Roxanne St. Claire makes a reasonably strong debut with Tropical Getaway. It has its flaws – namely a problematic heroine, an unlikely and unexplained plot twist, and an ending that dragged on a bit too long – but the writing is mostly smooth and compelling, the relationship sings despite character problems, and the suspense works well despite a certain degree of predictability. With a little work, this author could make quite a splash.
Ava Santori, Italian chef extraordinaire, gets a call at her family’s restaurant in Boston about Marcus, the prodigal brother she hasn’t heard from in five years. The news isn’t good; apparently Marcus had signed on as a sailor on Utopia Cruiselines after he disappeared. Now his ship is lost at sea in a hurricane near Grenada, and all hands are presumed dead. Ava attends the funeral in the Caribbean with more than closure in mind: the owner of the cruise line had a $40 million insurance settlement on the lost ship, and Ava feels entitled to a piece of it. But her resolve wavers under the attention of the owner, Dane Erikson. Is he the caring, grieving patriarch of the Utopia family, or a greedy, remorseless killer who knowingly sent the ship to its untimely end? That’s the 40 Million Dollar Question.
Dane Erikson has problems up the wazoo. The hurricane killed his best friend, Marcus Santori, and now Marcus’ avaricious sister has shown up to make sure she gets her share of the bloody money – just like relations of many of the 21 men lost at sea. But while he wants to do right by the families of the deceased, if a lawsuit is filed, his hands will be tied. An out-of-court settlement will make him appear guilty – and potentially bring down the business he’s spent his adult life building – while a court-designated settlement will specify an amount for him to pay each family, and he will not be allowed to help them any more than that. When Ava turns up evidence that there may have been illegal cargo on the downed ship, his problems multiply, since it appears increasingly likely that one or more of his surviving employees may be involved. And even worse, he’s actually attracted to Ava. Which just makes everything harder (excusing the pun).
The biggest problem this book has is Ava. Often seems sympathetic for long periods of time, she also has a bad tendency to fly off the handle, and more than once, for no good reason. She’s so obnoxious to Dane, in fact, that I began to doubt his sanity in remaining calm and patient with her. She’s bitchy, bratty, and unpleasantly sarcastic to him at strange moments. Even more problematic are her too-stupid-to-live tendencies, like starting up a conversation with Dane about their suspicions that Utopia is being used to smuggle illegal drugs – in front of a shuttle full of passengers and crew. And then not getting it when he repeatedly tries to shut her up. She certainly earns the TSTL title in that instance, and later on in the book does something that truly takes the cake. I won’t go into it because it would include major spoilers, but it’s one of those scenes that has you screaming “How could you be so stupid!” even before she does it…because you just know she’s going to. Add that to her early interest in taking blood money for her brother’s loss, and she just doesn’t come off well. It’s a pity, because there’s a lot about Ava to like. But there’s a lot about her that will make you want to toss her overboard, too.
Dane, on the other hand, is a pretty likable character, masochistic taste in women aside. He knows his own limitations, and is pretty honest with himself overall. He’s patient beyond reason, sympathetic and goodhearted. He loves the people who work for him, and he wants to do right by them. He’s a good guy. In other words, a pretty good counterbalance for our often difficult heroine.
After Ava, the other big problem in this book is pacing; but like Ava, it’s only problematic at times. Up until the last hundred pages, it’s great, in fact. But at that point, the suspense climaxes, and you realize you’ve still got more than a quarter of the book to go. Things get drawn out at that point. It’s all stuff that has to happen (and is more or less predictable, adding to the anti-climactic effect), but it could have been arranged better in the story.
There are a few other minor nits I could pick – a minor character whose actions make zero sense, a secondary character who could use a bit more fleshing out, a suggested penalty for overuse of a single Italian curse word, etc. – but overall, I really enjoyed this book outside of those two big issues above. The plot was interesting, even when you could see what was coming, and the relationship between Ava and Dane was believable, as well as tangible. Ava’s backstory was particularly well thought-out, and unexpectedly tied in to current events in the story in a way that impressed me.
In other words, there was enough about Tropical Getaway that I liked for me to recommend it, and certainly enough to make me want to keep an eye out for this author in the future. An intriguing debut.