Picks and Pans Review: Restraint

updated 01/23/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/23/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Sherry Sonnett

Whew! Yikes! Wow! Oh, darn. That pretty much sums up this film noir-ish first novel that takes off at Concorde-like speed then revs up its engines. Which would be just swell if the author could keep up that break-the-sound-barrier clip right up until the end. She can't. But, we're getting ahead of the story.

Vega Johnson, Restraint's narrator and protagonist, is a Los Angeles-based financial planner who, as she says, "looks good in a tight white suit and three-inch heels." A divorcée, she's good with numbers but not especially good with people. "Los Angeles," she notes early on, "is full of people like me: social, polite but somehow disconnected, isolated at the core." Then, through her ex-husband Don, she meets Paul Lattimer, an older man who's tall, with thick hair falling in a sleek line across his forehead and who's "rolling in money." Ill-gotten as it turns out.

And as it turns out, Vega doesn't care. Transcendent sex will do that to a person. Her unharnessed passion for Paul and her willingness to experiment sexually spill over into other areas of her life. If she can be this free in bed, Vega figures, maybe she can start taking more risks in business, more risks in the ways she deals with others. Such acting out of a power fantasy ultimately leads Vega—at Paul's silky, subtle urging—into perpetrating fraud. But when she learns she has merely been a pawn in a dangerous game, Vega puts everything on the line to exact revenge. It's a terrific, twisty story, often told in smart, sharp prose. Unfortunately, Sonnett makes so much of Vega's development as a libertine that her various encounters—in a threesome, with her fetishist former husband, with a woman—start to become more ludicrous than lubricious. More unfortunately, Sonnett's pacing as the novel reaches its climax is way off; she makes far too short work of Vega's attempt to settle scores. But until that point, it's easy to recommend Restraint without restraint. (Simon & Schuster, $21)

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