Dear LB Gregg,
It has been five (long) years since the first two Romano & Albright books (Catch Me If You Can and Trust Me If You Dare) were released. I remember them fondly; a blend of farce, crime caper, mystery and romance, and I was so happy to see you had a new book in the series coming out. For some reason, when I started reading, I expected the same time had passed in Caesar Romano’s and Dan Albright’s world as it had in mine. I was wrong. The action picks up very shortly after the events in the first two books, most of which I couldn’t remember. There is little by way of recap, so I was flying blind there for a little while. (If readers are up for a re-read of the first two books, that might be the best way to go – or find a nice detailed review that jogs the memory.)
I will also admit that I wasn’t particularly in the mood for With This Bling when I started reading it. But I had made a commitment to review it so I started reading anyway. It’s a thing that happens sometimes when one reviews books (and it is one reason why I accept few ARCs; I like to give each book the best possible chance of success and reading mood makes such a big difference I find). I think it is the mark of a very good book when, despite a less than ideal reading mood, the story wins me over anyway. It took a little while (not really remembering all the characters and the previous plot was a bit of a barrier for me), but well and truly by the halfway point I was reading eagerly and with a big smile on my face.
The books are all told exclusively from the first person (past tense) perspective of Caesar Romano, an arty, sort-of-hipster type, of medium height (aka short) who now runs a catering business and cafe in the West Village of Manhattan, Pish Posh Nosh, with his best friend, Poppy McNamara. Caesar’s Italian family is vaguely mafia-lite (in an amusing way) but Caesar is a terrible liar and would look horrible in an orange jumpsuit so he’s a straight arrow. That doesn’t stop him from finding himself in all manner of scrapes and disasters though. Caesar’s partner is Dan Albright, a private detective Caesar hooked up with in hilarious circumstances in Catch Me if You Can. If I remember correctly, part of the storyline in that first book was whether Dan was playing Caesar or whether he was really interested in a relationship. Because there was no Dan POV, the reader was as in the dark as Caesar. I didn’t used to like first person narratives. That’s changed but still, I admit my preference, if a story is in first person, is to have alternating POVs or a lot of dialogue so that I can get to know the other romantic lead. In the first books, part of the mystery hinged on Dan’s motives being somewhat murky, so even though I’d have liked more of Dan, I could see why the stories were as they were. While Caesar still has many (many) questions about Dan and quite a few insecurities – their relationship is still very new after all, I was delighted that Dan’s heart was firmly on his sleeve in this book. I was left in no doubt that Dan was head over heels for Caesar and that made me happy.
“In case you’re late to the party, Romano, I’m not into women. I’m into you.”
The action takes place in only a couple of days. It is all very fast paced and frantic. What begins as a normal day quickly spirals out of control and includes , a stalker with shocking body odor, a marriage proposal (for cousin Joey and Poppy) which goes hilariously wrong, a vampish woman with a strong interest in Dan and more hijinks at the Albright Gallery with Caesar’s ex, Shep McNamara (and Shep’s new beau, eccentric artist Jean Luc Pappineau). It’s all written with your trademark style, quirky and funny and whip-smart.
He’d dressed… in the black jeans/ black T-shirt combo that was either an homage to Simon Cowell circa the American Idol years, or a way to scream to the world I am a cop. Having forgone the SWAT style boots in lieu of sensible loafers, and with a black blazer, it was difficult to tell which look he was shooting for.
The plot is hard to describe, but it all comes together wonderfully. While I don’t think the story works that well as a stand-alone, for those of us who enjoyed the first two instalments, this one is a real treat. I hope it’s not another five years before we see more Romano & Albright.