“ Genre: Fiction / Author: Stephanie Bond / Edition: First THUS / Mass Market Paperback / 374 Pages / Book is published 2003-11 by HarperCollins „
I recently reviewed, and panned, a romantic suspense novel which was neither romantic nor suspenseful. 'Kill the Competition', on the other hand, is an exercise in how this type of novel should be written. It's a light, fun read which keeps the reader guessing who-dun-it until the very end.
Belinda Hennessy has taken an accounting job in Atlanta in an attempt to recover from a broken heart and make a fresh start in a new city. She doesn't much like her boss but then neither do any of her colleagues, some of whom she's becoming friendly with since joining them as part of a car pool. Belinda is settling in at Archer's, a furniture company in the middle of a takeover bid but she's worried about some financial discrepancies concerning the other company involved and when her boss suggests there's nothing wrong and then promptly offers her a promotion, Belinda is initially willing to leave well alone. She has second thoughts though but it seems that she's too late, especially when the body of her boss is discovered in the boot of her car. Not only does Belinda become a prime suspect but it seems there are plenty of other candidates for the position of murderer, too.
I'm no stranger to the novels of Stephanie Bond who began her writing career as a romance novelist but has since branched out into writing romantic suspense, a fusion which works very well. The author has taken the best of romantic fiction and blended it with what is ostensibly a cosy crime novel. By 'cosy' I mean that the crime is committed off stage and the plot is mostly concerned with discovering who did the dastardly deed. This novel was written in 2003 and Ms Bond has since gone on to write a series of very successful romantic crime novels, along the lines of the Stephanie Plum books, which has been optioned for a TV series.
The main protagonist in this story, Belinda, begins her time in Atlanta knowing absolutely no-one and she's a woman who keeps herself to herself. Back in Cincinnati she was jilted at the altar, or more correctly her husband refused to sign the register after the marriage and she's come to Atlanta to make a fresh start although the jilting has left her with low self esteem. Her one comfort seems to be the sexy Southern voice of the traffic reporter, Talkin' Tom Trainer. When she joins the carpool, she begins to make friends with the three other women and for the first time discovers the pleasure of female friendship. The thought processes of Belinda are very realistic and her relationship with the women is also very true to life including not only the affection she begins to feel but also the laughter and petty squabbles which sometimes develop.
There is plenty of humour in the book, much of it aimed at the people of the southern states. When the other women in the carpool give Belinda a stun baton to keep in the car for protection, after her initial shock 'Surely this can't a vibrator?', she asks whether it's legal to carry such a weapon. 'Good gravy, yes. You're in the South, girl. We'd arm ourselves with an alligator if we could get him in a holster.'
Although this is classed as a romantic suspense novel, there is actually very little romance in the story which is more women's fiction than romantic fiction as it concentrates far more on female friendship than on romance. Although Belinda eventually gets to meet Talkin' Tom, as well as a rather dishy cop who she happens to rear end on the way into work, who she'll eventually choose is very much undecided for most of the book. These two men know and dislike each other and it seems that Talkin' Tom is linked to the death of a former employee and when the boss's body is found in the boot of Belinda's car, Talkin' Tom could well be implicated, along with Belinda herself and her three female travel companions.
The story, though obviously quite far-fetched in its concept, unfolds in a very realistic way and the characters, too, all have very real personas, including the boss-from-Hell, Margo, who is prepared to sacrifice anybody in her climb to the top of the corporate ladder, a type we've all come across in our working lives, I'm sure. It comes as no surprise that someone decides to put an end to her existence but just who delivered the fatal blow is very well concealed.
Although somewhat stereotypical, the characters are well rounded and believable, as is Belinda's cat, who displays all the worst character traits of the species and people with cats are bound to recognise similarities to their own pets.
I have to say, there was one thing which really annoyed me about this book and that was the constant use of the word 'Yilk' by Belinda. It's a word I've never come across before but seems to be Ms Bond's unique way of saying Yikes. It seemed to me to be a totally unnecessary addition to the narrative and sort of spoiled the read for me because, call me shallow but I could never like anybody who kept saying 'yilk' all the time!
All in all, this is an pretty good beach or garden read. It's light and frothy but has enough substance to the plot to make it a creditable suspense novel and despite the frequent use of 'Yilk', for which I won't knock off a star, I'd rate it as a worthy read.
This book is available used from 1p plus postage or can be downloaded onto your Kindle for 77p.