U.S. Male, by Kristin Hardy

>> Tuesday, May 22, 2007

TITLE: U.S. Male (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Kristin Hardy

COPYRIGHT: 2005
PAGES: 251
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Blaze

SETTING: Contemporary Sweden
TYPE: Series Romance
SERIES: Sequel to Certified Male (both comprise the Sealed With a Kiss series)

REASON FOR READING: Sweden. It's always held some kind of fascination for me. I hope I can visit some day. Also, I've read Kristin Hardy before and liked her books.

She gives new meaning to the word undercover…

The plan was as simple as one, two, three:
1. Fly to Stockholm.
2. Track down the twisted, obsessed collector who stole her grandfather’s priceless Mauritius stamp.
3. Try not to get killed in the process.

But for feisty Joss Chastain there’s only one problem. John “Bax” Baxter is the best private eye – sorry, executive security professional – in the business. And her last chance for getting the multi-million dollar stamp back. But confident, capable and “eat-me-with-a-spoon sexy” Bax knows Joss is trouble with a capital T. There’s no way he’s going to get roped into the case.

That is until Joss gives him a taste of what investigating a foreign hotel room together might lead to….
THE PLOT: From what I was able to tell here, in Certified Male, Joss and Gwen's grandfather left them in charge of his stamp shop and a bunch of his stamps got stolen, including the very valuable Post Office Mauritius pair. And when I say "very valuable", I mean it: about $ 4.5 million for the pair (I'll never understand the collector mentality). Gwen somehow recovered one of them in that first book, but the other one is still in the hands of the person who ordered them stolen.

It's Joss' turn to go after the second stamp in U.S. Male. Apparently, the collector who has them is a very dangerous Swedish guy, so off she goes to Stockholm, where she'll try to recover the stamp that's still missing by dangling the other one in front of the thief. In that, she'll have the help of former Interpol agent and now PI John "Bax" Baxter.

MY THOUGHTS: The Stockholm travelogue was nice and fun, though Hardy isn't in the league of those authors like Mary Stewart or Susanna Kearsley, who make you feel as if you're right there. Her descriptions are all right, but hardly as vivid as I hoped for. Still, interesting enough, and I'm now even more determined to visit Stockholm soon.

As for the story, blah. First, I couldn't muster any real interest in whether or not they'd recover the stamp. I mean, Joss would go "oh, oh, my grandpa's retirement", but grandpa still has the first stamp, and that's worth about a million bucks, so he'd hardly be left indigent! So is it worth it to risk her life for it?

The characters were pretty bland. It's a shame, because they both have what could have been an interesting background, if developed right. Both grew up outside their country, Bax in Europe, Joss in Africa, and as a result they've never felt as if they really belonged anywhere. This is mentioned, but not really explored much. Also, Bax was nice enough, but I never warmed up to Joss completely. I didn't get her drifter past, because it was so not like the person she seems to be here. Plus, some of her actions crossed the line into TSTL. She hired Bax because of his expertise, but then constantly refuses to heed his advice and goes off on her own.

The romance was just as bland. Bax and Joss become lovers almost immediately, when she goes to hire him. He makes as if to refuse, so Joss pretty much throws herself at him, offering to "pay" him that way. On the plus side, it doesn't really come across as some kind of prostitution, because it's pretty clear from the start that Joss is doing it because she's strongly attracted to him anyway, and the "payment" thing is somehow of a joke, so that's all right. Unfortunately, there's no heat whatsoever here. No chemistry, and the sex scene and all that followed were totally meh. After two or three, I was skimming them.

MY GRADE: A C+, with the plus being extra points for the unique setting.

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