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Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Cat and the Jill of Diamonds


****½
The Cat and the Jill of Diamonds by Carole Nelson Douglas. Romantic suspense.






A little bit of advice: if a favorite author releases a series of limited-edition hardcovers in an "author's cut" version, do not simply buy the first and tell yourself you'll pick the rest up later. I ended up spending way too much on this, once I finally found it, though not quite as much as I spent on
The Cat and the Jack of Spades. *sigh* I shouldn't have looked. There are quite a few available for much better prices now.

Johnny Diamond is the headliner at the Crystal Phoenix hotel & casino in Las Vegas. Think Wayne Newton, but younger. He's been receiving threatening notes, so to protect him, the Fontana brothers (nine of them, brothers of Nicky, who owns the hotel) move him to a random suite (which turns out to be 713, the sealed, never-used suite of notorious mobster Jersey Joe Jackson that figured strongly in the previous book).

But Johnny's getting bored, and the Fontanas' ideas to keep him entertained with a string of ladies-of-the-night isn't working. So they hit upon the idea of getting gambler Jill O'Rourke to teach him poker. For security's sake, they don't tell her who Johnny is, and they keep her blindfolded until she's in the suite.

Jill lives out in the desert with her grandfather and his cronies, looks like a teenager, dresses like a boy, and despite the fact that she's been hanging around with the chorus girls since she was a child, she's not at all practiced in "the feminine arts."

Johnny thinks she's just another version of the prostitutes they've brought him, but at least she looks different, so he lets her stay, but just to talk. Jill doesn't understand his reluctance to play poker, but she needs the money they're paying her to help support her grandfather, so she doesn't ask questions.

You can pretty well tell where it's going from there, right? There's still the stalker to deal with, and their hidden identities and vastly different stations in life. And of course helping with all of this is Midnight Louie, the ladies' cat and detective.

I loved this precursor to the Midnight Louie series. It has the same feel, and some of the same characters--primarily, the denizens of the Crystal Phoenix. The romance between Jill and Johnny may be predictable, but everything fits just right, and it's very sweet.

I think what made it stand out for me is that Jill may be naive at some things, but she's not weak, and she's not stupid. And she doesn't end up turning into something she's not--that is, she doesn't get a makeover from the chorus girls and discover that her appearance is now her new vocation. Too many times in this sort of plot, the heroine's previous self who's unconcerned about appearance and relationship games is tossed away, with the unspoken assumption that a woman's value lies only in her appearance and her ability to manipulate men. Jill gets dressed up, but she goes back to her jeans and boots, and she remains too honest for her own good.

This story originally appeared, in abridged format, in Crystal Nights.

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