This slim paperback wouldn’t have caught my attention at the library book sale had it not been for Janet Evanovich’s name on it, which promised a fast-paced and hilarious story. As a fan of her enormously popular Stephanie Plum series, I never imagined coming across a book of hers that wouldn’t be an automatic keeper – romantic triangles a la Stephanie-Morelli-Ranger notwithstanding.
As it happens, Loveswept no. 303 illustrates how Evanovich’s style has evolved, and how even an accomplished author (at least in her category romance-writing past) could create preposterous premises so typical of that sub-genre. Alexandra Scott, New York executive, wakes up one day to realize that she’s due for a major lifestyle change. So she quits her lucrative job and trades in her exquisite condo for a cabin and a hardware store (both of which turn out to be more dilapidated than she imagined) in the Alaskan wilds. Her reason for choosing that location? She’s on a husband hunt, and men outnumber women four to one in Alaska.
There she meets the ruggedly attractive Michael Casey, her new neighbor, who runs his own air-ferrying business. He comes with the requisite doleful past that, for some mysterious reason, makes him particularly attached to his bachelorhood. Alex and Casey start off with a healthy dollop of lust at first sight and then spend the rest of the book struggling with conflicting agenda: she to convince him to marry her, and he to keep himself from falling in love.
Many things about this book prevent it from being more than an average – and in some parts, even mediocre – read. Every time they’re together, Alex’s perspective shifts to Casey’s or vice versa, scene by scene by scene. The total abandonment with which the author head-hops seriously downplays the story’s momentum. You know what he’s thinking, you know what she’s thinking, and the saga of their miscommunication becomes more tedious with each page.
The characters’ thoughts also begin to indicate not-so-subtle hints of tenderness and affection much too early in their relationship. For instance, when Alex refuses Casey’s offer to stay in his house, he camps out with her in her tent outside her still-uninhabitable ramshackle cabin.
In one swift movement he reached out and grabbed her sleeping bag and pulled it to him, wrapping her in his arms…. Now that she was safely beside him, he could relax. He nuzzled the brown curls resting on his shoulder and pressed his lips tightly against Alex’s ear.
Sounds sweet? It is – except these two aren’t even lovers at the time; they’re perfect strangers who’ve known each other for little more than four hours. This sets the general tone of the book as unbelievable and just a tad too saccharine.
Though Alex isn’t the most sympathetic of heroines (for the first half of the book, she pointedly says “No” to Casey but almost always succumbs to him in the same breath), her character is, paradoxically, the highlight of the story. Her sheer impudence, propensity for accidents, and unflagging sense of humor at hopeless situations make me think of her as a precursor to Evanovich’s inimitable Stephanie Plum. Like the latter, Alex even has Mongolian ancestry. And her thoughts are always breezily readable and droll. Surveying her secondhand cabin for the first time, “She stomped into the high grass and wished she could leave a trail of bread crumbs like Hansel and Gretel.”
In the end, the story redeems itself not only with Alex’s character but also with Casey’s. Though his feelings for her are never a secret to the reader, his relationship with Alex eventually generates a measure of excitement and pumps up the “awwww” factor in the climax. Casey is obviously not a mega-hunk, but he’s adorable enough to make you regret – ever so slightly – the fact that the Plum books are told entirely in Stephanie’s point of view, so you can’t read either Morelli’s or Ranger’s thoughts.
Though imperfect, Manhunt shows that the author’s romance background serves her well. All in all, this is an average book you’ll end up wanting to keep for sentimentality – if you can find it at the used bookstore or elsewhere, since it’s out of print. Compared with the Plum series, though, it shows how Janet Evanovich has indeed come a long way.