You've Got a Hold On Me
Local gangsters, murder, and a lot of suspicious activity create a fast-paced yet underwhelming read in You’ve Got a Hold On Me. While the hero is undoubtedly a good guy, the heroine continually suspects the worst of him, and speaking of the heroine, she needed to lose some of that baggage she’d been carrying around for years.
Amelia Farrow is a successful Assistant DA from a wealthy, high profile family. Her life is as close to the perfection she strives for that she can get it, apart from major thorn in her side, sharp-witted defense attorney George Gibson. They give each other such a hard time in court and their working relationship is so tempestuous that even the presiding Judge has something to say about the two of them.
When George and Amelia overhear a conversation at the courthouse concerning a seemingly major conspiracy theory, it is quickly followed by the unmistakable sound of gunfire. Amelia alerts the police, who seal off the area. She then instigates a major investigation, but in doing so she makes herself the target of a dangerous hit-man. Before long she and George, though enemies in the courtroom, team up to chase clues and baddies, notwithstanding a long-standing hostility that doesn’t go far in concealing their mutual attraction.
George scrapes together a living working for clients who can’t afford to pay him back. Growing up in foster care, he and best pal Wayne Phillips, now an upstanding member of the police force, learned the hard way to look after themselves and George in particular fears relationships and commitment. But after Amelia’s home is broken into and an attempt is made to strangle her to death, George puts aside his issues to come to her aid and unmask the criminals who are intent on pursuing them. This leads them into several sticky situations which no self-respecting officer of the court would normally be caught dead in, from breaking and entering to ransacking personal property in the pursuit of clues. On the way they unearth a spider’s web of murder and blackmail that implicates not only criminals, but a prominent local figure as well.
Meanwhile, Amelia’s issues with her high-achieving parents (a self-absorbed supermodel mother and a stern and distant father who is L.A.’s most prestigious black judge), come to the fore as they try to convince her to give up a job whose income she doesn’t need and to forget all about the bad guys. Amelia spent her life in an effort to please her parents and to gain their attention, even going so far as almost marrying their choice of husband for her. Even though Brian Austell and she seemed to have everything in common and were “perfect” for each other, Amelia broke it off when she found him in bed with her bridesmaid, and realized that not only was she unmoved by the chance discovery, but that the appearance of perfection is no substitute for the real thing. As the story unfolds, the conspiracy theory gets both George and Amelia in deeper than they’d imagined, not only with the local criminal network, but also with each other.
Amelia initially fights her strong attraction to George. In the beginning she sees him as nothing more than an ambulance chaser, defending the indefensible for money alone. What she doesn’t realize is that most of George’s clients can’t afford to pay him, and that he’s so unbothered by this that when Wayne goes to collect a few debts on his behalf he immediately returns the money, feeling guilty about accepting payment when he knows they can’t afford it. His desire to avoid trouble, which Amelia takes as disinterest in high moral concepts of justice and integrity, is more a knee-jerk reaction to keep his head down, learned during his troubled youth in the myriad foster homes he and Wayne bounced through over the years.
You’ve Got a Hold On Me worked well on a few different levels. It’s easy to root for them as a couple because the author provides great insight into their attraction. And while the criminal aspect of the plot, based around a local gangster bribing jurors and swaying the course of justice, was definitely stale, the novel’s focus on George and Amelia’s shady attempts to uncover the truth distracts the reader from this fact. I found George charmingly vulnerable and sensitive even though Amelia mostly comes across as boring and prissy. And a few plot twists toward the end leave you hanging on the edge of your seat.
Though the book has its good points, the conspiracy angle presents a real problem; not only is it tired, but it’s left quite vague. Not until the book is half over is it explored in depth, and the reader has no real view of the baddies or the larger picture until that point. And as interesting as the author made the couple, a big misunderstanding that keeps them apart gets old fast. Even when Amelia realizes George is a good guy and neither using her nor pursuing the criminals out of a desire to line his pockets, she unrealistically (and stupidly) throws out the same accusation every time they get close. This was a very shaky crutch on which to base the conflict in their relationship.
Amelia’s issues with her parents were ridiculous. She was 29-years old and still boohooing because Daddy didn’t give her enough attention as a girl, yet even George, who had a most unstable upbringing, didn’t dwell on his childhood as much. When her parents suddenly morph into apologetic, understanding saints I didn’t enjoy the book any more. There are also a few other implausibilities in the book, most notably, if George is so bone-deep scared of success, why on earth would he have become a lawyer in the first place? Overall, while You’ve Got a Hold On Me offers a level of enjoyment, it doesn’t win any awards for originality or subtlety.