License to Thrill
A feisty P.I. and an uptight investment banker take to the road in License to Thrill, a lightweight, high energy romp that zips along with equal parts humor and heart. It’s not the type of story that takes itself too seriously. If I tell you the heroine’s name is Charlee Champagne, her mother’s name is Bubbles, and her grandmother’s is Maybelline, that should offer a pretty good idea of the type of book this is. And yet, while the goofiness quotient occasionally runs high, the quirky characters and nonstop action make it a lot of fun if you’re willing to go along for the ride.
Charlee Champagne is a Las Vegas private investigator whose only fears are black widow spiders and rich, good-looking men. Mason Gentry most definitely fits in the latter category. The uptight investment banker walks into her office looking for his grandfather Nolan, who disappeared with $500,000 in company funds. A clue Nolan left indicates he was heading to Vegas to meet Charlee’s grandmother Maybelline. All Charlee knows is Maybelline is on her annual retreat and isn’t to be bothered for any reason. Figuring Charlee will open up if offered the right sum, Mason tries to bribe her for the information, and gets himself thrown out of her office for his trouble.
But when they each discover that Maybelline’s house has been ransacked, mutual concern forces them together to find out what’s going on with their missing grandparents. The search takes a sinister turn when they learn Nolan and Maybelline were spotted at the airport being kidnapped – by an Elvis impersonator. Before long, the duo hit the road in Mason’s vintage Bentley, following a winding trail to Los Angeles and the truth behind a long-buried Hollywood secret someone wants to keep hidden.
It’s a road trip where everything that could go wrong does, not the least of which is the sparkling attraction between two people who know they’re all wrong for one another, yet can’t seem to keep their hands off each other. They’re a fun couple. Charlee is a tough and strong-minded heroine with plenty of attitude and just enough human weaknesses to keep her interesting. She has some hurt in her past, but even when it comes to the surface, her issues never become the kind of overblown angst so many mopey heroines engage in. It made me sympathize with her instead of testing my patience.
Mason is her opposite, every inch the buttoned-down hero. He’s not at all streetwise, but he’s more than able to turn on the charm at times when Charlee’s ready to bust out her attitude. The wild heroine loosening up an uptight hero is a premise that could fall too easily into cliché, but these characters have enough warmth and likability that it never feels typical. They have great chemistry and the interplay between them is highly entertaining. While the laughs didn’t come a mile a minute, the more time I spent with them and got to know them, the more likely I was to laugh at even the most minor of exchanges, such as when they find themselves facing a locked fence:
“What now?” Mason asked.
“We go in.”
“The sign says no trespassing.”
She stared at him. “What planet are you from?”
What can I say? Maybe you have to know them.
Even better is the love story between their grandparents, whose long unrequited love provides the story with much of its heart. It’s sweet and nicely touching without slowing the pace or letting the story get bogged down in sentiment one bit. This is a very fast-paced book. The curveballs keeps coming from start to finish, plunging the characters into one comedic situation to the next and forcing them adapt to the most unexpected development. The mystery isn’t all that surprising, but is still nicely laid out, and this isn’t really suspense anyway. As comedies go, Wilde never lets the energy flag.
While it is great entertainment for the most part, there were some weaknesses. I had some trouble with Maybelline’s age and how old she would have been back in 1955. How many 15-year-olds do you suppose were studio makeup artists? And no televised Academy Awards ceremony would start at 7 in the evening, Pacific time – if it did, it would begin at 10 p.m. on the East Coast, far too late for the start of a major prime time event. Minor issues like that popped up every once in a while, and while they were easy enough to get past, they did stop me short more than once. Most of them were easy enough things to clear up and should have been.
It also would have been nice if Wilde had left out the character of Mason’s long-term girlfriend, or at least made her less stereotypical. Naturally a straight-laced hero must have a rich girl who’s practically his fiancée to contrast with the footloose heroine, and naturally the woman turns out to be a stone cold witch. It couldn’t be more obvious where this storyline is going. As fiercely original as most of the story is, some of the more standard issue touches like that were disappointments. While most of the story’s freewheeling touches managed to be goofy line without going over the top, they become increasingly far-fetched as the story goes on and at least one did go too far into silliness for me.
Ultimately the pros more than balance out the cons. A light, fun read, License to Thrill is fast and clever in a way few romantic comedies are.