The Italian, by Lisa Marie Rice

>> Monday, May 13, 2013

TITLE: The Italian
AUTHOR: Lisa Marie Rice

PAGES: 105 (according to amazon, I’d guess it’s more like 150)
PUBLISHER: Ellora's Cave

SETTING: Contemporary Italy (Sicily)
TYPE: Romance

Jamie McIntyre is on a working vacation in Palermo, Sicily, soaking up the sunshine and the art, trying to contact a former law student of her grandfather’s. She’s thinking “nerd in a suit”. But Judge Stefano Leone is as far from a boring suit as possible. He’s also the toughest, sexiest man she’s ever met, in bed and out. There’s no resisting his commanding presence—or his beautiful body. Jaime quickly falls under his mesmerizing spell.

Until she’s forced to make an impossible choice.

Stefano Leone is closing in on one of the most dangerous mobsters on earth. He’s surrounded by armed men, his life under constant threat. He’s not had time for sex in years, let alone love. The beautiful American woman, however, slips right under his guard and into his bed…and his heart. But does she truly want Stefano? Or has she been sent to seduce him—or worse?
When I saw that LMR was releasing a new book with Ellora's Cave, I was very excited. My favourites of hers (and the ones I've reread over and over) are those early EC books, such as Woman On The Run and Midnight Angel. Unfortunately, it wasn't back to the same level.

The story takes place in Sicily, where designer Jamie McIntyre is spending some time researching/seeking inspiration for a project. While there, her beloved grandfather has asked her to look up one of his favourite former law students, an Italian lawyer who's now become a judge.

Jamie's not expecting this to require more than a phone call and dropping off the present her grandfather has asked her to deliver, but it turns out getting to Stefano Leone is ridiculously hard. That's because Stefano has been brought in to Sicily to bring down a particularly dangerous mafioso, and this requires him to be under armed guard 24/7. He's had no personal or sex life for years, done nothing but work his socks off to bring down his quarry.

When Jamie does manage to get through, the result is explosive. Stefano is the most attractive, magnetic man she's ever met, and he seems to think the same thing about her. He knows he should stay away from her and give his enemy a way in, but he can't seem to do it.

This has the bones of what could have been a really satisfying, amazing story, but it just wasn't developed enough. As it is now, it’s love (or lust, that immediately turns into love) at first sight, and not particularly sucessful, because I never got a sense that they got to know each other. We're supposed to believe they recognise and instictively know each other, but I didn't completely buy it. Most of their time is spent having sex, and they barely talk. It's excellent sex (I've turned into a bit of a sex scene skimmer, so I was very impressed that LMR actually made me read every single word of sex scenes which took place when there really wasn’t yet a relationship there), and I was actually interested in the relationship as well, but it could have been much better with more room to develop.

I was also quite disappointed with the mafia subplot. I actually think LMR’s suspense subplots tend to be above average, a bit different from the usual, and usually really well done. This one, not so much. The setup is fine, but the big resolution at the end was beyond stupid. We’ve got villains who don’t seem to be aware that you can contact someone other than by phone (do they never text, these idiots?), and someone who would totally delegate a job doing it himself in a very unbelievable way. Idiotic.

On a more positive note, I loved the setting. It's very vivid and lovingly rendered, and I loved that it was populated by believable, regular people. This is no Harlequin Presents vision of Italy, it's much more down-to-earth and clearly done by someone who knows what it's like to live there. The role of judges, for instance, is completely different to that in English-speaking countries, and Rice, as far as I can tell, gets it right (my own country's system is inspired in the Italian). Also, I've always wanted to visit Sicily, and in spite of the mafia element to the story, reading this made me even keener to do it soon.

MY GRADE: A B-, mainly because in spite of my issues with it, it was compulsively readable.

PS - This is nothing to do with the story itself, but why on earth do Ellora’s Cave books always have such rank covers (see a bigger version here). I tend to be pretty forgiving, but there's something about the combination of colours and images here that makes me recoil in disgust. Fluorescent pink and black, the eyes at the top making it look like a cubist painting gone bad, and then there's that ugly, cheap-looking bra front and centre. Ugh.


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