In a Heartbeat
I’ll admit that this book puzzled me. It tried to be so many things at once that at the end I was hard-pressed to classify it properly for the review. Is it a romance? Not really; there are a couple of love stories in the book, but not really a romance as we know it. Is it suspense? Again, no. The villain and plot twists aren’t very hard to figure out, and there really isn’t a very strong “race against time” feel that’s so essential to a good suspense novel. The book is well-written and quite engaging, but at the end I was scratching my head trying to figure out the point of the whole story.
Ed Vincent is on his way to untangle some property negotiations when somebody shoots him, just as he’s stepping out of his Cessna at La Guardia Airport. Defying all expectations – this is a man who has been shot multiple times at point-blank range – he manages to cling on to life, although he slips into a coma. Detective Marco Camelia is the homicide detective assigned to this homicide case, and there appear to be no leads until Ed finally manages to say a name: Zelda. Camelia is certain then that he has the name of the killer.
But when Camelia finds Zelda (or rather, when she finds him), she’s confounds each and every expectation he has about her. Her real name is Melba Eloise Merrydew, and she’s a Georgia peach with a core of steel. She’s Ed Vincent’s lover, and apparently the one with the most reason to want him dead, since he made her his primary beneficiary. She also happens to be the one who stumbled upon an earlier botched attempt to kill Ed. But Marco realizes soon enough that the answers don’t lie with Melba, but in Ed’s poverty-stricken past in the rural South. With Melba in tow, the two of them go on a journey to uncover some (not-so) surprising secrets about Ed. Marco is disturbed when he finds himself increasingly distracted by his attraction to the charming, scattered Melba and her golden beauty. But he’s a happily-married family man and deeply in love with his wife. Or so he keeps telling himself, anyway.
The biggest problem with the book is its lack of any serious conflict. By the time the story takes place, Melba/Zelda and Ed are already established lovers, and there is no doubt that the two of them are very much in love and are going to stay that way. We do get Melba and Ed’s stories through a series of flashbacks, but their feelings for each other are determined almost from the beginning, and their continued devotion is so sweet it begins to become cloying as the book progresses.
The Marco-Melba dynamic offers something slightly more interesting, but again everything fizzles from a lack of conflict. Marco’s wife, whom he supposedly adores, is a non-entity in this book; we never get to see or hear her. Our perception of her is shaped entirely by Marco’s thoughts. The reluctant attraction he feels is never an issue anyway because Marco is much too honorable and his love for his wife is too strong to allow him do anything. Melba herself is so in love with Ed that any kind of possibility for hanky-panky is squelched from the get-go.
The characters themselves are fairly believable, if rather flat. Marco is the stereotypical homicide detective hero: tough, a bit rough around the edges but a gentleman to the core. The constant comments about his resemblance to Al Pacino, while helpful in the beginning, become distracting and tiresome towards the end. And if Marco is Pacino, then Melba brings to mind a slightly older, blue-collar version of Dharma of Dharma and Greg – beautiful, bubbly and irresistibly charming. Ed, for his part, is almost too good to be true; like so many romance novel tycoons, he seems entirely too nice and cuddly to have succeeded in a cut-throat business world.
The true villain and the reason for the attempted assassinations are fairly easy to guess once some of the secrets from Ed’s murky past are revealed; in fact, the ending is suspenseful only because like all good villains, we know the bad guy is going to make one last attempt at Ed’s life but we’re not quite sure how.
Overall, In a Heartbeat is one of those rare books that leaves almost no impression on me when I finish it, either good or bad. It’s well-written, and the pacing isn’t too bad, although the plot and characterization could have used more attention. There’s potential here for a really fun slam-bang adventure or a fantastic tearjerker about a love triangle (or is quadrangle a better term?), but ultimately the safe road was taken, and I think the book suffered for it.