Book Review

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

A-

Title: Agnes and the Hitman
Author: Jennifer, Bob Crusie, Mayer
Publication Info: St. Martin's Press August 21, 2007
ISBN: 0312363044
Genre: Romantic Suspense

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.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    MamaNice says:

    I actually just read my very first Jennifer Crusie this weekend: Bet Me, and I really enjoyed it – finished it in 2 days – so I’ll be checking out her other stuff. Don’t know who Mayer is – but it sounds like they have collaborated before?

    Pssst – havin’ a bit of fun with the anthology naughtiness, huh? I feel like you’re Lisa Simpson with a little poking finger and a certain blogger/writer associated with produce is Bart saying, “Ow, quit it.”

  2. 2

    I’ll have to try Jennifer Cruise out – this sounds great!

    And you deserve to have such a good book to flush that other crap out of your system :)

  3. 3
    Catherine J. says:

    Oooh, this sounds lovely. Going to the library today to drop off some books; I’ll have to see if they have a Jennifer Crusie or two. Hitmen + frying pans = damn good fun.

  4. 4
    Liz C. says:

    I’m guessing this was an advance copy in which case I’m massively jealous because I’m looking forward to this book a lot.

    Everyone else who hasn’t checked out Crusie be sure to read Fast Women and, if you can get a hold of her earlier stuff, Charlie All Night and Manhunting are fabulous. I love Welcome to Temptation because I love Phin and Bet Me is pretty much required Crusie reading, I think.

  5. 5
    Candy says:

    Still waiting for my copy. Am now dying, dyinnnnggggg to read it. CRY.

  6. 6
    Najida says:

    I love all of Crusies stuff (oddly, Bet Me was my least favorite…..hated the female lead I think) Oh well.  Tell Me Lies, Fast Women etc are all great.  Getting Rid of Bradley is just Wonderful!

    Welcome to Temptation was my first read, and it made her an auto-buy for me.

  7. 7
    Sandra D says:

    I’ve been looking forward to reading this since Don’t Look Down, and when I saw your review here I was all “Hot damn, it’s finally out! Must call library!” only it seems from the other Bitches that it’s not out yet? Sigh, what an emotional roller coaster so early in the morning.

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    I am sorry, it won’t be released until August 21, 2007 according to Amazon.

    We should probably mark whether we’re reviewing an ARC or at least provide a release date from here on out, since we both get ARCs at this point. My bad. Will modify shortly.

  9. 9
    monimala says:

    I was at the bookstore yesterday looking for the “anthology,” and had no idea Crusie and Mayer had teamed up again.  Of course, if I looked at actual release dates, I wouldn’t have these kinds of problems! 

    Sounds like a must-read, like most of Crusie’s work.  She never fails to make me laugh, though I admit Don’t Look Down just didn’t hit the spot like her solo stuff does.  Welcome to Temptation pulled me in (I grew up in a southwestern Ohio town with a water tower), but Faking It is my favorite.

    Side note:  They’ve reissued a bunch of Cassie Edwards’ stuff and I was torn between weeping and looking for the nearest “flute of love” to play.

  10. 10
    Sarah Frantz says:

    I loved this book (another lucky receiver of an ARC!  Heehee!).  So much more betterer than Don’t Look Down.  It’s like DLD was the “worst” of Crusie and Mayer individually, completely unintegrated.  This one that integrated perfectly and it’s totally the best of both worlds.  Brilliant characters, brilliant plot that’s stunningly plotted to actually make sense (unlike DLD, IMO).  I adored it and hope that they’ll be able to produce more like it.  I think Sarah’s totally right about the themes and character growth and the inhaling of the book.  Totally worth a few sleepless nights and it makes for a fabulous reread once you understand the plot twists!

  11. 11
    iffygenia says:

    I loved this book…  So much more betterer than Don’t Look Down.  It’s like DLD was the “worst” of Crusie and Mayer individually, completely unintegrated.

    I’m so thrilled to hear you loved Agnes!  I found DLD lacking: so much so that I didn’t plan to read Agnes.  (Among other issues, there wasn’t a single interesting female character in DLD: that’s a real WTF, in a Crusie novel.)  So hearing this comparison cheers me right up!

  12. 12
    hollygee says:

    Uh, the not-an-anthology is in the stores on June 26th. That would be:
    The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes
    Jennifer Crusie, Eileen Dreyer, and Anne Stuart writing/collaborating on a [single] novel.

    http://www.unfortunatemissfortunes.com/homepage.php

  13. 13
    hollygee says:

    Also, should you want to see a collaborative book in the making, go to:
    http://dogsandgoddesses.com/

    Jenny, Anne and Lani Diane Rich!!!!!

  14. 14
    Poison Ivy says:

    Suggest that since the Rest of the Free World won’t be able to read this book until August, you sell—uh, lend—your ARC to some worthy SB.

    In fact, why not make it a contest prize?

    That would be the decent thing.

    “It’s always tease, tease, tease.”

