For anyone who ever dreamed of stepping out of their mundane everyday life and living a grand adventure as someone else, M.J. Rodgers serves up that irresistible fantasy in The Adventuress.
Librarian Pamela Gibson has a secret life neither her overprotective parents nor her stolid fiance knows about. She’s the author of the wildly successful Roxanne Rainey adventure novels, a series of “semiautobiographical” tales supposedly written by Roxanne herself. Her heroine is everything Pamela is not: a professional troubleshooter described as “unconventional, uninhibited and interested in neither love nor marriage,” who travels the world chasing killers and righting wrongs. Pamela knows her parents, both college English professors, wouldn’t approve. In fact, her mother used a copy of one of the books in her class “as an example of the triteness of popular fiction.” But through the adventures of the daring Roxanne, Pamela gets to live out her inner passions in a way her everyday life won’t allow.
Then she receives the news that the latest Roxanne Rainey novel hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list, and her ecstatic publisher wants her to do a press event and book signing as Roxanne. They find a villa on the coast of Kauai that could easily pass for Roxanne’s fabled home. All Pamela has to do is show up on the island and play the part. With some trepidation, she agrees, telling her family she’s going to a library conference.
It doesn’t take long for everything to go wrong. In the helicopter ride to the island, another passenger pulls a gun and orders the pilot to land elsewhere. The gun goes off, crippling the chopper and causing it to crash into the ocean. In the chaos, Pamela smacks her head, and when she wakes up, she is Roxanne Rainey.
Pilot Tom Skye doesn’t know quite what hit him. One moment his passenger is a scared tourist. The next, she’s an untamed wildcat, boldly giving orders, matching him stroke for stroke as they swim to shore, and beating him in a climb to the top of a cliff. Her story about being some kind of millionaire mercenary sounds too far-fetched to be believed. But as they find themselves outrunning danger in a tropical paradise, she proves to be every bit the warrior she claims to be. They discover a mutual passion, and Roxanne, the woman who has no room for permanent ties in her life, develops unexpectedly deeper feelings for Skye. But of course, Roxanne isn’t Roxanne, and the killers on their trail may not be as dangerous to the new found relationship as the truth.
Rodgers was really ahead of her time, because Roxanne is essentially a better version of the kickass heroine who is so prevalent these days. The story opens with a scene from one of Pamela’s books, as Roxanne wakens in the middle of the night sensing an intruder in her bedroom and reaches for the Smith and Wesson .38 beneath her pillow. Discovering it’s her lover, she welcomes him into her bed, but with a warning that her life is not her own and all she can offer him is tonight, without strings or promises. She’s strong, smart, and sexy, and every bit the hero’s match. Her appeal is neatly summed up by an exchange she and Tom share halfway through the book:
“Don’t tell me you would let a man fight your battles?”
“Of course not. But I’m not averse to having him stand beside me while I do.”
In the hands of a lesser writer, Pamela might come across as a stereotypical librarian, the better to contrast her mundane reality with the fantastic fantasy of her fictional life. But Pamela never comes across as some pathetic creature with no life. She’s just a normal person dreaming of bigger things. Even before she transforms into Roxanne, there are signs she’s a stronger-willed person than it might seem. Seriously injured in a car accident when she was a teenager, she was almost permanently paralyzed, which is one reason her parents are so protective. The doctors warned if she even tried to walk she could injure herself further. Without her parents’ knowledge, she attended physical therapy, gradually building her strength and regaining her ability to walk (her physical strength also makes some of her feats as Roxanne more believable). It’s clear she’s not some meek coward. By the end, she learns that she may not be so different from her larger-than-life creation after all. It feels less like she becomes someone else than discovers who she really was all along.
Skye is a perfect fit for Roxanne – and Pamela. He’s a former Air Force pararescuer, a career I hadn’t read about before or since, making for a nice change from the usual Navy SEALs and Marines. Tough and jaded, he’s experienced a great deal in his life, and is man enough to respect and appreciate “Roxanne” the more time he spends with her. As Tom muses at one point, “What a woman. What an incredible woman.” The plot is exactly the kind of over-the-top adventure (it revolves around a kidnapped dog) that keeps it light and fun, never too dark or serious. The Hawaiian setting is nicely evoked, giving the story an exotic flair.
The book’s only real misstep is the fiance character, who seems like a straw man whose only reason for being is so that Pamela can tell him off later. I could (mostly) believe she hid her true self from her parents out of love for them, knowing how afraid they’d been for her ever since the accident, but the fiance was too thinly drawn for me to believe she’d agree to marry him, even to appease them. He’s just a needless contrivance.
The Adventuress is an old favorite of mine. It’s the kind of romantic adventure there just aren’t enough of in the genre as far as I’m concerned, with bold characters, passionate romance, an exotic locale, and plenty of excitement. It’s loads of fun.