Lori Handeland’s latest release, Rico, features cardboard characters in a plot that flip-flops between believable and contrived without warning. Then there’s the ending, which should come complete with a warning for diabetics. But not to worry – unless you have masochistic tendencies, you probably won’t make it that far.
Betty Lillian is a card dealer, singer and kept woman in New Orleans who wins a saloon in Texas, and sees it as her one chance to escape her life and her horrible boss. Changing her name to Lily Fortier, and running off with her young pianist, a boy named Jean Baptiste, she takes possession of the saloon in Rock Creek, and starts a new life there. But Rock Creek has a few surprises for her, particularly Rico Salvatore of the infamous Rock Creek Six. He’s the only man she’s ever met that wasn’t hers for the asking – and the only one she’s wanted enough to ask.
Rico is a man renowned for guns and sexual prowess, and has a few secrets of his own. Despite having slept with most of Texas – to hear folks talk – he refuses to sleep with Lily on account of her injuring his pride, which she does by asking that he sleep with her even though she’s his employer. No, it doesn’t actually make more sense than that. But I digress. We know Rico’s a great guy because he’s won the love of an 8-year-old orphan named Carrie, who reminds Rico of his own little sister. He ends up taking care of Carrie, Lily has Jean Baptiste, aka “Johnny” to watch out for, and voila! Instant family. Until, of course, the day that everyone’s past catches up with them at once, and the book actually develops a brief pulse. Then the vast majority of actual plot develops in no more than a few pages, and resolves itself as neat as you please, The End.
The characterization in this book is almost exclusively achieved by the hero and heroine’s alleged foreign language skills. Lily speaks questionable French, and Rico speaks absolutely abysmal Spanglish – in his first speech of the book, he announces “I still have mucho knives.” Speedy Gonzales would be ashamed of such language. But then again, Speedy Gonzales has better characterization as well. The rest of the too-little-too-late fleshing-out for the hero and heroine comes in the last quarter of the book, which is quite unfortunate. The other characters, by contrast, are given far more depth and personality, particularly the other members of the Rock Creek Six, who all presumably have their own stories. In fact, I strongly suspect that another of the Six, Cash, disappears so quickly at the beginning of the story because he has far more tension with Lily than Rico does, and far more personality than the leading couple combined. Nate and Jed are similarly intriguing – and therefore scarce – and even Sullivan and Reese (who already have their own books) generate far more interest than Rico and Lily, unfortunately.
My other complaint with characterization is that it was completely “told” as opposed to “shown.” We heard a lot about how Rico was such a stud, and never went for long without a woman, but not only did he not sleep with anyone for the majority of the book, but had never slept with anyone else in the book, either, including the two prostitutes. Everyone knows he’s great in bed, but we’re never told why they have that impression. Likewise, we’re told he’s good with knives, but never really know why he even likes them. Ditto Lily’s singing. We’re just told “they’re good” without being shown a single thing, in terms of examples or explanation for why they pursued those talents. This hardly added to the characters’ depth.
The main plotline seems to be well-developed, and yet the characters constantly do completely contrived things in order to put the hero and heroine in more intimate contact with one another. Before Lily even decides she wants Rico, she ends up in his room, thinking it’s hers, but instead of leaving when he arrives, she decides she absolutely has to “freshen up” before crossing the hall to her own room, and so starts taking off her clothes. Sadly, this is not an exception, but the rule as to how the two proceed, as if the author cannot give them any natural chemistry, and needs to rely on poorly-manufactured intimate situations to bring them together. In addition, the culmination of the plot involves everyone’s secrets revealing themselves at once in a similarly contrived situation. And if that weren’t bad enough, to complete the perfect ending, the very interesting and rebellious character Carrie suddenly and miraculously (and unbelievably) transforms from a unique and strong-willed young woman into a stomach-turningly sweet little girl who just wants everyone to love each other.
Overall, this book is not one I’d recommend, but my interest was actually piqued by nearly every character other than the hero and heroine. I’d have to say “pass” on this one, but perhaps the others will be better. They’d be hard-pressed to be worse.