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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

ARC Review: Witness Pursuit by Joanne Wadsworth

I’m always on the lookout for new authors… because my epic TBR Queue of Doom is apparently not big enough already! So when WITNESS PURSUIT, the first book in the Bodyguards series by new-to-me Kiwi author Joanne Wadsworth, came across my desk, I gave it a go. Who can say no to a mostly-shirtless bloke on the cover, a bodyguard-with-amnesia plotline, and a foreign setting?? Unfortunately, WITNESS PURSUIT found itself in that awkward no-man’s land between romantic suspense and traditional contemporary romance that never makes for a memorable read for me—even when some of my favourite romantic suspense authors attempt it! So while it was an entertaining enough, fast-moving beach read and I enjoyed the slice of New Zealand and Kiwi-speak it presented, it didn’t really make an impression on me.

The premise is fairly straightforward: heroine Lydia Sands witnesses the hit-and-run murder of a powerful tycoon’s son and is awarded witness protection; the bad guys go after her and seriously injure her bodyguard Tyler Whitehall, prompting an even greater level of protection; the case goes nowhere fast so Lydia remains in hiding limbo, until someone practically splashes her identity on the front page of the newspaper and her handler decides the safest place for her to be is on a yacht on its way to Fiji. With Tyler, the shot-up partially-amnesic bodyguard Lydia had the hots for whilst in protective custody who was too professional to start anything with a client (despite also having the hots for her). Despite the highly improbable premise, I’m quite easy when it comes to suspending disbelief—a lot of romantic suspense requires a certain level of just going with it to enjoy otherwise perfectly-crafted storylines. But with WITNESS PURSUIT, I felt like I’d been dropped into Act II of a three-act play with no idea what had happened during Act I. Lydia is in ‘The Program’ and has name suppression as well as a full-time bodyguard… but what the hell is The Program? Is it New Zealand’s federal witness protection programme? Is it some privately-funded endeavour, as suggested by the fact that Tyler and Ben Hammer—Lydia’s handler and inevitable series fodder—both work for The Program but are bodyguards rather than true law enforcement personnel? How does The Program work?? I’m a sucker for details and thorough research that comes across in a novel without making it sound like a procedure manual, so the superficial treatment of a system that was central to the suspense aspect of the story irked me. So did the lack of backstory on any of the main characters: we know Tyler and Ben have worked together and trust each other without any sense of how long or why; that Lydia has wanted in Tyler’s pants since she met him but refuses to have him risk his life for her again (though, hello, family yacht in the middle of the South Pacific?? unless the killer is one of Tyler’s brothers or a lionfish, it’s pretty unlikely); and that Tyler feels a primal attraction to Lydia from the second he sees her on his yacht, despite remembering nothing (including her) from the time of the shooting. The lack of backstory is likely a limitation of the short length, but it really reminds me why I have such a hard time enjoying novella- and short category-length reads (which I was not aware this was!)—particularly when they kick off a series with suspense elements. Between the romance and the attempt at suspense, there is simply too much to cram into ~150 pages for anything to feel sufficiently developed, and WITNESS PURSUIT definitely falls prey to this—it would’ve been better served as a straight-up contemporary.

Because of the lack of in-depth characterization, I had a hard time buying the romance between Lydia and Tyler. I get that Lydia’s young (just turning 21), that she’s been in hiding for a year, and that she’s had the hots for Tyler for a while, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such an aggressive virgin! Tyler’s insta-lust/love didn’t ring true either, even despite (or perhaps because of) the previous connection he doesn’t remember. The transition from practically strangers to nonstop sex to baby and forever after is too rapid to be believable, but it falls in line with the frantic pace at which everything happens in the story, and the love scenes have enough steam (and are surprisingly frequent given the short length) to make them enjoyable.

Ultimately, WITNESS PURSUIT wasn’t the read for me: it’s neither contemporary romance nor romantic suspense, and too much happens in too few pages for anything to feel sufficiently thoroughly developed (I’m a big fan of exposition!). But I liked Ms. Wadsworth’s laid-back, easy writing, and this may be a worthwhile read for anyone looking for a couple of hours of fast, sexy fun with a dash of adrenaline.

**ARC provided by Publisher**

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