Mary Kay–like company recruits hapless linguist to become a guerrilla for women’s rights.
A brief prologue introduces Nikki, downing martinis in a Vancouver bar to drown her sorrows after yet another futile job interview. Her degree in linguistics seems to spell permanent unemployability. She’s not even cheered when handsome attorney Z’ev asks her to temporarily impersonate his wife, so he can avoid having to date the sister of shipping magnate Sarkassian, a Very Important Client. Cut to Burbank, Calif., corporate headquarters of Carrie Mae Cosmetics. Back in Canada, desperate Nikki made a house call with a Carrie Mae starter kit, but proved not to be cut out for sales: When a prospective customer refused to buy, she forced the woman to eat a lipstick. National sales director Miranda Merrivel concludes that Nikki’s skills will be better employed in Carrie Mae’s secret cadre of commandos, schooled in all manner of martial arts, who undertake clandestine missions to champion oppressed women. Fresh from CM boot camp, Nikki heads for Thailand to investigate the disappearance of human-rights advocate Lawan Chinnawat, who runs a free clinic and education program to prevent impoverished women and children from falling prey to sex traffickers. Lawan had been pushing for more stringent screening of shipping containers leaving Bangkok, and Nikki discovers that an employee at her clinic was selling patient records to none other than Sarkassian. Far-fetched misadventures ensue involving lethal high-tech gadgets masquerading as mascara tubes, lipstick, charm bracelets, etc., plus plenty of old-fashioned firepower. Lawan’s daughter Lindawati is kidnapped from boarding school. Z’ev, who may be CIA, offers scant help as Nikki learns that Sarkassian bought the patient records so he could identify—and abduct—only those healthy enough to survive a transoceanic journey crammed into shipping containers before being sold into sexual servitude.
Aiming to be a humorous romance-thriller, Maines’ over-the-top debut sinks under an absurdly convoluted plot and a plethora of gizmos that would overwhelm 007.