REVIEW: For the Love of Pete by Julia Harper

REVIEW: For the Love of Pete by Julia Harper

Dear Ms. Harper:

cover3I am a big fan of the Elizabeth Hoyt historicals. They are richly detailed with full bodied emotional depth. They are sometimes dark but have always delivered a satisfying read. I can see where writing fun contemporary romps would serve as a nice relief as well as allowing an author to stretch the boundaries of her writing repertoire.

Unfortunately this book with its frivolity and humor didn’t translate well. Poetess Zoey Adler, who works at a health food store but gulps down Culver Butterburgers like they were manna from heaven, was stunned to see some burly guy run out of her apartment building with her baby niece, Pete, in tow. Zoey had been in an argument over a parking space with Mr. Lips of Sin, a handsome but non talkative, tenant of her apartment complex, when she was shot at, bowled over, and caught up in a road race before she knows it.

Mr. Lips of Sin is Dante Torelli, undercover FBI agent, working to ferret out a rogue agent working in the Chicago office. Zoey climbs into Dante’s Beemer as he is about to give chase for baby Pete is the son of a mobster who is ready to flip on a Chicago mob boss. He knows that without the baby, the likelihood of the father testifying is close to zero. Dante makes a half hearted attempt to shake Zoey but she won’t leave. She wants Pete back too.

In a comedy of errors, Pete is left in a Humvee which is then stolen by the sisters who are chasing after a cachet of stolen saffron. Pete is later stolen by someone else who takes another vehicle. All these kids left in cars by themselves in the dead of winter . . . .Anyway, the chase is on to find baby Pete, prevent anyone from getting killed, clear Dante’s name, and find the two of them happy at the end of the book.

This book read like a screenplay full of inept burglars, the obligatory minority group mined for laughs, and the opposites attract pairing of the uptight FBI agent and the free spirit. Even the mob boss is cliched. (At one point, he has a cookie and says ominously “That’s how the cookie crumbles”). There are 60 some chapters to the book and each chapter contains a different POV prefaced with a time stamp. My linear abilities are fairly weak and after about the 13th chapter, I gave up trying to figure out if I was two minutes beyond the last chapter, the same time, or minutes behind. I just went with it but I do wonder whether its reasonable for readers to keep track 65 time stamps in one book. On top of that, there were seven points of view represented: Zoey, Dante, the two sisters, Tony the inept mobster, Rutgar the very bad mobster, and the rogue FBI agent.

Dante isn’t even a very gruff FBI agent. He’s actually pretty loquacious spilling the details of his top secret agenda to Zoey without even a hint of a struggle. But because he had to play the straight man to Zoey’s fresh and modern part, he’s given old man music taste, folds his clothes, drives a Beemer convertible (sorry, don’t believe a 50s guy who folds his dress pants and puts them in the drawer at night is going to drive a sporty Beemer), isn’t really thrilled with eating messy Butterburgers, and so forth. Weirdly he begins talking about relationships with Zoey not less than 24 hours after meeting her. Maybe because he’s so uptight, the zing of Zoey hits him harder than most.

While I don’t want to belabor the point, I was uncomfortable with the portrayal of the two Indian women who were trying to open up a fantastic resturant in Chicago and their secret ingredient was “Grade 1A Very, Very Fine Mongra Kesar”. Their speech patterns are peppered with “very, very” and “indeed.”

Mongra kesar was fantastically expensive, legendarily flavorsome, and very, very illegal indeed.
***
It would make them famous and ensure their restaurant’s success, thus making them very, very rich indeed.
***
“Yes, of course I am right,” Savita-di said. “Was I not right in saying that That Terrible Man would still have our Grade 1A Very, Very Fine Mongra Kesar in his yellow Humvee truck?”
“Yes, indeed.”
***
Savita-di must be frightened indeed to bring it up now.
***
At least Pratima hoped they were on highway 57, for Savita-di’s ability to read maps was quite poor indeed,

It sounded like they were patterned after the Simpson’s Apu. After all, isn’t it kind of funny that these Indian women say “very, very” all the time. It was similar to writing about two Japanese women, opening up a Sushi restaurant, and chasing after their stolen secret ginseng recipe but jumping out and taking pictures of each other every two miles at gas stations and road signs

It would be one thing if the characters were inviting you to snigger at the generalizations, but instead it was like they were being laughed at. You can say that I’m overly sensitive and I’ll accept that criticism. Maybe I am. Obviously the story was meant as to be an homage, of sorts, to the Indian culture which was portrayed lovingly in other sections of the book. In fact, it was this careful attention to detail that made the constant usage of the words “indeed” and “very, very” so jarring. Wasn’t the fact that they were chasing after a contraband SPICE and stealing a yellow Humvee from a mobster and ending up with not one, but two kidnapped babies funny enough?

Mostly this book is frothy and without substance. The plot doesn’t really hold up to inspection, from the botched FBI witness protection program to the way that the covert op to dig out a rogue agent to the inadvertent kidnapping of the babies. It requires a large suspension of disbelief and I just have a hard time exerting that in a contemporary setting even though I know that it’s purposely unrealistic at some points. The relationship between Dante and Zoey isn’t really well developed mostly because half the book is told from the point of view of someone other than the two of them. Why the Speed formula doesn’t work for me in a book, I’ll never know. C-

Best regards,

Jane

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.