Kill the Competition
Grade : C

Stephanie Bond's first book for Avon, Kill the Competition, is a surprisingly flat offering from an author adept at zippy dialogue and fast pacing. This book has neither.

Belinda Hennessy moved to Atlanta to start over after a disastrous attempt at matrimony in Cincinnati. Taking a job at the Archer Furniture Company, she joins a carpool with three other women in an attempt to save money. Together they commiserate about their past experiences with men, and about Margo, the backstabbing boss who specializes in making their lives, and everyone else's at the company, a living hell.

One frenetic morning, Belinda plows into the back of a police car while driving the carpool. Two men enter her life as a result: the cop she hit, Officer Wade Alexander, and traffic reporter Julian Hardeman. While she tries to juggle her conflicting feelings and interactions with each of them, she learns more about the carpool and the company that put her on edge. It turns out the woman who was part of the carpool before her died suddenly by falling down an elevator shaft at the office. It was an accident, or was it?

The back cover reveals more of the story, but some of those developments (including the inside-the-cover blurb) occur well into the book, so much so that it would feel like a spoiler to reveal them. That's one of the problems with the book. Most of the real action and plot movement doesn't happen until the latter half. Bond's latest gets off to a slow start (I didn't think I was going to make it out of the first chapter) and meanders for too long without going anywhere. There's some office drama. There's some carpool drama. There's some flirting and one sex scene that verges on Hot territory (except it's also fairly short and the only other scene in the book is completely subtle, hence the compromise of a Warm rating).

But little of interest happens and it's more than a little dull. After the foursome swap complaints about their experiences with men, they come up with the idea to write a book of relationship Do's and Dont's. While some of the statements are cute, they're not all that funny, and when the relative shortness of this story element is considered, the result is not a lot of satisfying comedy. The suspense element is only hinted at, so it doesn't work as a thriller either. Belinda's moping and supposed growth is superficial, which means the book doesn't really work as a character study. Neither Belinda's love interests nor her interactions with them receive much attention, so it doesn't work as a romance either. Reading the first half, I couldn't figure out what the book was supposed to be. I did know what it was: boring.

As a heroine, Belinda is bland and doesn't exhibit the slightest bit of personality. She's barely a character. She's wimpy, she's mopey, and she's often just not very bright. There are times in the story when she thoroughly exasperates. The other members of the carpool are all one-dimensional types: the spendthrift, the gossip, and the brittle secretary. They're each given a secret torment, which is all that passes for development for their characters. The same goes for both love interests.

The story picks up once the suspense element finally gets into gear more than halfway into the book. From that point on, it starts to move very fast. The tension builds as Belinda finds herself in a desperate situation that keeps getting worse and worse. Everyone begins to look suspicious, and she doesn't know who to trust. It eventually results in a fairly good, albeit at times contrived, mystery.

When the suspense plot finally kicks in, it saves the book, but the reader must endure the slow-going first half to get to it, which makes for half a good book, half a boring one. Kill the Competition is more likely to kill your patience before it finally gets down to business than anything else. All in all, a disappointment. Bond has done much better in the past.

Reviewed by Leigh Thomas
Grade : C

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : October 22, 2003

Publication Date: 2003

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