Taste for Trouble
The last Susan Sey book I read, Money Shot (2011) was set on a remote island in Lake Superior and had deadly money laundering villain, pagan ceremonies, and a smokin’ ex Navy SEAL for a hero. This book, Taste for Trouble, is set in the suburbs of DC, has a scheming Martha Stewart wannabe, and a professional soccer playing sorta hot Southern gentleman for a hero. I loved Money Shot; I like Taste for Trouble.
Taste for Trouble opens with the familiar scene of a perfectionist female getting left at the altar by her “I’ve fallen in love with your assistant” fiance. The dumpee is Belinda West, a driven woman who is the second in command on “Kate Every Day,” a popular syndicated daytime TV show. Belinda is upset about her jilting, but not because she loves her jilter. He is just a good friend who, until he fell for another woman, had agreed with Belinda that “Love is nothing more than an excuse to be fickle, impulsive and selfish. People shouldn’t build a lunch date around it, let alone a marriage.” Belinda is, however, dismayed that the entire world, as well as Kate of “Kate Every Day”, has just watched Belinda’s non-wedding on national TV. Kate, who is poised to pick her successor – Belinda was sure it would be her – tells Belinda she’s clearly not up to “Kate Every Day” standards and fires her.
Belinda and Kate’s agent, a truly lovely man named Bob Beck, tells Belinda she can win her job back if she takes agrees to a (ludicrous) scheme Bob and Kate have cooked up. Another of Bob’s clients, the man-child soccer star James Blake, is in need of a manners nanny. James is in danger of being kicked off the DC Statesmen because, as Bob says, “He drinks, he fights, and if he’s ever had a date he didn’t pick up in a strip club I’ve never met her.” Bob proposes that Belinda spend the four weeks supervising James and his two brothers, Will and Drew. When Belinda asks for clarification, Bob explains.
“It means that each week for the next four weeks, Kate will assign you a new social grace to teach our boy. At the end of each week, she’ll evaluate his performance and yours. Brutally. You pass and you get your job back in time for the Kate Every Day Christmas Special.”
Belinda, who has spent the last twelve years of her life, dreaming of living a “Kate Every Day” life, agrees.
The premise of this novel didn’t do a thing for me. It seems forced, silly, and unbelievable. I doubted Ms. Sey, though her Money books are excellently plotted, could make this work. I was wrong. Though the premise never became any less unlikely, the characters in Taste for Trouble sell the story. Belinda and James, as well as a host of well-developed secondary characters, are interesting, well-written, and emotionally engaging.
One of the truly striking things about this book is how profoundly it both shows and tells the reader that family is everything. James, Will, and Drew are a unit because that’s who they are. As James explains to Belinda, the only child of a self-absorbed soul-wrecker of a mother, the Blakes have a code.
“…we know what’s important. We know that family is precious, that love is rare, that fate is unkind. We learned those lessons the hard way, and it taught us how to protect what we love against anybody and anything that threatens it.”
What’s interesting is that Ms. Sey doesn’t make the filial bonds the Blake boys share easy ones. In fact, my favorite part of the book is how bitter and angry Will (my favorite character as well), James’s older brother, is about the ties that bind him to his brothers. Will is one unhappy man. He’s a borderline alcoholic with a compulsive need to lash out and destroy. He is furious at the ease with which James gets everything: success, money, women, friends, and love. He tears down Drew’s simple joy in everyday life every chance he gets. He hates who he is but he can’t stop himself from being so self-destructive. Yet it clear he loves his brothers deeply and their love for him exists whether or not he’s an utter ass. The next book is Will’s story and I can’t wait to read it.
Though their parents are dead, the Blakes are a clan (they even have a family crest). Their bonded life exists in sharp contrast to Belinda’s (and her boss Kate’s) very isolated one. This difference in life experience shapes how differently Belinda and James see their attraction to each other. Belinda fights it because not only is love a messy business, James is her job. Belinda has made her life work by living by a series of rules and one of those is that it is unprofessional to get involved with client. This distinction means nothing to James. He begins falling for Belinda from the moment he meets her. Soon, he cares deeply for her and, for James, that connection is all that matters. Their relationship is winning without being sappy, sexy without being overheated.
At times, this book felt like a Desert Island Keeper to me. In other places, it felt like an inchoate mess. But even when a plot-line didn’t work or a character behaved incomprehensibly, I wanted to keep reading. This is a read that, in places, made my heart hurt. I cried at the end, the kind of tears that make you want to find those you love and hold them in your arms. I connected with the Blakes and Belinda, with Kate – poor, bitchy Kate – and Bob, and with Audrey (Will’s love interest) and her little girl. I wanted all of these characters to find happiness. Not all do and that too makes this a stronger book than its plot would suggest. I’m glad I read it. I’ll be waiting eagerly for Talent for Trouble, the next tale in the trilogy.