Wednesday, March 16, 2011

TBR Challenge 2011: High School Reunion Hell

The Book: The Last Cheerleader by Meg O'Brien

The Particulars:  Suspense with romantic elements, Mira, 2003, Out of Print

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Back in 2003, I was still working for a small library system in Michigan.  I ordered this book for work, but when it arrived in a shipment from Baker & Taylor, the cover had been torn off!  So we called and they sent us a replacement.  Instead of chucking the damaged copy, I grabbed some tape, reattached the cover, and brought it home to my TBR pile.  Where it's been since 2003.  Yeah.  I suck.

The Review: After years of struggle, L.A. literary agent, Mary Beth Conahan is moving up in the world.  She's got a beach house in Malibu and a swank office in Century City.  However it all becomes threatened when Tony Price, her cash cow bestselling author, is found murdered - right alongside her ex-husband.  When another body turns up, police begin to zero in on Mary Beth, who was connected to all three victims.  Adding to this high drama?  The reappearance of high school BFF, Lindy Lou Van Court (paging Dr. Seuss!).  Lindy shows up selling a sob story of how her vile husband, Roger, has kicked her out on the streets and is keeping her from their sickly baby daughter.  Mary Beth agrees to help, mostly because she knows what an asshole Roger is.  But between the three dead bodies, and Lindy not being entirely forthcoming, it gets tricky rather quickly.

What we have here is what I like to call The Tale Of Two Books.  Book #1 starts off pretty good.  One murdered bestselling author, one dead ex-husband, and then Mary Beth literally stumbles over Dead Body #3.  There are also some nice tid-bits about the book business here, including less than savory agents, the struggle to break an author out of midlist hell etc.  Who is killing off Mary Beth's authors?  And why?  I have to say, I was pretty intrigued by Book #1.

Unfortunately it all starts to slide south for me with the arrival of Lindy Lou Who (seriously, I kept calling her that in my head!) and the start of Book #2.  Lindy is one of those girls from high school who you were "friends" with - but had a way of cutting you down while smiling to your face.  She was the cheerleader who acted like the empty bubble-headed ninny to get boys, and would say snide things about you that were rather mean and nasty but hey, it's OK!  She's your friend!.  Seriously, I frickin' hated girls like that.  Reading about one of these types, all grown up, and still not very self-reliant, was about as much fun for me as shoving bamboo shoots underneath my finger nails.  It also didn't help that Lindy's arrival on the scene steers focus away from Book #1 with our three dead bodies, which I found infinitely more interesting.

The problem with amateur sleuth-style books is that it's easy for authors to fall into the Unbelievable Behavior Trap.  One expects people in law enforcement (cops, lawyers, even private investigators) to be somewhat cool and analytical, even when there is danger knocking on their door.  But your average private citizen?  Another matter entirely.  Certainly Mary Beth is a literary agent, so she's used to busting balls, negotiating, and being an all-around general hard-ass when she has to.  But she seriously barely breaks a sweat over three dead bodies, all linked to her.  I wasn't buying.  Some moments of....I don't know....terror would have been good.  I never got a real feel, until very late in the story, that Mary Beth was ever "scared."

Between Lindy Lou Who and the dead bodies, the author ties it all up.  These dueling suspense elements allow for plenty of red herrings, but alas, none of it really cooked for me.  The mystery of Lindy Lou's arrival is pretty much telegraphed early on once Mary Beth relays a past trauma to the readers, and the resolution to the three dead bodies?  Thin.  Pretty dang thin.

So where does that leave us?  Well...this was OK.  It was readable.  I found the literary agent angle interesting.  There's a cop working the case that adds some sexual sizzle to the proceedings.  Ultimately it wasn't the worst book I've ever read, and it wasn't best.  Which means while I'm not going to run out and gobble up O'Brien's backlist - if someone were to recommend another of her titles to me?  I'd consider giving it a whirl.

Final Grade = C-

Final Note: O'Brien passed away in 2008.  The Last Cheerleader is loosely connected to at least two other books, Sacred Trust and Final Kill, that feature Abby Nortrup, who has a very minor role in TLC.  Also, from a stylistic standpoint - TLC has no chapters.  None.  Thank goodness the author did include the occasional page break or else I would have gone slightly nutty.


Melissa said...

It has no chapters?? I don't remember ever seeing a fiction book that didn't have chapters - it's painful to even think of reading a book that doesn't have them. Sure, you can find stopping points without them, but it's nice to be able to say "Ok, just three more pages until the end of the chapter, and then I'm going to bed."

Anonymous said...

I think reading a book with no chapters would be highly disorienting. It sounds like something you'd see in a book of writing advice. "Want to keep readers turning pages? Don't give 'em a place to stop!"


Wendy said...

Melissa and JennyMe: The only thing that kept me from totally losing it is that she did include "page breaks." So there were natural "stopping points" every handful of pages. Thank goodness!

Amber (aka BBB) said...

I couldn't do it. I NEED chapters. I need page breaks within chapters. Solid pages of text without those? No thanks.

And the unbelievability factor would have killed this for me. Amateurs who don't get scared with that much violence? Um...ok.

Lynn Spencer said...

I recognized this cover right away. I didn't make it too far into the book before the organization and the heroine started to drive me nuts.

Amy said...

Sadly, I want to read the book now. And how can you write a book with no chapter breaks? I mean, yeah there's page breaks, but did they truly serve the purpose of different chapters? i.e. different viewpoints, different day, change in action, etc

Wendy said...

Amber: I love amateur-sleuth books, but yeah - I need to see some fear there, otherwise it's like "Fiddly dee, there's another dead body...."

Lynn: I was able to keep rolling with it, but didn't miss much. As you probably gathered from my review.

Amy: The page breaks actually work pretty well. I felt this story "flowed" nicely. The lack of chapter headings though was a bit odd. It was kinda hard to feel like I was making progress with my reading when I couldn't say, "Well, I'm currently on Chapter 13....."