Drop Dead Gorgeous

Linda Howard
2006, Romantic Suspense
Ballantine, $7.99, 347 pages, Amazon ASIN 0345486587
Part of a series

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Warm

When To Die For, Linda Howardís first book featuring the smart and sassy Blair Mallory, was published, it was like a breath of fresh air. From the first-person narration to Blairís sexy yet serious counterpart, detective Wyatt Bloodsworth, it was a fun and original romp that I was sad to see end. Thankfully, Howard brings back more of Blairís insights and playful (and occasionally manipulative) ways in Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Now engaged, Blairís witticisms are still snappy and her logic can (mostly) be understood by those with two X chromosomes. The biggest threat to her happiness? A deadline of 30 days to get her wedding planned, or Wyatt will get them hitched his way (the courthouse, Vegas, or an unknown worse fate).

Blair has her hands full with her family and arguing with Wyatt, but her plans are suddenly interrupted when sheís nearly run over in the parking lot of her gym. Is it an accident or something far more deadly? As in the first book, the threats to Blairís well-being and the reasons behind them are not as interesting as how Blair reacts. What is fun is seeing how Blair deals with everything, as sheís not afraid to wield weapons and put her skills as a former cheerleader to work.

Oneís enjoyment of this book is very much dependent on whether or not one likes Blair. I liked all the time spent inside Blairís head, but I did start to get impatient as the plot really doesnít get rolling until the second half when the threats become too serious to overlook and Blair and Wyatt face bigger issues with their relationship. Itís this combination of heightened suspense and personal conflict that brings the novel to a meatier, more enjoyable level, comparable to its predecessor.

Still, though, the mystery was never the strength of the first novel, and the sequel follows suit. The identity of the villain is not the most compelling, or satisfying, part of the book, and itís more than a little hard to believe that Blair would become a target for the second time in a row. But these situations do provide a lot of over-the-top entertainment from Blair, as Howard really lets her loose in this one. How else would you get references to Davy Crockett, Nancy Pelosi, and Britney Spears?

The bookís weakest subplot consists of Blairís attempts to reunite a married couple who have squabbled and split. While her stream-of-consciousness thoughts are hilarious, they are occasionally overwhelming, and I think it would be difficult to understand her many references to the previous attempt on her life without having actually read the first book.

However, part of the fun is that this is not a traditional romance novel. Linda Howard seems to be playing with the TSTL heroine and the alpha male hero stereotypes so frequently used in romance novels. Blair may occasionally appear to act clueless, but unlike the real idiot heroines, she always does so deliberately and with an ulterior motive. Wyatt, on the other hand, is so overflowing with masculinity and testosterone that he could have stepped straight out from the pages of a Western or a Medieval. Heís previously seemed almost too good to be true, but in this one Howard shows that he is capable of doing some incredibly stupid things. Itís impossible to get insight into his mind due to the format of the book, but at the very least, I thought a bit of conflict between him and Blair did the book a world of good. It made them both a bit more human.

While Drop Dead Gorgeous, doesnít equal the first in terms of originality, it is still fun, refreshing, and delightful. Blair hasnít worn out her welcome with me.

-- Joan Lee

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