Serving Up Trouble
“Yes, but…” Get used to seeing sentences structured like that throughout this review, because that pretty much sums up my response to Jill Shalvis’ Serving Up Trouble, a very uneven read. This is a book where every positive comes with a caveat, but (see?) every weak point generally has something positive to balance it out.
The mixed nature of Serving Up Trouble is embodied by its heroine, Angie Rivers. Angie is a waitress who yearns for something more than a life of waiting tables and struggling to get by. She gets the wake-up call she needs when she finds herself caught in the middle of a bank hold-up, held at knife point by the thief until Detective Sam O’Neill saves her. Using the experience to kick start her life, she signs up for college courses and begins to plan for her future. That future looks to be in jeopardy when Angie involves herself in another of Sam’s cases. While visiting him in his office, she recognizes a sketch of his prime suspect in an identity-theft ring he’s investigating. Sam’s not inclined to believe the more-than-a-little ditzy woman, but Angie’s determination to prove she’s right soon makes her a target.
A heroine who decides to take control of her life and attempts to live up to her own expectations instead of her parents’ is good. A heroine who tells a police detective he should paint his office walls pink because gray does not make for a good work environment is not. A heroine who wants to help the police and stop a criminal is commendable. A heroine who buys a do-it-yourself fingerprinting kit and runs around trying to get prints off of car doors in broad daylight is not. Angie has a good amount of determination but often a frustrating lack of common sense. Her sensitivity when it comes to the hero’s commitment issues and her resolve toward her life choices reveal the decent, strong-willed person she is, but her attempts at playing amateur detective are grating, making her look foolish and inept.
The rest of the book’s elements provide the same mixed results. Sam is that too-common cliché: the tough cop who’s been burned by women and is determined not to love. But in a nicely done section in the middle of the book, Sam and Angie delve into his issues, talk, and grow closer. And it was nice to see Sam get the chance to reconcile with the mother who cut off all contact because she couldn’t handle her son being a cop after losing her policeman husband on the job. But when it takes all of two scenes totaling about three pages to resolve this rift between them, the conflict comes off as rushed and underwhelming. The identity-theft plot is reasonably different and certainly relevant today, but some of the scenes involving Sam and his partner interrogating suspects play like something out of a really bad cop show. The climax is dramatic and tense, but the villains’ motivations are all over the place, rather unconvincing, and figuring out who really “done it” was a breeze.
Needless to say, Serving Up Trouble pulled my emotions all over the place. I started out liking the heroine, then thought she was TSTL, then warmed up to her again. The hero was indistinguishable from every other cop hero I’ve ever read, but he grew on me. On the whole though, the relationship-based scenes were more successful than the suspense ones. I finished the book with the impression that Shalvis is a talented writer, but suspense may not be her forte. As it stands, parts of Serving Up Trouble are enjoyable. But…