Pandora's Box

High Intensity

Dara Joy
2000, Contemporary Romance
Leisure, $5.99, 395 pages, Amazon ASIN 0843947470
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

High Intensity is the long-awaited sequel to High Energy by Dara Joy. High Intensity continues the adventures of the madcap couple, eccentric physicist Dr. Tyberius Augustus Evans, and Zanita Masterson, intrepid girl reporter. This modern day Nick and Nora are trying to solve the mystery of the haunting of a small family hotel, with the aid of their zany family members, friends, and even their cat, Hambone. But Tyber also has a goal of his own on the romantic front, and Zanita feels as hunted as the ghost.

Linda:  Jane, thanks for sitting in for Blythe.

We have waited three years for the sequel to High Energy and by and large I feel High Intensity was worth the wait. Like many Joy fans, I expected the book to be about Mills and Gregor's romance, since the set up was made for them in HE. I was surprised when it was more about Zanita and Tyber. But, I think Joy made a good decision here: Mills and Gregor should be tagged and bagged - DOA! Cody, Gregor's son, is not cute. He is annoying, so perhaps the best way to experience this couple's "romance" is in little pieces within Tyber and Zanita's adventures.

Jane:  I think some readers were surprised while others weren't. I know that when Laurie interviewed Dara a couple of years ago, she indicated then that while she planned to eventually write a sequel for Mills and Gregor, she wanted to do another book (at least) for Zanita and Tyber akin to The Thin Man series of movies. To paraphrase a politician I once heard in a debate - I knew Nick and Nora Charles and Tyber and Zanita are no Nick and Nora! <g>

Linda:  My reaction was the total opposite from yours. About a third of the way through the book, I smiled happily and said to myself, "Nick and Nora." I watch these old movies all the time and picked up so many points of reference. I just loved Tyber and Zanita's interaction. I found Dr. Tyberius Evans as wonderful, bright, and funny as I remembered, and I found Zanita less annoying in this one. I could actually understand why Tyber loved "Curls," she just seemed a tad too ditzy and dithery in High Energy for me.

Jane:  I haven't read High Energy, but I thoroughly enjoyed Joy's Knight of a Trillion Stars and liked Rejar, so I was looking forward to this one. I really was disappointed. I thought Zanita was one of the weak points. Since I didn't read the first, I can't comment on whether she's better in this one, but I found her way too kooky and ditzy. She's supposed to be a journalist, and yet I never believed it for a moment. When she and Tyber are taking a walk outside the inn, he has to reassure her there aren't any snakes. There's snow on the ground! Hasn't she ever watched Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel?

As far as Tyber is concerned, his personality traits, as far as I could tell, were being a genius, being horny all the time, and being a pirate. I actually counted these genius and pirate references for a while; early on they were coming once a page or two. I also had some problems with some of the other characters - did you?

Linda:  We'll get into this a bit more later, but to me, Zanita reminded me an awful lot of Lois Lane in George Reeve's version of Superman. She was forever going into the basement when the lights went off - classic tstl behavior, but she was lovable as well.

And if you thought Zanita ditzy in this book, you should have seen her in HE. She met Tyber when she signed up for a Psychics class except she misspelled it Physics!! In fact, the first scene in the restaurant in HI made it hard for me to get into the book at first. We were immediately plunged into the middle of a scene with Zanita being ditzy and Tyber enjoying it, while those around her were annoyed. Perhaps because I have a daughter in the restaurant business, I didn't react like others would to her "cute" order. Especially because she was soooo unconcious of what she was doing! But, once Joy got rolling and got rid of the annoying Mills and company, I began to really enjoy the book.

I love Blooey, Tyber's "crew member" and Hambone is the most wonderful creation, he's right up there with Zeke, the dog, from Krentz's Family Man.

I disagree with you about The Thin Man; to me this book had a definite 1930's detective movie feel. It reminded me of not only the Nick and Nora movies, but Charlie Chan, Mr. and Mrs. North and even Abbott and Costello in the Haunted Mansion. I loved these funky movies and I thought Joy's haunted mansion was perfect, right down to the secret passageways.

Jane:  I just can't agree with you. Those other characters all had too many quirks: Blooey with his "ay captain", and Hambone was over the top. I'm glad you brought up Jayne Ann Krentz, because, as I was reading this, I kept thinking of her two book set, Gift of Fire and Gift of Gold. The couple meets and falls in love in Gift of Fire, so when the second book came out I wondered what was left to write about. Krentz put in some very real conflict, so that I believed the hero and heroine still had some romancing to do. I didn't see that with Tyber and Zanita. Her reason for not wanting marriage was pretty weak. I didn't feel there was any romance here at all. I will grant there was a lot of sex, but internal conflict was lacking and what was there instead didn't engage me.

