Angels and Outlaws
By now I really should know better than to take Harlequin’s promos to heart and realize its continuities are seldom as cool as they sound. Somehow I never learn. The ads for the new White Star series proclaimed, “If you loved The DaVinci Code, Harlequin Blaze brings you a continuity with just as many twists and turns and, of course, more unexpected and red-hot romance.” Sounds pretty good, right? Well, the first installment, Lori Wilde’s Angels and Outlaws has an absence of twists and turns and the romance, while hot enough, isn’t all that unexpected. It’s not a bad read for what it is, though fans of The DaVinci Code are more likely to be left underwhelmed.
The story gets off to a promising start as an unnamed thief steals the legendary amulet The White Star. It then takes an immediate hit with the introduction of our heroine, Cass Richards. We first see her standing on a ledge eight stories up. It seems that her very expensive designer scarf blew out the window and Cass is risking her life to retrieve it. If that wasn’t foolish enough, the author tells us: “She’d maxed out her Visa on the scarf because wearing gorgeous, expensive things made her feel better about herself.” This just made her sound pathetic, and I was already dreading spending two hundred more pages with this vapid, dimwitted creature.
Detective Sam Mason comes to her office to question her about a series of robberies striking New York’s elite. Cass can be connected to all the victims, so he considers her a potential suspect. When Sam spots her on the ledge, he assumes she’s trying to kill herself. It hurts my head just thinking about the contrived wackiness of it. After some overly silly dialogue, he saves her. More contrived circumstances conspire to bring them together again, and she agrees to help him with his investigation, not knowing she herself is the prime suspect.
They wind up at the home of a New York socialite for the weekend where they pretend to be lovers so Sam can get access to the society folk who are all potential victims and villains. This being a Blaze, the party’s hostess introduces a sexually-charged game where each of the couples in attendance has to be bound together for the weekend and forced to complete a series of tasks. The couple who finishes all their tasks without being sick of one another by the end of the weekend wins. This seemed like one of those typical Blaze premises that’s supposed to seem sexy but comes across as forced and lame.
The first half of this book is so uneven it practically has multiple personalities. The opening robbery is cool and intriguing, which clashes badly with the zaniness of the ledge scenes. There’s some snappy banter and clever bits, and also some lines that thud like a piano shoved off the top of a high-rise. Sam is a stock character and Cass is silly and shallow, yet somehow they’re fairly engaging and likeable. Mostly, it seemed like the author was trying way too hard to be funny and sexy instead of letting her story’s strengths stand out, and the forced silliness and gimmicks ended up diminishing them instead. For instance, her characters had more than enough chemistry without throwing the tied-together gimmick in there and using a silly treasure hunt to keep them together.
And yet, against all odds, the story actually improves in the second half, probably because she strips away most of the silliness and tightens the focus on the main characters. For one thing, Wilde acknowledges the heroine’s shallowness, which turns out to have a purpose after all. Rather than glorify her materialism as so many romance and chick lit authors seem to do, Wilde has Cass examine her behavior and try to change. Character growth is always a good thing. Sam and Cass have a nice rapport as a couple, which is finally allowed to stand out without all the extraneous business as they spend more time together. While Sam’s suspicions about Cass seem to be dictated more by the requirements of the plot than logic, the suspense plot builds to a decent conclusion, with the conflict heightening the tension nicely. The villain’s identity isn’t a huge surprise, but the payoff is satisfying.
As for the amulet, it doesn’t amount to much more than a plot device used to set Sam and Cass’s story in motion. Wilde doesn’t reveal much about it or do anything at all with it, so the story’s most intriguing aspects go unexplored. However, the final scene offers a welcome, and much-needed, glimpse at the bigger picture involving it that provides some hope the series could still turn out to be as exciting and mysterious as promised.
While it’s not the strongest beginning to the series, Angels and Outlaws is a decent enough read for what it is. The stronger second half lifts the book to slightly above average, and I ended it with more affection that I would have predicted early on. Now let’s just hope the story picks up more next month in Carrie Alexander’s Hidden Gems.