The Look could have achieved a balance between the external conflict and internal conflict.
The largest frustrations are the derivative characters and lack of risk taking in the characterization. Too often Kelly hedges her bets and plays conservatively by weighing her characters down with conflicts not of their own making. As a teenager, Melody was an in-demand model posing for swim suit magazines and lingerie ads as the famous “Peacock Feather Girl.” However, toeing the romance heroine line, Melody did not choose her childhood and teenage career; rather it was forced upon her. Further, Melody regards her past with a shame and self loathing that would seem appropriate had she starred in adult films while wearing her peacock blue bra and panty set rather that having worn them for a photo shoot. The message is clear: Melody’s modeling is ok only because she didn’t stoop to choose it, and, as an added bonus, she hates herself for it. Likewise, Nick, married at eighteen and quickly divorced, who has recently seen—in more off the page action—the end of his ten year estrangement with his family, is not at fault for the dirt on his hands. Tricked into the marriage by lies, he left his cheating ex-wife only to once again be the victim, as it is her lies that create the rift within Nick’s family. By handing off responsibility to other characters, Kelly robs her hero and heroine of faults and missteps that could have grounded them and made them compelling. Instead they’re both blank slates for others to write on and too often do great harm to.
She’s Got The Look is lite fare that doesn’t reach far enough beyond the familiar to engage, opting instead to coast on formula.
HelenKay: She’s Got The Look starts with a promising premise – female friends get together and make men-to-do lists then, years later, the men on one woman’s list start dying off. Unfortunately, the interesting romantic suspense idea collapses under the weight of a plodding storyline and blah characters.
Having been famous in her youth for her modeling career, Melody Tanner passes into infamy when her public revenge against her cheating husband leads to her losing everything in their subsequent divorce. Battered and defeated, she returns to her hometown and to the embrace of her female friends. Years before, on the verge of Melody’s now-defunct marriage, the women drew up lists of the men each could sleep with no matter what. Six years and one nightmare marriage later, Melody moves into her new apartment and meets the Number One man on her old wish list, Nick Walker.
Nick is healthy and alive but the other men on her list aren’t so lucky. Two died from alleged accidents but that happens off screen and are only mentioned by reference. Two are murdered while the plot is running. All of this gets Melody’s attention but not concerned enough to do much of anything about the coincidence, which is appropriate since Kelly treats the deaths as little more than a footnote to the rest of the story.
The plot sputters and falters for a significant portion of the book. The suspense never rises to the level of actual suspense, and the factual basis needed to get that part of the book moving – an on-scene murder – doesn’t occur until approximately 200 pages into the story. By this time, the chase-and-retreat game between Melody and Nick has grown stale and, at times, incomprehensible, as Melody runs in circles from her attraction to Nick. Equally confusing is the basis for Nick’s attraction to Melody. The reader knows she is physically attractive – remember, she’s a former model – but her personality, self-doubt and inability to make up her mind are less than compelling features in the heroine, especially here since Melody seemingly fails to grow at all during the span of 400 pages. Melody speaks to Nick’s need to rescue but, as a basis for his willingness to keep coming ’round no matter how many times she slams the emotional door in his face, it’s slim.
While the pacing is slow and uneven, other books somehow manage to rise above that issue, in part, due to the appeal of the hero and heroine. Not this one. Melody remains from beginning to end, one-dimensional in nature. She is conflicted without basis and emotionally unavailable without reason. This lack of grounding makes her epiphany as to Nick late in the book almost incomprehensible. Her mind changes literally from one page to another, without the reader having any insight into what has changed her attitude.
Nick has the building blocks to be a strong alpha hero, but also never reaches his potential. Snippets of his past add to his overall character but don’t really provide any insight into who he is or why he is so desperate for Melody. In the end, what should be sexy banter and growing tension with a backdrop of suspense, never gets there. The by-play reads more like unnecessary fighting and the tension never builds to a crescendo.
One of the more interesting characters in the book is Dex, Nick’s partner and the boyfriend of Melody’s friend Rosemary. This secondary romance has a different-sides-of-the-tracks charm. At times the characters hover on the brink of overtaking the main romance. But, the thin character sketches keep them firmly in the background.
HelenKay’s Response to Wendy: She’s Got The Look follows Melody but introduces us to a group of female friends. This "buddy group" idea is a popular one for heroines in romantic novels. Many times the additional parties serve only to set up future books. Can you think of a contemporary romance where the "buddy group" was integral to the storyline?
Wendy’s Response to HelenKay: Absolutely: Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me. Min’s girlfriends, Liza and Bonnie, in addition to being the laugh-with-drink-with-cry-with friends a girl needs, are each involved in romances that further the fairytale theme Crusie employs throughout the book. And, neither secondary character is setup to spin off in their own story.
Wendy’s Final Thoughts: Not recommended.
HelenKay’s Final Thoughts: She’s Got The Look starts slow and never picks up the speed it needs to sustain and entertain for 400 pages. Not recommended.