Tour’s Books Blog

February 24, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

Jennifer Crusie is the pen name for Jennifer Smith, a former teacher and well liked humorous romance author with lots of popular books including the Temptation series, Getting Rid of Bradley (a personal favorite) and Tell Me Lies. Bob Mayer, a West Point graduate, is a former Green Beret and prolific bestselling author of the Area 51 series and other thrillers under several pen manes, most notably Robert Doherty. Agnes and the Hitman is the second collaboration of the two authors following the successful Don’t Look Down in 2006. I sincerely hope there will be more. Their two ‘hybrid’ books are less than completely acceptable to some Crusie fans, but I liked them a lot. There seemed to be less ‘Mayer’ here than in Don’t Look Down, but there was still enough to make Shane very realistic.

The book opens with Agnes Crandall on the phone to Joey, dinner owner, former mobster, and inspiration for her cookbook Mob Foods and many of her ‘Crazy Agnes’ food columns. As they talk, a stranger enters her house, points a gun at her and demands her dog! Incensed, Agnes does what any crazy woman with anger management issues would do, she throws boiling hot raspberry sauce on him and then smacks him with a frying pan. Her erstwhile thief and dognapper falls through a hidden door into her basement, breaking his neck. Agnes calls the police, but Joey calls his estranged nephew, Shane Smith, to ask for his help in guarding his ‘little Agnes’.

Shane Smith is in Savannah on a sanctioned hit for a secret government agency and is between surprised and shocked to hear from his long estranged Uncle Joey, the only family he has. Shane finishes his job and heads to “Fucking Keys, SC. Armpit of the South,” a place he left nearly 30 years ago. He slips into the house thru an open window, surprising Agnes who clobbers him with her favorite weapon – a frying pan. Once he convinces her she’s there to protect her, she sums up what’s happening – “I got Joey in the kitchen, a cop in the front hall, a dead body in the basement and you in my bedroom. Where do you want to start?”

Who wants Agnes dead and why? Why is her fiancé so distant? And why is Brenda, the former owner of Two Rivers, Agnes’ home, and her best friend Lisa Livia’s mother trying to sabotage the wedding plans of her granddaughter at Two Rivers? Will Agnes’ history of ‘assault with a frying pan’ get her arrested? What are they supposed to do with the two flamingos? Can Agnes keep her temper around her, lying, cheating, scum-sucking ex-fiance – or will Shane and partner Carpenter hide another body?  (What’s another body among friends?) And what is all the nonsense going on with Shane’s handler, Wilson? What secrets is Joey keeping? What’s in the bomb shelter? Are all these things connected to the past Joey has hidden so many years? And who exactly is Shane Smith?

It took two tries for me to get in the proper mindset for this book, but it has since become one of my favorites and has a place of honor by my bedside. The characters are quirky, engaging, likable, and real. The book has more in common with the early Stephanie Plum books than it does with the usual Crusie romance novels. It is set in the same general location as Don’t Look Down, and like Don’t Look Down it feels like a seamless blending of two very different authors. There are plenty of twists and turns as Shane slowly uncovers his own past and Agnes discovers just how far Brenda will go to get Two Rivers house back and really excellent, well developed cast of characters.

This is a very entertaining read and it works for me. If you’re a purist and huge fan of her Temptation series, you might not care for her departure into a more humor-suspense vein. Perhaps I found both books better than her usual simply because I am also an action/thriller/intrigue fan as well, so I really liked the combination of the two different styles – along with Crusie’s trademark oddball humor. Like Don’t Look Down, this book kind of defies the usual neat categories for either romance or romantic suspense. It’s more like humorous romantic suspense. Whatever you want to call it, it’s just plain fun.

My Grade: B+ to A-

Who would like this book: Fans of laughs with their romance and mystery – Janet Evanovich, Rachel Gibson, Carley Phillips, and early Jayne Ann Krentz.  The book is not a warm and fuzzy love story.  Its very off-beat, non-traditional leads may not be suitable to those who prefer sane characters.  The rating would be PG-17 to R.

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