The Man That Got Away, by Harper Allen

>> Thursday, July 14, 2005

I love finding little unique series romance titles, and the DIKs for older books at AAR have helped me find quite a few. The latest was The Man That Got Away, by Harper Allen, an author I'd never heard of before.

She couldn't remember

Her name, her past or how she'd been shot -it was all a blank to Dana Smith. For five years, she built a new life, became a new person -and dreamed of a man whose hands caressed her, whose kisses set her on fire...

He couldn't forget

The mystery lady had kissed him and disappeared into the night -but after the shots were heard, her body was nowhere to be found. P.I. Gabriel O'Shaunessy could tell the police nothing about her disappearance, only that he'd been hired to follow her. Five years later, the lady walked back into his life -with no identification, no answers and a plea for help he couldn't ignore...
This wasn't a perfect book, by any means, but it was quite original, and I found it entertaining and intriguing. A B.

The synopsis quoted above, which is the one printed on the back of the book, cunningly hides both that this is a time-travel story, and that most of it takes place in the 1930s. I guess the 30s don't sell as much as amnesia does?

The story starts in the 1930s, with a scene right out of an old noir movie. P.I. Gabriel receives the visit of a beautiful femme fatale, Dana Torrence, at his office in the Quorum building. Dana demands to know why he's following her. He tells her a bit, they end up kissing, and she runs out. Gabriel rushes out when he hears shots, but when he gets to the street, all that's left of her is her fur stole and a pool of blood.

Cut to the late 1990s, when movie director Seb finally tells his assistant, Dana Smith, about the circumstances in which he found her 5 years before: shot, lying in a pool of blood, and wearing 1930s clothes. Dana has had amnesia ever since then, and the doctor had recommended that Seb not tell her anything about those weird circumstances, for fear it might be too much pressure.

Right after those revelations, Dana suddenly jumps back to the past, back to Gabriel's office, 5 years after she first disappeared. Gabriel is understandably pissed at her, since after her disappearance, he was suspected of her murder and his career pretty much ruined (not that it was going swimmingly before then, but still).

And there the adventure starts, and these two find themselves confronting both Gabriel's disbelief about Dana's time-travelling, Dana's fear of intimacy, and last, but not least, a gang of murderous thugs who want to get rid of Dana... because of something she just can't remember, something that she saw before the night she travelled into the future.

What can I say, this was lots of fun, fun with some depths, even though Gabriel and Dana spent most of their time on the run. In this short book, Allen not only creates a fascinating mystery, which the reader can pretty much put together at the same time as the protagonists, but characters who are real, too. She gives them each an interesting past (Dana's was very much of the Grapes of Wrath variety), and doesn't stop at that. Their actions in the present (mostly) ring true, too, and the romance is really nice and sweet.

However, Dana's amnesia and the time travel element were not without some problems. Her brand of amnesia seemed to behave in ways that were awfully convenient to the plot, as if it was a phenomenon with certain rules she could learn and then manipulate. Amnesia is always unrealistic, as written in romance novels, but this made it more so than most, really.

And I was a bit doubtful about Dana's seemingly immediate acclimation to the 1990s. Most characters I've read with amnesia seem to forget about themselves and their past, but they do remember the world against them: they know how to tie their shoelaces, they are aware that there are such things as computers, and so on. What was Dana's amnesia like? If she forgot only things about herself, she would have realized she'd travelled into the future. If she forgot everything, then she was a bit too well adjusted, a bit too soon.

I also had a problem with her continued insistence on the fact that Gabriel was a 1930s primitive man, who just wanted to protect her and couldn't see her as an equal. This just didn't reflect the way Gabriel acted, so the whole conflict felt a little contrived.

Still, even with those flaws, this was a fascinating read. Oh, and the epilogue was one of the best I've read. It was ingenious and fun, and it calmed any doubts I might have had about the choice Dana and Gabriel made in the end. Stay in the past? Move to the future? I won't say, but the decision they ended up making was really fine!


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