I read Ms. Palmer’s hardcover debut with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. Back in the day (early eighties) when I was a teen, Palmer was one of my autobuys. As happens, my tastes changed and she dropped off my radar. When I saw her latest on the review list I thought it’d be interesting to revisit this early favorite. In Desperado she attempts to combine her very tried – though not always true – plot elements in a faster paced, somewhat lighter fashion with mixed results.
Initially my trepidation seemed to be the more valid emotion. The first few chapters had just about every staple Palmer plot point you could mention. Hero and heroine are foster siblings – Cord Romero and Maggie Barton. He’s a Texas ranch owner/mercenary who wants the heroine but can’t love her for various reasons. She’s a naive twenty-something office worker of some kind who’s determined to take a job in another country so that she can get over her unrequited love for him. They have both been married unsuccessfully to other people, though Maggie’s only sexual experience was a drunken one-night stand with Cord (surprise, surprise).
Cord and Maggie do navigate the first few chapters of love you/hate you/lust for you/hate you/love you with familiar Palmer hit-you-over-the-head clunkiness, but then they begin to actually talk to each other. Not like other contemporary romance characters do, and certainly not like you or I do. Palmer characters never talk or act like anyone you or I would ever meet. That’s something her readers already know. But they are talking and dealing instead of just playing an endless rerun of the first couple of chapters and that’s where Palmer seems to be trying to break free a bit from her own pattern. She even throws in an occasionally funny moment.
That Maggie and Cord try to work on their relationship is something new. The plot is not. Short version is an unrealistic evil-doer who’s out to get Cord and Maggie. Longer version is he’s some kind of super-criminal heavily involved in an international child slavery ring. Everyone, including Cord’s fellow mercenaries, his private investigator friends, Interpol, the CIA, the FBI, and various other international investigative agencies are after the bad guy, but he only wants Cord.
The plotting is silly. The characters act in unbelievable fashion. Every sex scene is hot and heavy (although I will give Palmer props for her characters experiencing soreness after one sex marathon). I’ll admit to all of this and still confess I began to enjoy myself. It’s possible I kinda sorta had a good time reading this book because I used to like Palmer, I don’t think it’s the sole reason. When I try to reread earlier books all I can see are those repetitive plot elements.
What pulled this into a marginal passing grade is Cord and Maggie. Of all the Palmer characters’ recurring character habits, hero groveling is one of the more enjoyable and Cord grovels very nicely. Once he does, with the occasional backslide and renewed groveling, he and Maggie become sort of fun. But honestly, Desperado will probably only appeal to already existing Palmer fans. If you’re not a Palmer fan, I’m pretty sure this one won’t make you one. Enough said.