Up Close and Dangerous, by Linda Howard

>> Saturday, March 15, 2008

TITLE: Up Close and Dangerous
AUTHOR: Linda Howard

PAGES: 325
PUBLISHER: Piatkus (in the UK - it's Ballantine in the US)

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense

REASON FOR READING: Sooner or later, I always read Howard's books.

Bailey Wingate's scheming adult stepchildren are surprised when their father's will leaves Bailey in control of their fortune, and war ensues. A year later, while flying from Seattle to Denver in a small plane, Bailey nearly dies herself when the engine sputters - and then fails.

Cam Justice, her sexy Texan pilot, manages to crash-land the aircraft. Stranded in the wilderness, and struggling to douse her feelings for the ruggedly handsome man by her side, Bailey begins to wonder whether this was a mere accident.
THE PLOT: Bailey's marriage to Jim Wingate was one of convenience: after his death, she was to manage the inheritances of his spoiled, irresponsible children, and in return she'd get a nice salary. But as it happened, she also got their undying hate, as well a reputation as a cold gold-digger.

When the engines of the small private plane she's flying in fail, and her pilot is forced to make an emergency landing in the mountains, it looks as if her step-children have finally decided to express their hatred in a more active manner. Hurt and cold and miles from civilisation, Bailey and her pilot, Cam Justice, will have to rely on each other to survive and get to safety.

MY THOUGHTS: For all that it got accolades in the 2007 AAR readers poll, I think it's fair to say that this one didn't really receive universal acclaim when it came out. In fact, what I remember most distinctly is complaints about some parts reading practically like a survival manual, which was something I found too easy to believe. Why? Because this is a feature that I've noticed has become more common in Howard's books lately: she tends to go into extremely painstaking, boring detail about background stuff that doesn't really add much to the story.

The survival stuff was as bad as I'd heard. Way, way, WAY too much detail. I appreciate careful research as much as the next reader, but I want it to be well integrated into the story. Here it felt as if Howard was thinking "I did the research, so by God, every single thing I found out is going to get used". That just gets boring very quickly. I don't need (or want) to know exactly how to build a refuge from twigs and bits of leather... I might read a basic description, but once you start getting into step-by-step instructions about how exactly to position each branch, you've lost me, and I start skimming. A lot of the pages, especially right after the crash, got skimmed.

However, hiding behind the mind-numbing detail is a very decent romance. In fact, a romance that felt more like classic LH than anything she's written in years. The characters weren't great, granted (Bailey was strangely featureless, and I never felt I knew her that well, and though I did understand Cam, he wasn't particularly complicated), but the romance? Yummy.

LH still excels at portraying masculine possesiveness in a way that I find sexy and wonderful, rather than stifling and ugly. Once he gets over his first impressions, there's a wonderfully protective, sweet element in Cam's feelings for Bailey, but all the while it's clear that he respects her and knows (and likes) that she's a strong woman, and that he has no problem accepting that her clear thinking and hard work right after the crash saved his ass. I loved this, and in spite of the very short period in which their relationship developed, it was so intense that I found it believable.

Unfortunately, the romance was all that was great about the book. The suspense was pretty disappointing. The identity of culprit was not a huge surprise, even though I thought Howard did cheat a bit (I mean in showing this person's POV). And also, I thought Seth's reformation was completely unbelievable, and much too quick.

MY GRADE: On the strength of the romance, I'm giving this a rec. Qualified, but a rec all the same: a B-.


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