  15. 15
    AnimeJune says:

    MamaNice – “Bet Me” was my first Crusie, too – in fact, my first romance, actually. Loved it. LOVED IT. Want to go to film school so that I can develop a screenplay version and make a MOVIE of it.

    And I just finished “Getting Rid of Bradley” – loved the concept of a dog that tells jokes!

    Sarah – huh, this must be a delightful palate cleanser after Cassie Edwards, eh? That’s part of the reason I’m liking Lisa Kleypas – her books revived me after the dullness that was Jane Lindskold.

  16. 16
    Melissa says:

    Crusie fans should also get “Anyone But You” in addition to the books already mentioned here.  Fred is my favorite supporting character of all time thanks to his fascination with a certain item of lingerie.  :)  It’s out in hardback and paperback, so go buy it!

  17. 17
    coelacanths rock says:

    try #2…
    ooh, Anyone but You is my unfavorite. I thought the main character was a total ditz, and it didn’t have the great group of friends her best books do.

  18. 18
    Najida says:

    We all have our favs and least favs I guess…

    I guess one woman’s witty smart chick is another’s vapid dingbat. ;)

  19. 19
    Jess says:

    Melissa, I have Anyone But You, but heck if I could remember the name (no, no, let’s not discuss that I could have looked on my bookshelf). I always call it Fred’s book. I read a library copy and when I noticed HQN had it out in paperback, I snatched it up. I think everyone I recommend it to adores Fred. *laugh* Primarily because most of us have had dogs like him. And he’s a good motivator for the female lead, since you can’t ignore a dog that loves lingerie. He won’t let her. *laugh*

  20. 20
    Eileen says:

    Crusie and Mayer are no Cassie Edwards and for that we can all be grateful.

  21. 21
    AnimeJune says:

    Wouldn’t it be fun if someone tried to write a romance novel ABOUT Cassie Edwards?

    “Sassie Sedwards’ love life is the pits – all her boyfriends in the past have all ended up leaving her by coming down with a rare disease known as ‘brain puking’. Could it possibly be caused by her own novels that she makes them read? And can she ever find that man who makes her heart thud the way her books do when reviewers chuck them out of windows?

    Then one day, an unkempt high school janitor manages to page through her novel without any cerebual fluid leaking from his ears! Could he be the one?

    Cletus Bonester’s enchanted by this Sassie girl and her delusional, rambling talk about savage orbital satellites and politically incorrect American Indian depictions. But he’s hiding a dark secret – he can’t read.

    CAN THEIR LOVE SURVIVE????”

  22. 22
    distracted says:

    Welcome to Temptation is my absolute fave, with Bet Me right behind.  I also really enjoyed Crazy for you, but I was not a big fan of Anyone But You.  I love Crusie though—she is the best.

    I’ve been looking for a copy of Sizzle….Anyone read it?  =)

  23. 23
    distracted says:

    Also, AnimeJune—you are brilliant.  I would read that in a heartbeat.

  24. 24
    zaza says:

    Sizzle!  Yes, I loved it.  Jenny hates it. 

    My favorite is Getting Rid of Bradley.  I love the protags, especially the guy.  When he says, “That woman is damn near feral” about the heroine, it just tickles me.  Probably because it sounds like something several of my exBFs might say about me.  After that it’s WTT and FI, although I do love Cal from Bet Me.

  25. 25
    Ann Bruce says:

    Crusie rocks.  And her collaboration with Mayer is the best thing since peanut butter and chocolate.  (Hmm…peanut…butter…chocolate—I’m projecting Cassie Edwards, even though I haven’t actually read any of her books.)

    I am DYING to get my hands on a copy of this book.  And I know that instead of savouring it, it’ll be done in one much-too-brief sitting.

    Can anyone tell me if Shane does something stupid in the end like yell “I love you” at a wholly inappropriate moment and throw off the stride of the book?  That was the only thing that bothered me about Don’t Look Down.

  26. 26
    AnimeJune says:

    Thanks, distraction!

    Actually, a novel about a bad romance author who winds up in a good romance herself is not a bad idea.

  27. 27
    AnimeJune says:

    D’oh! I mean, thanks DISTRACTED.

  28. 28
    Jen C says:

    I love them all, and I am so jealous you guys got the arc!  Is it being released in paperback or hardcover?  If it’s hardcover, sad as it’ll make me, I will have to wait to own it till its in paperback- I just never buy hardcovers of novels.

  29. 29
    Stephanie says:

    I am so excited for this book to come out. I read He Wrote She Wrote the online writing class Crusie/Mayer does and they are always using Agnes as an example.

    I have been a big Crusie fan since Welcome to Temptation. Reading all the comments I agree with how wonderful Bet Me is, (although it switches between the two) right now I think my favorite Crusie book is Faking it.

  30. 30
    Sarah says:

    Actually AnimeJune and distracted, I just finished reading a book about a horrible romance author and it was hilarious!  Each chapter began with the most godawful excerpts from her book.  (Its called Improper English by Katie Macalister.)  It was funny, sometimes you wanted to smack the main character, but it was so awkwardly amusing that it didn’t bother me that much.  I would recommend it if only for the chapter openings.

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