Although Jane Graves is a local author and one whose name I've seen on several books, I had not yet read one of her novels. When I saw the cover of HOT WHEELS AND HIGH HEELS I was immediately intrigued. The back cover copy offered humor and a look at the life of a repo man. I figured if the romance didn't hook me, I still had the adventures of stealing cars from people who didn't want him stolen. These days the action in a romance novel can be top-rate.
I'm a big Stephanie Plum fan. I had the good fortune of discovering Janet Evanovitch's books when the first one came out. So I was there at the beginning. I'm also a fan of some of the paranormal series that are out there. As a guy, I really don't think that's all that uncommon these days. Men read a lot of women writers. I still treasure my Robert B. Parker stuff, but I love the laughs and insights provided by the ladies. And some of them provide chills and thrills as well.
Back to Jane Graves. When I flipped open the book and began reading, I was immediately attracted to the ease with which the author puts words on the page. I was actually several pages into the story before I realized how much I'd read. The prose is effortless, and the characters are instantly unique and identifiable.
Darcy McDaniel, the heroine, has got a real problem. While she was down in Mexico on vacation with a friend, her husband sold her house, emptied the bank accounts, and ran up the charge cards - then vanished. For the last fifteen years Darcy has been a trophy wife. She traded her good looks to a man old enough to her father for a lifestyle of malls, manicures, and personal trainers. Later in the novel you'll find out more of her motivations for doing that.
I have to admit in the beginning I wasn't very sympathetic toward Darcy. It wasn't that I figured she got what she had coming to her, but I know other people who have much worse problems. Still, this is a huge problem for her.
Before she knows it, she's back living with her parents in the same small, dingy trailer park that she'd grown up in. It was suddenly like the last fifteen years never existed. All she has left is her dog Pepe and her Mercedes, which had been at the airport awaiting her return.
Enter John Stark, ex-cop turned repossession agent. And this repo man has papers to reclaim Darcy's beloved Mercedes. He's strictly a no-nonsense kind of guy who gets the job done right the first time. Unfortunately, he's never dealt with anyone like Darcy. She makes a fool of him and keeps the Mercedes. For a time. Then John returns with a truck and grabs the luxury vehicle with no problem.
As the fates conspire against them, as they are sometimes do in romance novels, Darcy gets under John's skin and he inadvertently offers her the receptionist job at his agency. Darcy refuses to take it at first, but quickly finds that no one else will give her a job. John's partner Tony holds John to his promise. Darcy starts to work, living hand-to-mouth.
Since this is a romance novel, the rest of the story about boy-gets-girl is predictable in many ways. However, Jane Graves keeps the story lighthearted, fun, and fast-paced. Despite the fact that I was certain I knew how the story would end up, I stayed glued to the pages - to the character development, to the dialogue, and to the rapid scenes.
That's one of the best tricks the author pulled off in this book: there was honest character development. Darcy grew as a character. For me, she went from being grossly unlikable to sympathetic and admirable. The changes she made in the way she looked at the world, herself, her family, and in what she thought she wanted were all real. I've seen people make those same changes for a lot of the same reasons.
Maybe the plot is the same romance novel that has been told for years, but Jane Graves makes her characters come to life in ways that many romance novelists don't. She makes the predictable a unique experience and worthwhile. Not only that, but her prose zings right along and readers will be at the end of the book before they know it.
As I said, this is my first Jane Graves book. But it won't be my last. She set the bar high in this one. I want to look at earlier books and get the sequel to this one coming out next year when she finds the right woman for skirt-chasing Tony. Pick this one up, folks. For the beach or just for fun. It's a good one.