Elizabeth Lowell’s Whirlpool hits the ball right into the…foul zone

ann-whirlpool.gifThe first term that comes to mind when reading this romantic thriller is: implausible.

I realize that same term can be applied by us average joes to practically any suspense or thriller. However, in this case, it’s really applicable in a “just cannot, not matter how much I want to, suspend my disbelief.”

I think it is chiefly because I find the heroine sort of…dumb. And annoying.

When I try to imagine myself in the plot in the book—which, with my Guiness Book World Record Level Imagination I can usually do with great ease to the astonishment of my husband and to the concern of the mental health community worldwide—I think, “Pffffft, tsk, yeah, right, whatever, like that is something I’d do!”

Let me explain…

(Click MORE to read my review of Elizabeth Lowell’s Whirlpool, .)

Plot Summary, Act 1, Scene 1: The heroine is the daughter of a SuperSpy. SuperSpy Dad sent her a mysterious and dangerous package. When she received it, she opened it and VOILA!: mysterious and dangerous contents. She immediately thought, “Oh shit.”

My comment: My dad is not a SuperSpy. However, he regularly sends me mysterious and dangerous things. I often think, “Oh shit!” upon opening them. Usually they are messages, typically about something I blew, such as my stepmother’s birthday for like the 25th year in a row. You see? Oh shit. There, though, the similarity ends.

Plot Summary, Act 1, Scene 2: Shortly thereafter, her father arrived, hoping he got there before the package. When he discovered he didn’t, he said, “Oh shit, what a clusterfuck.” The heroine, his daughter, agreed. There followed a scene in which their entire history and relationship is played out in five minutes during which he manipulates her into handing over the package and saying, “Bye Dad, love you,” as if that will end the matter, even though it is only page ten.

My comment: Who among us hasn’t been emotionally guilted and manipulated by a parent, even as we realize consciously this is happening? However, MAJOR mysterious and dangerous packages that Very Scary People are after aren’t usually the stakes. Also, and this is important, my parents do not ask me to break the law and traffic in stolen goods. If they did, and my loyalty and love overwhelmed my ethics, I’m pretty sure I am bright enough to realize that if I’m in for a penny, I’m in for a pound. I can’t just suddenly decide to opt out. SuperSpies and Villains never, ever work that way, and I’ve hundreds of books under my belt that bean my brain with this point, over and over.

Plot Summary, Act 1, Scene 3: The heroine called a variety of people to discuss, semi-subtly-which-is-to-say-not-at-all-subtly, the contents of the package. She’s seeking information and in the process, putting large bugs in a large number of ears about the stolen goods. The purpose, apparently, is to display her honesty and naivete; the author repeatedly informs us that the heroine is a horrible liar, as do the people the heroine talks to, “You’re a horrible liar, you’re just soooo innocent, you can never pull off subterfuge…what’s really going on?” they ask. The heroine herself is even honest enough to say she’s a terrible liar, horrible at this SuperSpy game, always having eschewed it, due to her conflicted feelings about her dad and disgust for the effect of what he does.

My comment: We get it. She’s lily white. Better than any of us on our most Sister Mary Xavier loves us lots days. Her only flaw is…being just too darn good.

What this really is by the author is a really, really weak narrative device in which she tries to describe the heroine’s character through other people’s eyes and (you’ll find also that this is typical throughout the book) an even weaker plot device to suggest subplots and move along the action. it further weakens the characters by making them too one-dimensional and, worse, inconsistent.

Plus, here the heroine and I seriously part ways even more. I have many flaws, including being a really great dramatist, which some might call a flair for fiction or other crueler sorts might call lying. I don’t think I like people who are too honest, chiefly because they are usually too black and white and I live in this really gray world.

Plot Summary, Act 1 end: Sigh sigh says our sweet little heroine. She finishes her phone calls, tidies up her OCD level clean house—a nice little A-frame on the beach in California—and goes to bed.

Plot Summary, Act 2, Scenes 1-3, with hints of future acts and scenes but NO SPOILERS: Enter the hero.

