Okay, so Agnes and the Hitman, by Jennifer Cruisie and Bob Meyer, was a lot less purely charming than The Bodyguard. A lot less. I really loved this book, but I had to tolerate certain things in order to love it, and I sure see why Hanneke, for example, didn’t point to this one as a favorite.
1. I liked Agnes a lot. Cruisie seems to be remarkably good at coming up with unique protagonists and developing a romance in an unusual way that fits the specific protagonist. In this case, Agnes is a good cook with a regular cooking column and a few little anger management problems. I mean, she really does have anger management issues. But, I mean, if someone breaks into your home and tries to steal your dog and points a gun at you, bashing him with a frying pan does seem quite reasonable. And stabbing the ex with a meat fork, given the circumstances, it’s hard to blame her. Anyway, I liked her a lot.
2. I liked Shane a lot, and I was amused at how the authors make sure the reader sees that Shane is not a bad guy even though he really is a hitman. The very first time we see him, he’s on a job, and what does he immediately do? He lets a girl leave, even handing her a plane ticket so she can get out of danger. The authors also make it explicitly clear that Shane kills bad people for the government, not random people for money.
3. I like most of the other characters a lot – all the characters the reader is supposed to like. The romance is fun. The writing is absolutely top-notch. The dialogue is funny and sharp-witted. The plotting has many unexpected little twists. The wedding! The all-important wedding that has to take place on time or else Agnes loses the house! Despite all obstacles – wow, are there a lot of obstacles – the wedding is a success. I mean, spoiler, I guess, but this is a Rom-Com, sort of, more or less, and surely the reader cannot possibly doubt that Agnes will succeed in putting on that wedding for her best friend’s daughter no matter what. And she does.
And I loved how the wedding was actually handled when we finally got there, too.
So what didn’t I like?
Okay, so this wasn’t exactly a problem for me – not exactly – but I sure see why it would be a problem for some readers. This is a Rom-Com, pretty much, but along with wit, charm, and great characters the reader will love, the story is also filled right to the brim with betrayal, justified anger, a high body count, and the worst sorts of villains. Stupid bad guys who stagger into stupid bad actions? Check. Nasty hitmen who are fine with killing anybody they’re paid to kill? Check. Cold-hearted vicious bad guys who think they’re above the law? Check. Totally selfish guys who are happy to rip off someone who trusts them? Check. Genuine Mafia dons with grim pasts? Check. Worst of all, a mother from hell, who is just beyond awful.
Honestly, maybe this isn’t a Rom-Com? It sure is on the edge of being something else.
Yet this all worked for me. Everyone pretty much gets what they deserve, that’s probably why. That and the very sharp writing. Well, those things plus I really liked all the characters who weren’t bad guys. Plus …
Character types I happen to like:
a) Girl who disguises herself as a boy
b) Veterinarians, doctors
c) Cooks, chefs, bakers
f) And, yes, hitmen. I mean, the kind of competent hitmen who get civilians out of the way and only kill bad people, and rescue dogs as necessary. Or at least all those things are checkmarks on the good side of the ledger.
Agnes is a cook. Shane is the right sort of hitman. Given the excellent writing, I was destined to love this book, and I did.
Overall assessment: No wonder Jennifer Cruisie is so popular; she deserves to be.
I see why the books she writes with Bob Meyers, and the spinoff books Meyers writes on his own, may have too much of a dark edge for some readers. I totally get that. But I loved this book and I’m looking forward to reading more of Cruisie’s books. I bet her books would work to break me out of a reading slump, like those of Ilona Andrews. I think I might save a couple of the ones you all recommended most highly for later, to break slumps or just as treats. I can also see that I should probably just pick up her entire backlist, because I bet I read them all over the next year or so.
I tried a sample of the sequel to this book, Shane and the Hitwoman, which Bob Meyers wrote by himself, and I didn’t finish the sample. The problem for me was that in the very first scene, Shane is shown as incompetent. Sorry, author! If you want me to enjoy your hitman character, you have to make him competent right off the bat!
What Meyer is doing here, I’m pretty sure, is reducing Shane’s competence so the Perky Young Female Hitwoman can shine. Well, don’t do that! You can add a Perky Young Female Protagonist, but don’t try to make her seem more cool by making your previous protagonist seem less cool! That is not okay with me, and I’m sure many readers probably agree.
I have several more Cruisie samples and the full book for Lavender’s Blue. I’m certain to go on with more of Cruisie’s books this year.