Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Body Movers, by Stephanie Bond



You know, sometimes you get a recommendation about a book and you take it and are delighted to find a book you love.

This is not one of those times.

I picked this one up on a recommendation from Audible.com--actually, it was the sixth book in the series that was recommended, but the advice was to start from the first one, because the cast kept growing and it was better to get in at the beginning. I will not be picking up the rest of the series.

See, here's the problem. In a world where crime solving has become highly technical, it is increasingly difficult for anyone to write a novel about an amateur detective. There is really not much a non-professional can bring to crime solving. Add to that a writer who comes out of Harlequin romance writing, and you get a weird mix of CSI and moralism.

The main character of this series, Carlotta Wren, is 27 and single, working at Neiman Marcus in Atlanta and living in a townhouse with her 19 year old brother, Wesley. Ten years ago, their father was indicted for fraud, and their parents abandoned Atlanta and their two children. Except for the occasional cryptic post card, there has been no contact since. Carlotta was left to raise her brother, and her then-fiance Peter(who was apparently a sixth year student at Vanderbilt) ended their engagement. Carlotta has not moved on.

The Wren siblings are living in dire financial straits, made worse by Wesley's addiction to Texas Hold 'Em poker and his poor choice of lending sources--two separate loan sharks send various thugs to the townhouse to scare up money the Wrens don't have. Peter's wife enjoys shopping at Neiman Marcus while drunk, the better to flaunt her life to the pitiable, dumped and poor Carlotta. Then Angela turns up dead in her own pool, and Carlotta feels the need to see that justice is done.

So where to begin the catalog of eye-rolling moments? How about this one: Carlotta (despite having been raised to wealth and privilege until her parents bolted) has developed a tacky hobby of crashing "society" parties in order to collect celebrity autographs. Because, yeah, that's just what a 27-year old who was Raised Better Than That would be doing with her free time. And it just so happens that this particular party is where she runs into her ex-fiance after TEN YEARS. And despite having been dumped--over the phone--a decade ago, she's still in luuuuuve with him. And he's still in luuuuuuve with her. So he walks her to her car--humiliating! Because she couldn't afford valet parking!--they kiss. The next night, his wife is dead.

So even if you give a pass to the whole "twue wuv," which I don't because girlfriend should have SOME pride--that kiss is just. . .well, that kiss is blown up into The Motive for Murder. Because no hot-shot society broker types ever get drunk at swanky parties and drunkenly kiss people who are not their wives. Actually, it has been scientifically proven that every time a man kisses a woman, he IMMEDIATELY goes home and kills his wife. I mean, have we learned nothing from Tiger Woods and Jesse James? You can verify that on Snopes.

So Bond drags her heroine (and also the reader) through page after page of endless blathering about the Moral Implications and Legal Ramifications of that kiss! Oh my god, you'd think we were talking about selling state secrets to the Soviets! I shouldn't have kissed him. It was wrong to have kissed him. I wish I hadn't kissed him. What if somebody saw me kiss him? What if the police find out that I kissed him?

Because Atlanta is well-known for their crack team of investigative kissing police.

Barbara Cartland herself couldn't load more significance! to a single kiss than Bond manages to heap on this tired plot device. HESTER PRYNNE couldn't have felt more guilty about a kiss than this character does. Which is the point, here--this Puritan-approved moral code lies uneasily in a book whose plot includes upper income partner swapping parties, sleazy hookers in five-inch stilettos, a gym bag full of unspecified drugs, and a Bored Housewife Prostitution Ring. Former professional football players slipping off their wedding rings while drinking martinis in the middle of the day at a cigar bar, the inept slinging around of designer labels and couture shopping, infidelity and gun fire--all depend on us believing that That Kiss has made Carlotta and Peter the Prime Suspect and Motive for the murder, and thus forcing Carlotta into her amateur sleuthing.