Linda:  Funny, I love Krentz, but the Gift books are two of my least favorites, not really sure why. I will admit that the constant pirate references got a bit heavy, but I think she kept Blooey true to his own world. I did wonder why Auntie wears three hats? But, she had good taste - since she really appreciated Tyber's buns. In fact I loved all the "bun" humor and the fey gay hints made me giggle every time.

But, you have put your finger on my problem with Zanita from day one, dithering. She dithered her way through deciding to have a romance with the fabulous Tyber in HE and waffled on marriage in this one. But, I did not find the waffling annoying in this book - as it wasn't constantly referred to. Also, you could see that Curls was internally realizing that Tyber was her husband. I loved the ending by the way, very creative and just what one would expect of Tyber.

Although there was lots of romance and sex, the emphasis here was on the mystery. This book has a definite plot and I thought watching Nick and Nora, I mean Tyber and Zanita, go through their paces was fun. Joy captured the feel of the "buddy" movie as well and it was nice to watch their friendship grow. I also loved their dialogue: the plays on words and witty, sassy answers. This is very true to the Thin Man movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy. But, I thought she was parodying a completely different type of movie also.

Jane:  Both Nick and Nora are extremely intelligent - they had lots of sharp and witty banter. For me, Zanita and Tyber just came across as repetitive. The play on words you mention enjoying was one of the things that drove me crazy. Every time Zanita referred to things like Tyber's "hidden dimple of knowledge" or the "Mysterious face of Mars," I had to stop and scratch my head. Maybe it's because I didn't read the first book with these two, but they were just too, too cute.

Linda:  Some of the word plays, especially with the physics terms were quite sophisticated and I loved the "face of Mars" and especially "the velvet slits" - my hubby's eyes are "blue slits" when he is mad and I could just picture what they were talking about.

I think they were quite true to Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man. Heck, Nick and Nora were drunk through most of those movies - it was incredible the amount of booze they put away. But, when Tyber and Zanita were in the secret passage it reminded me of Charlie Chan and his number one son, complete with wise cracks.

I have always pictured Zanita as kind of a sexy Lois Lane or Nancy Drew; the intrepid girl reporter with her faithful hero along. What I liked in HI was that I could see why Tyber loved her. The way Joy revealed Tyber's thought processes, about Zanita's thought processes, was funny and endearing. The fact that he recognizes that even though her thinking is "non-linear", she often has quick insight and comes to the same answers that he does. Tyber both loves and respects her. Yes, I guess this pair is cute but they are also extremely hot. I smiled every time Zanita referred to the maple syrup incident in HE; I haven't looked at syrup in the same light since.

Jane:  I don't agree that Zanita made quick insights. She seemed pretty dense to me at times. Whenever something ghostly happened, she'd believe it until Tyber would point out another reason for the happening. I know she wants to believe in ghosts, and is therefore more susceptible, but that's not enough.

You may be right about another kind of parody though, but I thought that was part of the problem. In a parody you need someone to be the straight man, as in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. You have Cleavon Little as the new sheriff in a bizarre western town. Everyone around him is a caricature or a twisted version of a character from the western genre, but Cleavon Little as the sheriff is pretty normal. He's reacting to everybody else and that makes it funny. In HI, Zanita and Tyber are as kooky as everyone else.

Linda:  The other type of movie parody I had in mind was a big MGM Musical. You know the ones where they would be doing something and suddenly stop and sing a song? You know, "oh here come those dreadful Nazis, let's sing a song about them." Well, Tyber and Zanita would find a clue and then stop and have sex - it came right on cue just like a song! Tyber was certainly very creative with his props and locations. I bet women everywhere will be getting the dust bunnies out from under their beds, just in case.

And I see Tyber as the sexy, straight, sane, adult member of the cast around whom the craziness flows - he's the Cleavon Little.

Jane:  I just didn't see Tyber as the straight man in this book. There's no doubt he's brilliant, but anyone who sleeps in a clam bed inside a Victorian monstrosity and who gleefully watches bad horror movies all night is not your typical straight man.

