Whole Lotta Trouble
Last year I reviewed Stephanie Bond’s Kill the Competition, a book that fell flat for me. Having enjoyed some of her previous books, I knew I wanted to give her another chance. Whole Lotta Trouble was the right book for that. While far from perfect, it’s like a better version of that earlier book.
Once again, Bond creates a story around three women and the trouble arising after a hated business associate is murdered. In this case, Tallie Wannamaker, Felicia Redmon and Jane Glass are all editors at different New York publishing houses. As the story unfolds, each of them finds reason to hate sleazy literary agent Jerry Key. Felicia was once his lover. She loved him until he heartlessly dumped her. To her dismay, she still has feelings for him…until she hears he’s been badmouthing her all over town.
When Tallie’s boss abruptly left town under mysterious circumstances, he assigned her the task of editing the latest book from a reclusive, paranoid author. Unfortunately, Jerry Key is the man’s agent. He makes it clear she’ll have to “convince” him she’s up to the task by having dinner with him – for starters. Then her hated rival manages to get to Jerry first, cozying up to him in the way Tallie resisted. The next thing she knows, he unceremoniously calls the publisher and says Tallie isn’t cut out to edit the book.
Meanwhile, Jane is handling a new manuscript that was previously rejected by the hated agent. When she and Felicia compare notes, she learns that Jerry turned around and gave the premise and several plot details to one of his authors, who turned it into the manuscript Felicia is currently editing.
Fed up, the three women decide to get revenge by humiliating the man. They lure him into a hotel room and tie him to the bed, taking several photos they plan to email all over the New York publishing world. But the prank goes awry when he turns up dead the next morning, murdered in the hotel room. They sudden find themselves the prime suspects.
Whole Lotta Trouble defies easy labeling, so readers who go in expecting it to be one particular thing may find themselves disappointed. This isn’t really much of a romance novel in the conventional sense. While it does hit some romantic chords, the relationships are strictly subplots and not dominating elements. Tallie’s love story is the most developed, although there are no scenes from the hero’s perspective so he just seems perfect – more cop wish fulfillment than a flesh-and-blood man. Felicia’s romance is even more understated.
I’m tempted to call the book a light mystery, except that it takes so long for Jerry to finally drop dead and the mystery element to make itself apparent that anyone reading the book for that will be restless in the early going. So what is the book? I don’t know. I do know that I enjoyed it. It’s a light, fizzy, fun little read that combines a bit of various genres: a little mystery, a little romance, a little Chick Lit-ish attitude. Bond’s breezy style, which she seemed on the verge of losing after a few lackluster books, is back in full effect here. It helps make this a brisk pageturner that zips along. For a 350 page book, it flew by.
Tallie and Felicia are both empathetic characters with finely drawn personalities. (Jane is a more enigmatic figure whose motives are kept murkier.) I love stories set behind-the-scenes in the publishing world, and while this wasn’t exactly Olivia Goldsmith’s The Bestseller (a terrifically fun book), it was entertaining on its own terms. With a fast-paced plot and good lines sprinkled throughout, it does come dangerously close to flying off the rails with the final solution to the mystery. I was able to go with it, however far-fetched it was. Others may find it too hard to swallow.
While tough to categorize (although the author deems it romantic suspense), Whole Lotta Trouble is more than the sum of its parts. It’s also a fun read. It seems like there are fewer and fewer books out that there that are simply entertaining, no more no less. If that’s what you’re looking for, this one should do the trick.