A Model Spy
The last few months I’ve bought several Silhouette Bombshells, none of which held my attention past the initial chapters, all of which went unfinished. Natalie Dunbar’s A Model Spy immediately stands as an improvement since I was able to finish it rather easily, but while it tells an interesting story, it’s also a disappointingly uneven read.
This is the fifth in Bombshell’s continuity The It Girls. I haven’t read any of the earlier volumes, but this one was easy enough to understand and told enough of a stand-alone story to work on its own. The Gotham Rose Club is an exclusive charitable organization made up of New York’s young heiresses. What few people know is that there’s more to some of its members than meets the eye. Within the society there is an elite group of secret agents who use their social connections and big bank accounts on crimefighting missions. As the series’ tagline proclaims, “They’re rich, fabulous…and dangerously underestimated.”
Vanessa Dawson left behind a successful career as a model when the nonstop lifestyle and a growing cocaine addiction nearly destroyed her. After emerging from rehab, she re-enrolled in college to get her business degree and make a life for herself away from her wealthy and controlling parents. But when the head of the Gotham Roses spy organization contacts her for a mission, she finds herself drawn back into the life she’d tried to escape.
In Miami, two well-known models, including Vanessa’s former roommate, were found beaten, raped, and murdered. Another model was arrested at the airport attempting to smuggle heroin. The DEA suspects a high-powered figure in the Miami club scene is running a drug ring using models as mules. The Gotham Rose organization, working with the DEA, sends Vanessa in undercover as a model for a magazine’s annual swimsuit issue to see if she can discover who’s involved and who’s in charge. Her partner on this mission is Cody Mackenzie, a DEA agent from the Miami Field Division working undercover as a photographer. It doesn’t take Vanessa long to get close to one of her suspects, hip-hop mogul Taye Rollins. They’re both strongly attracted to each other, allowing Vanessa an entry into his world. She soon discovers evidence that points to his guilt, but her mission is complicated by her growing feelings for him.
The book has a number of positives, which is why it’s ultimately disappointing that it’s not stronger overall. The characters are atypical and intriguing. Besides both being African-American, it’s not every day you see a socialite/model who’s a recovering cocaine addict in a Silhouette release, or a hero who’s a hip-hop star. Through her characters, Dunbar takes the reader into a fascinating world. The chemistry between them is one of the story’s stronger elements. The sexual tension is sky high and the author has no trouble communicating their mutual attraction. This is an efficiently paced tale that moves at a good clip, with some exciting action scenes and suspenseful moments that were very effective.
Unfortunately, the minuses just about neutralize the pluses. The biggest weakness is the characterization. Vanessa is the only character to rise above a single dimension, and that’s not by much. I would call her a smidge above wooden at best. Her family issues are half-baked, and she never quite seems as kick-ass as promised for a Bombshell heroine. Some of the mystery surrounding Taye is appropriate given the storyline, but by the end, he remains too unknowable, his character only half-formed. I finished the book with only a vague idea of who he really was. There are also some odd moments where his behavior is off-putting, like when he presents Vanessa with a barely there outfit he wants her to wear in a video. While this book does have a full-fledged romance, it wasn’t all that satisfying because the characters were so thin.
Meanwhile, Mackenzie starts out as completely charmless, the kind of guy who grew up without money so he’s really rude and insulting toward Vanessa because her family is wealthy. His attitude toward the Gotham Roses’ gay high-tech guru in an early scene was also unappealing. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it didn’t seem like he was supposed to be a good guy. His obnoxious behavior finally ends, which might have been a good thing except it was his only personality trait, after which he basically ceases to exist as a character. His sudden turnaround was also so quick and unmotivated it wasn’t believable at all. The rest of the cast is barely sketched in. The same can be said for the author’s writing for much of the book: it feels sketchy. The plot development is also somewhat uneven.
A Model Spy is an interesting and unusual story, but I can’t really call it a satisfying one. While it has its moments, it also has too many weaknesses to be much more than an acceptable read.