Linda:  I think much of Tyber's allure comes out in HE and, unfortunately, the author doesn't give enough backstory in HI to explain it. For example, his interactions with his geeky students were life lessons, and his relationship with Blooey is truly tender and caring; he set up an environment in which this damaged man could function. For a better understanding of Tyber, you really needed to have read the first book - I see him as eccentric, but in control.

Jane:  That may be, but any book should be able to be read alone. I think you're right, though, about the love scenes - they were as predictable as Annette and Frankie breaking into song in those cheesey Beach-party movies. Unfortunately, because they were so predictable and numerous, they stopped being fun.

Linda:  I couldn't decide if there was one sex scene too many or one too few. I would have like to have learned more about what Tyber did with that feather! I wonder, if I had had a physics instructor like Tyber, would I have liked the subject better? Tyber's demonstrations were certainly more enlightening and memorable.

Jane:  Those love scenes - yes - they were initially very creative in place and props, but they followed the same pattern. I realize that Tyber was trying to be unpredictable and keep Zanita on her toes, but he was always the initiator. He's driving Zanita wild, but he's in control too. Not that that's a bad thing, but it was always the same. And don't get me started on how often I saw the words "nether lips" and her "natural dew", not to mention her "nether curls" (which brings up an interesting question about Zanita's nickname <g>). After a while I just lost interest in the love scenes.

Ms. Joy simply had too many zany elements in HI. In fact, it seemed as though she combined the quirks from several of her earlier books, threw them into a blender, and typed in the results.

I also had a hard time with the actual mystery. I knew it was supposed to be screwball, but it didn't actually add up. I have no problem with far-fetched, but this was illogical and didn't fit the facts as they had been presented.

Linda:  I liked the mystery; in some ways this book reminded me of the fun Miss Marple movies with Margaret Rutherford, as well as several other 30's favorites. But your reaction is similar to Agatha Christie's reaction to the Rutherford movies. She hated them! Agatha felt Rutherford was too active, funny and rambunctious (not to mention witty) and they even gave her a boy friend! Not true to the books, but very enjoyable in their own right.

I hadn't thought about the fact that Tyber always initiated sex, but I have the feeling he would have certainly been interested if Zanita had done so. Again, I think that Joy often parodies the "romance" form in her work, I think the multiple eye and other references are her poking a bit of fun at some of the older romance authors like Cartland and Rosemary Rogers.

I liked this book a lot, it kept me entertained and the mystery was actually pretty good. I am a long time mystery reader and although I had many of the pieces in place, I didn't have all of them. The scene where Tyber reveals all reminded me of the detective stories where Nero Wolfe or Hercule Poirot reveals the villain. Tyber and Zanita at times even have the "feel" of Archie and Nero or Hastings and Poirot. Zanita is a great sidekick. The best part was that Joy played fair with all but one detail. Which in hindsight could be inferred. The clues are there, which is important to mystery readers. I hate the Perry Mason books where there is kind of a deux ex machina type ending, with the guilty party coming out of left field.

I would happily read more books about Zanita and Tyber; there is certainly great potential with this couple. I could see them in a Mr. and Mrs. North-type series, but I would agree with you that the creative sex could be cut back a bit - as I said earlier, it seemed like an old musical, with sex right on cue. But, then I suppose there are those who buy Joy for the hot sex and they would be disappointed.

Jane:  I couldn't disagree more about the mystery playing fair. We find out that one of the houseguests is connected to the past, that was a surprise, but it wasn't logical according to the facts given. He/She (I don't want to give it away) was supposed to be working with someone else to get possession of a valuable object. Not only did we never see any evidence of this, nothing happens to this person after all is revealed. I even re-read the end to make sure I wasn't missing something. I, too, am a long time mystery reader and I don't mind if the author doesn't lay out every clue in an obvious fashion, but when a reader gets to the end, they need to be able to say 'yeah, that fits', and this didn't.

Actually, when I think about it, another reason the mystery didn't work for me was because none of the characters were given any depth. I didn't get the feeling that there were seething feelings under the surface for any of them. They were all pretty one-dimensional. Calendula Brite wanted to prove there was a ghost, Gramercy Hubble sneered at the very thought, and Zanita's Auntie doesn't have any personality other then as a person who wears three hats and says "mar-r-r-velous" a lot. To make matters worse, Gregor and Mills make an appearance at the inn that comes out of left field.

