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Lucy Yorik is the adopted daughter of an ex-US president and her marriage to Ted Beaudine, son of a TV megastar and an equally high profile golfer is a hotly anticipated media event. Lucy, however, develops cold feet minutes before she's due down the aisle and in true runaway bride tradition, she hot foots it out of the church and straight into the arms of an obliging stranger. Lucy has always done the right thing but now she goes against type and accepts a ride from a stranger on the pillion of his motorbike. Lucy and the mysterious biker take off on a journey which turns out to be one of discovery for both of them.
There was a time when I'd would automatically have bought any Susan Elizabeth Phillips (SEP) novel knowing that I'd be in for a darn good read. SEP is an American writer whose novels seem to straddle the romance and women's fiction genres, being made up of almost equal measures of each. Rather than dealing with issues of modern day living as is generally the case with women's fiction, SEP tends to focus mainly on relationship issues, especially those pertaining to friendship and family. In the past, with the exception of one or two books which were possibly slightly below par, she's unfailingly produced stories which not only entertain but ponder on the deeper meaning of interpersonal relationships. Of late, however, her books seem to have become much more formulaic and lacking in her trademark humour. It's difficult to pinpoint the reason why this should be other than that she's possibly running out of steam but this latest effort was certainly somewhat on the lacklustre side.
Although I've never been one of those readers who insist on absolute realism in a novel, I do expect it to have a certain amount of credibility and so the main premise for this story was the first of quite a few disappointments served up in this tale of a good girl going against type. Call me over cautious but I can't think of many women who would make off minutes before their wedding and get straight onto the back of a motorbike ridden by a virtual stranger, and one who has all the hallmarks of a bad boy to boot. Neverthless, this is exactly what Lucy does.
She vaguely knows Panda (second disappointment - who the hell gets called Panda unless they've got a couple of black eyes?) but his description certainly doesn't make me feel reassured about her riding off into the sunset on the back of his bike. 'He had too-long black hair, cold blue eyes set over high cheekbones and sadistic lips'. The first couple of characteristics are just about acceptable but 'sadistic lips' would put off any right thinking woman. And if all that wasn't enough, the deal breaker surely should have been when she copped a look at his bumper sticker which reads 'Gas, grass or ass. Nobody rides for free'. But, oh no! Lucy, the woman who has never put a foot out of line, just hops on the back of that bike and rides off into the wide blue yonder.
This is one of those novels where we're expected to believe that two polar opposites can find enough common ground on which to build a relationship. Again, SEP fails to convince. Panda comes across as surly, uncommunicative and someone who lives on the periphery of legality and even though the book is written in the third person, the author rarely gives the reader a glimpse into his mind, concentrating instead on the rather infantile ramblings of Lucy. She's supposed to be a responsible, intelligent woman in her early thirties and yet she's behaving like a recalcitrant teenager. She needs a kick up the backside if you ask me!
The timeline for Lucy's story runs concurrently with SEP's previous novel, Call Me Irresistible, which also disappointed me somewhat when I read it, particularly as the jilted bridegroom had appeared as a secondary character in a couple of previous novels and seemed to undergo a personality change when it came to his own story. The same could also be said of Lucy. She had been a secondary character in an earlier novel where she'd been a rather appealing teenager but, again, as a grown up she did not impress.
The story focuses most of the time on Lucy and Panda and their growing relationship but though we learn quite a bit about Lucy and her almost OCD attitude to life, Panda remains something of an enigma (and not in a good way) throughout most of the story. I found him difficult to like, so much so that when he's revealed in his true colours, it's almost too late to redeem him.
The book deals with some rather more serious issues than jilting, such as post traumatic stress disorder but it's handled in such a light and rather off-hand way that it's almost insulting to those who've genuinely suffered from this condition.
I think one of the reasons why this book and its companion piece failed to hit the mark is mainly down to the fact that too many years have passed since the main characters made an appearance and SEP hasn't allowed them to mature in the way that their original characters would have done, or at least that's how I see it.
I wouldn't want you to think that this is a totally bad book. It's an enjoyable enough read just one that is forgotten almost as soon as the final line has been read and the book has been closed. SEP is capable of much better than she's delivered here, however, and I'd suggest that new readers begin with some of her earlier books which combine relationships, action and humour more successfully.
The paperback edition of The Great Escape is currently selling for around £7.50 and the Kindle edition for £9.99. To my mind, that is vastly overpriced for what is essentially a rather mediocre story.