One of the most painful things for me as a reader is when an author just fails to make a plot work. In News Blues, Marianne Mancusi went with a somewhat unconventional hero, but failed to make him likable.
Maddy Madison is a young producer for a San Diego TV station. She wants to work on serious stories, but management's interest is solely in ratings, and not at all about reporting unbiased, important stories. Even so, Maddy is promoted to an investigative arm of the news station, and is paired with a sexy new photographer, Jamie Hayes.
The problem? Jamie is engaged and his wedding is in three months. On top of this, Maddy’s father leaves her mother for his pregnant girlfriend, her mother then skips the country and leaves Maddy shackled with her wild younger sister. But, on the bright side, a tip from a casual acquaintance points her in the direction of a major drug cartel's tunnel used to smuggle drugs and immigrants into the country. She and Jamie go after this lead, even as it leads them to danger.
There are ways to make the heroine "the other woman," and still have the hero and heroine likable. Ms. Mancusi failed in this regard with Jamie. His behavior is more like an ex-boyfriend of another heroine than Maddy's "hero." His completely unattractive behavior begins with cheating on his fiance, continues with a confession to the heroine while on an accidental drug trip, further deteriorates with bursts of childlike anger and selfishness, and ends with one reprehensible act that was the deal breaker for me. He was irredeemable in my eyes.
The thing that was hardest about watching Jamie crash and burn as a romantic hero is that Mancusi didn’t have to take the route she did. As I read the book, other scenarios popped into my head, things that could happen that would have the same effect, but not make Jamie a complete jerk led around by his libido. He came across as weak, fickle, indecisive, and selfish - none of which are traits I look for in a hero.
There were other problems with this book as well. Side characters irritated me. The voice and tone of the novel were uneven, at times seeming satiric and overblown, sometimes not, making the satiric parts stick out and seem awkward. The narrator was fickle herself. She hated her dad, then she loved him, then she hated him. She hated her sister, then she loved her, then she hated her. Every single startling or unpleasant event or revelation was met with nausea.
In addition, the drug cartel plotline wasn’t credible to me. I couldn’t believe that someone would so willingly give a casual acquaintance the key to a major drug running operation. “Oh, you’re an investigative reporter? Here, let me tell you where a murderous group of drug traffickers conducts their operations.” It fell into Maddy’s lap far too easily to be believable.
After all this, you might be surprised to hear that the book wasn’t a complete and total failure. There were some good moments between Maddy and Jamie when I could forget what he was doing to his fiancé and Maddy. Mancusi’s experience with television production also gave the details of Maddy’s job an air of authenticity.
However, they couldn’t redeem this story. A complete scumbag for a hero, a plot riddled with deues ex machinas and the like, and weaknesses in the storytelling simply made News Blues an unpleasant read.
-- Jane Granville
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