I know some readers loved Mills and Gregor from the first book. If he next book in this series is about them, I would avoid it. Gregor would probably be referred to as a gypsy on every other page, and I don't think I could face it. <g>

Linda:  The plot point you are mentioning - I "got." I knew it from before they went to Nantucket. I also had figured out the murderer and the victim's relationship, so for me she really played fair. No, you are right about the secondary characters not having a great degree of depth, but again, I looked at them in the light of a "parody" of a 1930's mystery movie. Believe me, there's no depth to the secondary characters in a Charlie Chan movie. In fact, these characters were so interchangeable that they used the same actors from movie to movie - they were basically stereotypes fleshing out the red herrings.

Perhaps my mind set as I read this book was why I liked it a great deal better than you did. I saw it as a modern day re-telling of these old-fashioned mystery movies. I have also read the books that these series were made from; they are hard to find but worth the effort.

In the best of these, characterization took a back seat to plotting and sometimes shtick. This is true even of the "sainted" Dashiell Hammett who wrote The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man. The stories are wonderful, but the characters are told in quick brush strokes. I think Joy has used this same technique. The book never lagged, or bored me, although as I said previously, I think I could do without one or two of the sexual romps.

Neither of us mentioned Hippolito the cat! What a wonderful creation, not as clever as Hambone but to dominate a room with just the flick of a tongue, I just loved him. I like animals in books, if they are well done and not "too human." These animals both stayed on the side of being a cat and yet enjoyable to have around.

I am looking forward to Joy's next book, but I'm really hoping it will be a Matrix of Destiny book or perhaps the Pimpernel-type character from Tonight or Never. I am beginning to be afraid I won't live long enough to read Traed's story.

Jane:  I love animals too, but these, just like everybody else, had crazy eccentricities that were silly without being funny. Hambone has one eye and likes to slide across ice on his belly and Hippolito sleeps with his feet in the air and his tongue hanging out at all times - funny is fine, but this was a cartoon!

It's funny you should bring up Tonight or Never. It's one of the books I was talking about earlier. In that one the hero is always referring to the heroine as Chloe-rabbit or Chloe-cat, things like that. She responds with cutesy (but mostly funny) retorts. High Intensity has some of that, but it has some of everything else too.

We'll just have to agree to disagree about the mystery. I, too, have read Dashiell Hammett and those other early writers, but think of Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence. I kept thinking of them while I was reading this. They're a young, hip married couple solving mysteries. Maybe because they were in my mind, Zanita and Tyber came up short, not to mention the others in the story.

I guess it was just a combination of not enough romance or characterization that did it for me. I'll probably read another of Joy's books (as long as it's not Gregor and Mills), just to see. I didn't like this one, but she's got a good track record.

Linda:  Well, I am with you on Gregor and Mills, less is more as far as they are concerned and Gregor's kid, Cody is precocious enough to bring back the old adage, "children should be seen and not heard".

I think that your reference to Tommy and Tuppence is apt, but not the Tommy and Tuppence of the single-title, later books. They first appeared in short stories that were quick, witty and with Tuppence a bit ditzier then in the long-form books. Think of the series of stories where Tommy pretended to solve mysteries as different literary detectives and Tuppence played his assistant. Those were very funny, even zany (well, as zany as Agatha Christie ever got), but no depth of character or even hard to solve mysteries. In fact one of the constant criticisms of Christie's mysteries was their lack of character depth, but the stories engaged one's interest and for me, Tyber and Zanita did the same.

All in all, I actually liked this one better then High Energy. I laughed out loud at a lot of the bantering and really enjoyed the setting of the haunted house with its secret passages a lot. I guess I kind of viewed this book as a "sexy Nancy Drew," with a hero much more interesting then poor old Ned.

My favorite Joy is Knight of A Trillion Stars and again it was the humor in it that really made that book special for me.

One thing I liked about HI was that it was different from anything else I have read recently, which is a big plus. I would be happy to read more about Tyber and Zanita; I have always liked this type of series.

I appreciate your sitting in for a special Pandora, Jane, and I think our opposite reactions will be reflected by many readers. Joy seems to strike chords that generate lots of discussion with each of her books. The fact she generates lots of feeling and discussion is a positive thing I think - much better than a recent book I reviewed where I really had no active feelings about it at all. From discussions online neither did anyone else. That's definitely not a good thing.

Jane:  I'll agree with you that this was different than anything I've read recently. I definitely won't pick up another Joy book with Tyber and Zanita, but I'll look forward to anything else she does.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to hearing you and Blythe discuss Tracy Fobes' next book. Thanks for inviting me to Pandora. Love it or not, I predict readers will have a lot to say about High Intensity.

--Linda Hurst and Jane Jorgenson, for

-- Pandora's Box

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