A former SuperSpy, now a Private Contract SuperSpy, he breaks into our heroine’s house, seeking the package. For good reasons, of course. Which, actually, aren’t truly good reasons but that’s not his fault, because he was duped. Sort of. Somehow, we have to believe that the Duper is good enough to dupe someone smart and worldy enough to never be duped. Did that make any sense to you? No? Well, now you are grasping the inconsistencies and weaknesses here.

However, our up-to-that-point unscrupulous and hard-as-rocks hero immediately melts at the sight, smell and feel of the oh-so-innocent and seemingly-honest little house. He completely believes the heroine must be totally innocent and there has been a terrible mistake.



He hears the cock of a pistol’s safety being taken off. And turns to see the heroine, in thin, short silk nightshirt, standing with a 9mm pistol pointed right at him.

I know! She can’t even tell a lie, but she can stand in a nightie and cock a loaded weapon at an intruder. What a complex? no…inconsistent, character! She must be deeply, er, interesting. Right? Right? I can hang in to the story because it, I mean, she, the heroine, improves, and becomes less annoying, right?

The two engage in witty repartee—otherwise known as Stalling Dialogue aka Setting the Scene for the Attraction—until…


Two assasins working for another SuperSpy, who is double-crossing SuperSpy Dad, burst in to kill both the hero and heroine.

The hero takes two bullets—in the Kevlar he had luckily been wearing—meant for the heroine, and their lasting happiness is immediately ensured. I mean, ensured as soon as they deal with all the package and cross and double-cross and triple-cross and huh? what? story points and get over the “We’re sorta kinda on opposite teams and can’t trust one another plus we each represent what the other hates/fears,” little humps.

There’s some running, hiding, flying in private jets, wearing the same clothes for at least 200 pages, shooting at, dangerous hikes through deserts, exciting break-ins, and lots of subplots and other characters all twisting and attempting to make others twist in the wind, a completely creepy pair of Antagonists, one of whom is a la Grace Jones in A View to a Kill, complete with frequently mentioned very prominent nipples that rise to attention on command, making all men in her path putty—or bean dip-brained…in other words, more than a few hundred pages that would make Albert Zuckerman proud. Or horrified. I’m not sure.

My comment: Except… it’s pretty implausible…chiefly due to the really, really weak characterization.

I know most thrillers are completely implausible to the average joe. Yet, somehow, usually, I can willingly suspend my disbelief. For example, I was absolutely on a treasure hunt through Rome with Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code.

The difference is I respect the thriller-level complexity of the characters and how they’ll back down from their stereotypes when it makes sense to do so. That is to say, before they nearly get everyone killed. They display a sort of wisdom, under the circumstances. Okay, maybe wisdom stretches it, but it’s common sense at times, at the very least.

This heroine? Eh. Not so much.

If I heard someone break-in to my house, I’d be on the horn to 911 faster than you could say 911. I don’t have a gun in the house. If I had to defend myself, I keep an old can of Aquanet and I’d aim for the eyes, while shrieking to high heaven, and kneeing for any balls I could find. If proximity became an issue (as in, the intruder got closer rather than running for the hills crying repentance) I’d use my peace-symbol fingers to gouge eyes and elbow to crush a windpipe. But generally, I’d do my best to escape notice and wait for the big, tough police to come rescue me. In fact, I cite personal experience here, not supposition.

I tried really hard to give this poor chick a break. After all, she was raised by a mainly absentee SuperSpy father and broken-hearted mother who pined for her absentee SuperSpy Spouse. She got sucked into this whole Whirlpool. And, after all, she’s supposed to be so sweet, and she’s so hurt by the men around her.</span>

And there you go…my major point of departure.

BAH! No victimhood! Kick ’em where it counts, girlfriend! Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and quit living for and in total reaction to the men around you! Don’t let them tell you that you can’t play the SuperSpy game well! Be smart, figure it out!

I think of Kay Scarpetta, Robyn Hudson (poison ivy on the windowsill has to be the best security system ever), Sam Jones, Eve Dallas…they wouldn’t take this crap!

Final Summary: Don’t get sucked into the Whirlpool here. Keep checking back here and I’ll tell you the better books to invest time in instead!

By Julie Pippert © 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

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