The Basics: The Sex On The Beach Book Club by Jennifer Apodaca. Apodaca puts her Samantha Shaw mystery series (published by Kensington) on hold with this "romantic mystery" for Kensington's Brava imprint. This isn't much of a stretch since the last few books in her mystery series have featured some smokin' hot sex scenes.
Disclosure: I guess I should state here that I know Apodaca. Well, "know" might be too strong a word. We're acquaintances. I loved her first few books while I was living in Michigan, and met her at a booksigning once I moved to California. She seems to find me a "fair" reviewer because she's sent me ARCs of her last few books. I'm not even sure why I'm including this in the review since Jen knows I don't pull punches - but there you go. Take it or leave it.
The Plot: Holly Hillbay is a private investigator who needs money. Her slimy ex, Brad the Cad, made sure she lost her bread and butter client, the firm she used to do employee background checks for. However, things are looking up. She's been hired by a husband who suspects his wife is cheating on him. If she is, he can invoke a clause in their prenupital agreement. He suspects wifey is diddling bookstore owner, Wes Brockman, so Holly goes undercover at Wes' book club.
It doesn't take long for Holly to figure out that hubby was barking up the wrong tree. The delectable Tanya isn't hot for Wes, she's playing footsie with a lothario named Cullen. But what about Wes? Well he's very hot, and Holly's dormant libido just kicked into fifth gear. But she's on the clock and her job is to get the scoop on Cullen and Tanya. So she decides to pump Wes for information.
Wes knows Holly is up to something, but can't ignore the chemistry. He finds out what that something is when Cullen turns up dead in his locked bookstore and Holly discloses the fact that she's a PI. Wes is hiding a Big Secret, and he can't help but wonder if Cullen being murdered in his bookstore is a message. Is Wes in danger?
The Good: Holly is the big good here. She's a strong woman hiding behind a chick with a gun attitude. Now, I can hear some of you groaning right about now, but she's still feminine. Tomboys can be feminine in their own way dammit. Plus, after suffering through a number of books this year featuring idiot heroines that the author(s) kept trying to convince me were smart (but were actually really, really stupid) it was nice to read about a capable woman. She's good at her job, knows how to use a gun, and can take care of herself. Naturally though she has baggage. Brad the Cad is such a huge asshole it's amazing she didn't shoot his balls off. Then there are the abandonment issues she has because of Mommy. Her defensive mechanism is to be a tough girl who doesn't "need" anyone, and she never cries. Crying is for sissies.
Wes is charming, likeable, and the past he is running from is compelling and timely. He's intrigued by Holly despite the fact that he doesn't trust cops. I mean, he really doesn't trust cops. But a dead body does have a way of altering one's perceptions, and he thinks Holly can get to the bottom of things.
Also notable, the dialogue is very good. My favorite exchange happens when one of Holly's brothers finds Wes' T-shirt lying around:
"Thought you said you weren't dating anyone."Tee Hee.
She looked up to see Wes's shirt, which she had left on the couch. With a deadpan expression she said, "I'm not. I just have sex with a different man every night and steal their shirts. But I don't date them."
The Bad: The first couple of chapters are a little bumpy. Apodaca jumps into the story with both feet. Chapter 1 is the book club, Chapter 2 is at Wes's beach house where Holly is hoping to get some information about Cullen out of him. It just seemed a bit "fast" for me. The book lands on solid footing though in Chapter 3, which is when the above exchange with her brother takes place.
Also, the author does something that annoys me. She compares her characters to celebrities. Wes looks a little like George Clooney. Holly resembles the character Lilly Rush from the TV show Cold Case. Why does this annoy me? Well tops on the list, it unnecessarily dates the book. Think back to your favorite romance from the 1980s. You know, the one you reread occasionally, the one that holds up fairly well. Would it still hold up "fairly well" if the author described the hero as looking like David Hasselhoff? Sure, I guess people thought he was hot back in the 1980s, but now? One word: Creepy.
I also think this limits the book (to a certain extent) to an American audience. I mean, OK - everyone knows who George Clooney is and while Cold Case is in syndication now, would a reader in England or Uruguay know who Lilly Rush is? You shouldn't have to hit Google to find out what the character looks like.
And very, very minor - the author tips her hand involving one of the larger clues. It also smacks a bit of convenience, but since the mystery gets fairly involved later in the book I came to overlook it. Plus, the loose threads are tied up well - so there you go.
Final Verdict: This is a fun book. A "beach read" if ever there was one, despite the fact that the laydown date is December 26. The mystery is good, I like the characters, I like the dialogue, a good "escape" read (actually "escape read" sums up Apodaca's writing style nicely). It didn't change my life, but it kept me entertained and I thought it was fun so that makes it a B. Apodaca is one of the few authors on my "must read" list and even more shocking - I've read her entire backlist! No books in the TBR! Can I get another Hell Yeah?