The Manolo Matrix
Grade : B

Julie Kenner continues to surprise me with each new book. Last year’s The Givenchy Code was a non-stop breathless sexy scavenger hunt through New York City. Since The Manolo Matrix features the same deadly scavenger hunt, I wondered how Kenner would keep it new and fresh.

Not to worry, Kenner takes the same computer game taken live – Play.Survive.Win – and turns everything from the earlier book on its head. Jennifer Martin is the roommate of TGC’s heroine, and though they are long-time friends, Mel and Jennifer couldn’t be more different. Mel is a math genius and expert at PSW; Jen is a singing waiter and Broadway wannabe who played PSW twice and lost both times. She is attractive, loves her shoes, and loves shopping. She is able to spot Birdie, the assassin, because the woman made a “fashion” mistake; had she been wearing appropriate clothes, Jen wouldn’t have noticed her.

Jennifer wants no part of playing PSW for real, but she is forced into the game when she is injected with a time released poison and must solve clues to reach the antidote. Jen’s role in PSW is as a Protector fleeing an Assassin (Birdie) who wants to kill both her and the Target: Devlin Brady.

FBI Agent Devlin Brady aided the couple in the earlier book in this series, but he’s not made any progress determining who is behind the real life version of the game. As the book begins, he’s just killed his dirty FBI partner and is under investigation himself. Forced to turn in his gun and badge, he is drinking himself senseless. After a drunken one-night stand with a blond picked up in a bar, he’s in deep trouble; the lady was Birdie, and she used the opportunity to plant a GPS chip on Dev.

Birdie has her own agenda separate from PSW as Devlin was responsible for sending her to prison for five years. Though they never met, she wants revenge. Birdie is a professional assassin, who takes pride in her work – but luckily for Jen and Dev, her five year stint behind bars affected her skills and she makes some mistakes.

Dev and Jen are a very attractive couple and I believed their attraction to each other and loved their banter. Dev is not your everyday FBI agent: he was a Broadway musical star throughout his childhood and teens, so the clues all relate to Broadway musicals. It was fun to see if I could figure out them out before they did.

This is not a book with time for much character development, but Jen and Dev are well drawn and Birdie is positively fascinating. The couple both grow emotionally throughout the book and I found Jen’s developing awareness of how she had been sabotaging her Broadway dreams to be especially realistic. But as an adventure road book, the action is non-stop and kept me quickly turning pages.

The book’s format intrigued me: chapters alternate with Jennifer and Birdie in first person POV and Devlin’s in 3rd person POV. It took me a couple of chapters to get used to the different voices, but when I did it was quite effective.

Jen and Dev are such an attractive couple that I missed Kenner’s usually wonderful love scenes, but they hold off till the end of the book for a very good reason. When when they do go to bed, though, it is in a “turn the camera to the fireplace” manner – the lack of a “payoff” disappointed me, then again, the approach to a physical relationship (or lack of one) was more realistic than in TGC, which featured Mel and Matt sleeping together at some awkward times and places.

I look forward to the final book in the trilogy – The Prada Paradox – to discover who is playing this game for real and I hope to meet up with the two couples already introduced. They are definitely worth a second look.

Reviewed by Linda Hurst

Grade: B

Book Type: Chick Lit

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : March 23, 2006

Publication Date: 2006

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