Getting Her Man
Avon is not publicizing the fact, but Michele Albert was previously published by Avon under the name Michelle Jerott beginning in 1998. There’s nothing nefarious in their choice. I’m guessing Avon wants to give her a new start since her previous books, though well-written and well-received by reviewers (including AAR’s), have not gotten the attention they merited with readers. Though I don’t think Michele has hit one out of the park with Getting Her Man, I do think she has a lot of talent and may possibly have a Howard/Crusie future ahead of her – high praise indeed.
There’s a lot to like in Albert’s latest. Diana Belmaine is a private investigator who specializes in retrieving stolen art and antiquities. She operates out of offices in New Orleans. Like the Rene Russo character in The Thomas Crown Affair she’ll use her smarts, looks, and whatever else it takes to finish a job. The job in this case is the retrieval of an ancient Egyptian artifact for a local wealthy collector, Steven Carmichael. The artifact was stolen during a party given at Carmichael’s gallery and Diana quickly hones in on archaeologist Jack Austin as the prime suspect.
Diana knows that Jack probably had a hand in the theft. She just can’t figure out why. He’s a professor of archaeology based at Tulane, is renowned for his expertise in ancient Mayan culture, and has even appeared in a People magazine article of eligible bachelors. His discovery of the ancient Mayan city of Tikukul led to his being funded by the Ancient Americas Preservation Society – a society led and largely supported by Steven Carmichael. Why would Jack risk everything to steal from the man who’s kept his scholarly work going? That’s the question Diana decides she’ll have to answer. If she can figure out what makes Jack tick, then her chances of finding the artifact and completing the job improve.
Investigating Jack is far more complicated then she’d anticipated. Wild attraction will mess up a case every time, darn it! Though the attraction is mutual, both Jack and Diana (yes they’re aware of the song) have to come to terms with their own goals before acting on the desire they feel. How she’ll reconcile her job with what he may be doing is her problem. How he’ll reconcile the choices he’s made with how Diana lives her life is his. How does a relationship survive conflicting goals? Plot aside, that’s the meat of this book. And it’s what resonates for the reader.
Comparisons to Linda Howard (in her more recent efforts) and Jennifer Crusie are thrown around a lot in the contemporary romance field, and while I think Michele Albert has a ways to go before she hits their level, I do think she’s on the right track with the characters she’s drawing in her books. Diana’s backstory includes a messy relationship she left behind in New York. When she explains it to Jack she tells him:
“What Kurt did to me…it was one of those major turning points in life. There’s everything up to that moment, and then everything after, and you can’t ever go back to being the same person, even if you try. We were together for almost a year… I loved him, I really did. We talked about getting married, about having children.”
That’s not the usual romance convention. Usually a romance heroine will admit to having been done wrong by another man, but she always explains that she didn’t really love him she just thought she did – it was just the betrayal that hurt so much. That’s not realistic. Elsewhere the dialogue sparkles and any talk of sex is, again, realistic. When Jack uses the word f*ck, he’s using it in a context that works (and very well, might I add). It’s not thrown in to titillate or shock the reader.
Albert draws her characters well, but there are some plot-related issues that muck up the book. Diana figures things out much too quickly and once she does, the plot has nowhere to go, making for the dreaded sagging middle. By the time the reader gets to the climactic scenes in a very unrealistic airport finale, they will have lost some of their interest in the where’s, what’s and why’s of it all.
That said, Getting Her Man is one of the stronger offerings I’ve seen in contemporary romance in a while. Too many dithery, cutesy, quirky heroines and ultra-rich business men heroes have worn out their welcome. The authors who’ll be the next autobuys are getting fewer and farther between, making for plenty of room for Michele Albert. She’s now on the list.