They say never judge a book by its cover, but let's face facts this is nonsense. Publishers do not spend vast amounts of money on cover design just so that no one cares. A cover can instantly tell you what type of book it potentially is - chick lit will probably be pastel and have pictures of shoes; horror will be black with some gothic writing etc. The fact is that if people did not judge books by their covers then all releases would come in the same bland overcoat. Covers can work to encourage a reader, but also discourage. This was the case with Laurence Shames' 'Virgin Heat'. Firstly, the name makes it sound like some sort of sordid sexploitation, but actually refers to a drink. To compound the misunderstanding the cover is adorned with cherries - a symbol of virginity. Obviously, the publishers wanted people to read the book because it looks like a sexy number. Unfortunately, the title and cover almost had me pass it by as I was embarrassed to read it. Turns out the book was not bad because of salacious interludes, but because it was rubbish!
Ziggy used to be known as Sal. Over 10 years ago he entered the witness protection system after testifying against a mob boss he used to work with. He left behind him the position of enforcer and a burgeoning love for the mob bosses daughter - now he mixes cocktails in the Key West. Back in his old world his old flame Angelina still pines for Sal, to the extent that she has never been able to move on with her life. On the day of her father's release coincidences are abound. Don Paulie's little brother has just been on holiday and for some reason Angelina recognises a brief glimpse of her former love on a holiday video. Without warning Angelina rushes off to find Sal leaving the family unawares. Will Angelina find her true love, or will reality not meet fantasy? What about the poor mob family who think their child has been kidnapped - things could get messy.
There is nothing I dislike more than an author who starts off with an interesting idea only to let it slip away. This is certainly the case here with Shames' 'Virgin Heat' as it starts off with all the snap, crackle and pop that a Hiaasen novel would have. The set up really works with the various characters all stuck on a collision course with one another without even knowing it. Unfortunately, the anticipation is often the best part, because when it gets down to business the book falls flat. Split into three acts, Shames crams all the decent stuff in part 1. By the finale of this the majority of questions I wanted answered had been and I had little reason to continue the book.
But continue it did. Slowly the book grinds to almost snail like pace as Shames fills it out with more and more convoluted plot points and characters. What started off as a succinct group of characters becomes weighed down with too many different motivations and story points. By the end of the book I did not really know what was going on anymore, and worse still, I did not care. The fact is that the story loses its concepts and become more about relationships. Unfortunately, all the characters were deeply unlikable. This is certainly the case of Ziggy, who is not only described as hairy and unattractive, also has a poor personality. This kind of undermines the entire point of Angelina crossing the country for him. I understand the idea that your imagination can picture someone as one thing, whilst the reality is very different. This does not take away from the fact that you have no one to root for.
With no hero to support or relationship to grab hold of 'Virgin Heat' is unable to disguise itself as anything other than a poor man's Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey. The book is supposed to be amusing, but all the elements of farce are finished with by the end of act 1 as the story concludes a major element far too early. It is the gradual slide into the mundane that is this book's biggest flaw and one that solely rests at Shames' feet. The initial chase is a great one and for 100 pages you feel like you are in for a good ride - not one that derails a third of the way through.
Author: Laurence Shames
Price: amazon uk - £0.01 (2nd hand + P&P)