Agnes just bought her dream home from the mother of a friend of hers. She has a newspaper column as a food writer under the moniker “Cranky Agnes” and is a generous woman who wants a permanent family – which shouldn’t be a problem, since she loves feeding people, but somehow, it is. Aside from a not-very-small anger problem that usually manifests itself with a frying pan and someone’s cranium (often a fiance or boyfriend caught cheating on her), Agnes is pretty awesome. In fact, now that I’m finished with the book, I’m going to miss her.
Shane, as the back cover says, “Just ‘Shane,’” is a hitman. His Uncle Joey asks him to come to the very very back of the backwater that is Keyes, South Carolina, to take care of a “little Agnes,” who seems to be under attack, as someone tries to steal her dog – though that someone ends up getting beat down with a frying pan for their trouble. Shane arrives, and indeed, people are entering the house attempting to shoot Agnes. Add to that a wedding to throw, a grandmother of the bride and former homeowner trying to sabotage the whole shebang so she can get her house back AND keep the downpayment, a somewhat secretive and very steel-Magnolia mother of the groom, a mother of the bride who is caught between wanting revenge on her mother for a world of hurts and wanting the best wedding for her daughter, and a bride and a groom caught between all these crazy ladies, and Agnes has her share of problems to work out in a few day’s time.
Unfortunately, the arrival of Shane brings with it additional problems which can be filed under the heading of “mob,” “elderly but not retired mob,” “other hitmen,” and “25-year-old scheme to recover $5 million dollars,” and since Shane and Agnes are drawn to each other in primitive and intimate ways, their problems create a very very soupy mess.
Yes, this is certainly a bunch of problems. In fact, I’d say it’s an anthology of problems, but if I did, someone might come after me with a frying pan. So we’ll pretend I didn’t say the “a” word.
What did I like about this book? A whole mess of a lot. It’s not easy to put down, because much like Mayer and Crusie’s last book, it starts running and picks up speed. The many threads of the story and the ancillary characters that reappear keep the reader paying attention, but it’s not the kind of paying attention that’s exhausting. It’s more of a “can’t-wait-to-find-out-what’s-next” anticipation that keeps the reader involved. I stayed up WAY too late reading this book, and had to stop myself from sneaking chapters at work. It was that bad of a good book.
I liked Agnes, and could relate to her learning to be angry AND smart instead of just angry and full of rage, and I liked Shane, who had to learn to trust people and accept that he might be ready for a change in his life. Rooting for them was easy, and believing in their relationship was somewhat simple, though the reader has to accept a high-speed relationship because the rest of the book is moving at warp speed.
There were secondary characters I wanted to learn more about, and in one case, care more about. The mother of the bride, Lisa Livia, is a huge part of Agnes’ life, but their interactions left me with much less of a sense of Lisa Livia than the understanding I had of Agnes, and the uneven character development as far as those two women were concerned was a bummer. The secondary character stable of men was also a bit uneven. I wanted to know more about Shane’s partner, Carpenter, because I was totally into him but never had a clear picture of him in my mind. Crusie and Mayer are, I think, deliberately skimpy on the physical descriptions, and seem to want the reader’s understanding of the characters to be based on exactly that: character. So it wasn’t like I was miffed that I didn’t get a “he looked in the mirror and his hair was an anthology of brown and copper, his eyes an anthology of hazel and green, fringed with anthological lashes.” Not at all. It was more like their backstory was half-painted and I wanted the rest because the completed parts of the depiction were so deep and fascinating.
But what has me really stewing – in a good way – on this book is that it’s not only a romance, a mystery, a mob story and an adventure, it’s also very, very much an examination of evil and gender. Without giving too much away, Crusie and Mayer play with the idea of what the reader will accept in terms of conscienceless, selfish, murderous and evil behavior, and from what characters that behavior can emerge without any gender-laden questions of stereotyped outrage.
I’m sure I’m not making a lick of sense here. Suffice it to say that there are several nefarious characters, and part of discovering who they are and what their motivation is (Selfishness? Insanity? Selfishness? Greed? Insanity? Or just plain conscienceless evil?) means examining your own expectations of motivation and hate superimposed on concepts of gender and sex. Further, the story makes me question whether my reaction of loathing to one character was heightened by at least some good memories of that character in Agnes’ recollections and by the chance that character might get a clue and stop being such a complete douchebag, while the dislike I had for other nefarious characters was less of a loathing and more of a slowly building expectation and anticipation of their being totally destroyed.
I finished the book this morning after a marathon 3-day reading spree that included staying up until way, way past my bedtime last night, and it more than cleansed my palette after reading that other book about savage booty. It’s certainly not a romance in the traditional sense, in that the protagonists’ relationship is not the ultimate center of the story, but the plot twists and surprises hinge on both their romance and the mystery that surrounds them and the rest of the characters. And their ultimate connection, as well as the rest of the story, is supremely satisfying.