My glee when I found out Jennifer Crusie was collaborating with another author on a book was huge and squeeful; when I learned that Bob Mayer was a former Green Beret who wrote adventure novels full of ‘splosions and rivetty bits, and that Crusie was going to write the heroine’s point of view while Mayer was going to write the hero’s…. Well, let’s just say there was more squeeing and squealing and general behaving like a loony person.
Did the book live up to my expectations? Kind of, but kind of not. Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoyed it, and it’s definitely better than the average bear—it’s just that I’ve come to expect so much more from Crusie. (Can’t tell you what I expected from Mayer because I haven’t read any of his books before.) The action is fast and, unlike the majority of romantic suspense I’ve read, has the ring of authenticity; a former Green Beret really knows his tactics, guns and ammo. Whodathunk? The other elements also work, for the most part; the main characters are likeable, the dialogue is nice and zippy, the comic timing excellent, the action plot interesting and somewhat twisty.
However, the romance itself? That bit didn’t work so well.
Lucy Armstrong, a successful director especially known for her work with dog food commercials, is called down to the Savannah River swamps to finish the last four days of filming an action flick after the original director keels over from a heart attack. Lucy is perfectly happy to direct dogs; dogs are better-behaved and a hell of a lot more predictable than actors. But her sister Daisy, the script supervisor, wants her working on this film, and what’s more, Daisy’s five-year-old daughter, Pepper, really, really wants to see her. And really, nobody says no to the cute kid, especially in a romance novel.
The sinking feeling in Lucy’s gut intensifies when she finds out that her ex-husband, Connor, is also the stunt coordinator for the film. The sinking hits rock bottom once she actually takes stock of what a monumental mess the whole project is. Daisy is almost literally sleepwalking, Pepper is anxious and starving for attention, Connor is acting like even more of a shifty asshole than usual, key personnel have quit, most of the crew doesn’t seem to know or care about what’s going on, the few who do care are actively hostile, and people are strangely reluctant to hand her a complete copy of the script.
And when her lead actor hires his own body double and stunt advisor, a taciturn but OMGHOT Green Beret named JT Wilder, all hell breaks loose—or, at least, key pieces of equipment do, and when you’re on a movie set, that’s close enough.
JT Wilder is on leave when he decides to pick up some easy money by being a nimrod actor’s stunt double. Shit, he’s jumped out of plenty of helicopters into REAL enemy fire; this should be a cakewalk. What he didn’t count on was being dragged into a CIA operation involving international terrorism, money laundering and ancient jade penises. Complicating things even further is the movie director, who looks far too much like Wonder Woman for his peace of mind. And there’s that one-eyed alligator hovering around the swamps surrounding the set….
The whole story takes place over four days. There’s not a timeline so much as a time squiggle that’s then squished into something vaguely dot-like. A LOT happens, and very fast. An inhumanly fast pace isn’t normally a problem with an action book, because hurry-up-and-wait, while no doubt more realistic, makes for a boring read. It’s all very entertaining, but I feel like plot and character development were shoved to the wayside as a consequence.
And for a romance novel, that warp speed isn’t so good. For myself, I really, really enjoy watching the love develop and the tension build. Four days from “Hello, you’re kind of hawt,” to “Happily Ever After”? That’s not romance, folks. That’s creepy. That’s JT-having-to-issue-a-restraining-order-because-Lucy-won’t-stop-stalking-him wacky. The love story is even more strained when you consider that JT and Lucy get almost no time alone at all because they’re both working on a movie set, and the romance doesn’t even start looking like one until about halfway through the book. Yes, JT’s a motherfucking hero, and Lucy gets to watch him do all sorts of hot, hero-ey sorts of things like save the day and shit, but they don’t really get to sit down and interact meaningfully—interaction that doesn’t involve their squidgy bits, at any rate.
This is strange, because reading the book, you get the feeling that both JT and Lucy are, well, sane people who think things through, more or less, before acting. They’re both assertive, organized and logical, which makes some of Lucy’s romantic decisions by the end of the book somewhat puzzling.
What disappoints me even more is that previous Crusie novels have featured protagonists who fall in love incredibly fast, and I bought into those scenarios with little problem. Both Manhunting and Getting Rid of Bradley, for example, have the hero and heroine falling in love rather quickly (though not four days fast); however, in those books, the hero and heroine spend significant amounts of time alone together. So, this sort of thing can be done, but it just wasn’t convincing in Don’t Look Down.
Other conflicts in this book, especially the tensions between Lucy and Daisy, were resolved in what feels like a similarly slap-dash fashion. (Be warned: Here Lie Spoilers, so highlight the area for the Supah-Secret text):
One moment, Daisy seems to be nursing a burgeoning barbituarate habit and some very interesting resentment towards Lucy and her heroine complex, and the next, BAM, they’re more-or-less peachy keen. Crusie is usually stellar at handling tensions like these, and to see this go nowhere made me a bit of a sad panda.
The other parts of the book worked quite well. The secondary characters are memorable and worth noting. Pepper, in particular, is adorable and believable, and I’m speaking as somebody who has a pretty low gag threshold when it comes to the portrayal of cute children in fiction.
The action/suspense portion of the book is a blast, and somewhat more convincing than the love story. I know nothing about the military, guns, tracking enemies or killing people, but I have a sneaking suspicion Bob Mayer does, and it shows.
Overall, the book is a rather insubstantial bit of fun, which is a shame because Crusie always managed to sneak a lot of interesting subtext into her books, even the ones I didn’t particularly care for. This time around, there wasn’t sub-text so much as hurriedly resolved emotional issues. It’s still worth reading, and I enjoyed it, but it lacks that punch that makes it a true keeper.