So, there was that. Then, there is the Troubled Teen Brother, Wesley, who dares to lecture his sister on why she shouldn't be in love with Peter. He wants to protect his big sister, you see, so she should stay away from this bad man who dragged her into a murder investigation. As opposed to himself, who is so far in debt to criminal loan sharks that they send thugs to the house weekly to collect on the debts. Who lost all the cash he had to pay those loan sharks by losing in a high stakes game of poker, leading to his sister nearly being raped by one of these thugs. Who is on parole for hacking into courthouse records, drives his motorcycle on a suspended license while on parole, tries to buy an illegal handgun while on parole, actually obtains a handgun and brings it home while on parole, goes to make a drug delivery while on parole--and actually gets caught by his parole officer. . .oh yeah. This is the guy you want to take lifestyle advice from.

Oh, the reason Carlotta is still in love with the rich bum who dumped her ass a decade ago? Because he was the one who took her virginity. Bond literally, actually, has the chutzpah to say "a woman has a special relationship with the man who takes her virginity." Maybe in the Harlequin universe, but oh honey, please! Especially NOT when that man is such a putz that he dumps you. Over. The. Phone.

ANYWAY--did you notice the tiny writing at the bottom of the book cover? "A Sexy Mystery" it says. Well, about as sexy as you can get where any woman who actually has sex ends up dead, the lead character all but wears a chastity belt, and gallons of ink are spilled in the handwringing over That Kiss. There's a detective on the police force who wears bad ties, has big hands, and maybe has a potential thing for Carlotta--if you squint. Wesley gets an off-the-books job as an eponymous body mover, and the Chief Body Mover might also have a thing for Carlotta, except she is so thoroughly squicked out by his career that she can't stand it--yeah, that's pretty sexy right there.

Oh, and that Bored Housewife Prostitution Ring? (That's a spoiler, by the way)--one of the murder victims was a rich, young widow, killed in her own home in the middle of the day, while wearing expensive lingerie--was pregnant! How could that be? She wasn't married!!! Nobody even asks what she was doing in the middle of the day lying around the house in her underwear--for some reason that's not an odd thing for a former debutante to do. But thank god she got killed before she had to be an Unwed Mother!

So, in order to pad the book out to the minimum length, Peter goes and confesses to killing his wife. But one of Wesley's No-Goodnik friends identified her as a hooker he paid $500 to have sex with in her pool house. So Peter's noble sacrifice to protect his hooker wife's reputation after death is all for naught. Everybody already knows that she had sex for money! The shame! Better to confess to murder and be executed than to let people at the country club know your dead wife wasn't happy in her marriage.

Except you totally know that everybody already knew that--for god's sake, they Bored Housewives were recruiting each other and buying each other expensive lingerie to wear for their johns. Strange men were coming into the neighborhood during the day and visiting their houses. This was not a secret, except possibly in Stephanie Bond's strange conception of a sexy Puritan Atlanta.

Oh, wait! I didn't solve the mystery for you yet! Okay, here it is and now you can use those six hours of your life to do something more rewarding: it was one of the johns. Who Peter's bored wife thought she was in love with, so she bought him an expensive suit jacket from Carlotta, and then got mad at him and returned it. Then he killed the other woman too and blah blah blah last minute expositioncakes he was somebody who appeared for about three pages as a tertiary character and then decided to take hostages at gunpoint in Neiman Marcus because that's not obvious. . . .

I've spared you a lot, you know. You might think that this was as lame as it got, but I spared you plenty. Carlotta digging used chewing gum out of a wastebasket in order to send it for DNA testing. The "comic" scene where the six foot python gets out of its cage and slithers up Carlotta's leg in bed, and how she has to be rescued by the Body Mover while standing on her dresser in tiny see-through lingerie. The Judith Lieber breastplate necklace that deflected the bullet. The caterer who is going to start moving dead bodies in her catering van--because nothing says "festive canape" like mortuary services.

Do not pick up this book. Just don't. You're welcome.

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I loved all the Body Movers book!!! And look forward to more!

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