Category: Mystery/Crime

No Saint by Mallory Kane

No Saint by Mallory KaneNo Saint by Mallory Kane
Series: Louisiana Lawmen #2
Published by Tule Publishing on January 29th 2018
Pages: 227
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two-stars

New Orleans Police Detective Rick Easterling is no saint. He’s the NOPD’s best undercover cop. Known as the Man of a Thousand Faces, he’s a rogue–breaking rules to solve cases his way. But when his brother dies of a drug overdose and he’s suspected of being a dirty cop, Rick vows to clear his name and avenge his brother’s death.

Rookie police officer Lusinda Johnson has a personal axe to grind with dirty cops, so she volunteers to work undercover and shadow Rick. She tells herself she can remain immune to his sexy, brooding demeanor, but the longer they work together, the harder it is to see him as anything other than a hero.

As “Sin” and Rick investigate the corrupt underbelly of New Orleans night life, the lies they must tell each other imperil them almost as much as the drug lords closing in. Will they learn to trust each other in time to save themselves and explore their growing love?

‘No Saint’ was a mixed bag for me, though I thought the premise sounded intriguing: sending a rookie officer undercover to investigate another, who might have turned dirty in all his years of experience working in the underbelly of society.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t really buy into the characters at all, even though the beginning started out quite well. I did find Rick easier to sympathise with; his personal vendetta of avenging his brother’s death, his regret about their relationship and his compassion he showed for others when he didn’t need to made him a likeable protagonist.

I couldn’t quite say the same for Lusinda. For a rookie cop, she seemed painfully naive and amateurish with the lack of experience showing up in sharp contrast to Rick’s hardened undercover mien. Her neurotic act with roaches, the constant monologue about her uncertainty and wavering emotions made her out to be almost like a teenager playing cop, consequently making it harder to believe Rick’s fascination with her, let alone his willingness to break his own rule about getting involved while undercover.

I also thought the writing was also somewhat uneven: well-written, descriptive at times, then repetitive/simplistic at other times to the point where I found myself skimming. ‘No Saint’ had good action however; it was also a gritty romantic suspense drawing out the violence of such work and the thin lines of good and bad, particularly if you’re into books that deal with the shifting identities of undercover cops and the struggle to inhabit separate personas and the surprises that will come your way.

two-stars

Prisoner by Annika Martin & Skye Warren

Prisoner by Annika Martin & Skye WarrenPrisoner by Annika Martin, Skye Warren
Series: Criminals & Captives #1
Published by Skye Warren & Annika Martin on October 22nd 2014
Pages: 310
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three-stars

He seethes with raw power the first time I see him—pure menace and rippling muscles in shackles. He’s dangerous. He’s wild. He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

So I hide behind my prim glasses and my book like I always do, because I have secrets too. Then he shows up in the prison writing class I have to teach, and he blows me away with his honesty. He tells me secrets in his stories, and it’s getting harder to hide mine. I shiver when he gets too close, with only the cuffs and the bars and the guards holding him back. At night I can’t stop thinking about him in his cell.

But that’s the thing about an animal in a cage—you never know when he’ll bite. He might use you to escape. He might even pull you into a forest and hold a hand over your mouth so you can’t call for the cops. He might make you come so hard, you can’t think.

And you might crave him more than your next breath.

There are some books—rare as they are—that make me question the definition of romance and by extension, why I read them. ‘Prisoner’ is one of those rare few books, which makes this a near-impossible review to write. If I read romance for escapism and a HEA that is only fulfilled in fiction and unrealistic, it’s probably because I’ve been so conditioned towards carrying ‘real-life’ cynicism like a straw that breaks the camel’s back that it can be difficult to buy a certain’s pairing’s happiness. Then there are some books that tip the fairytale on its head, where the villain never even becomes an anti-hero that you think you can root for, though there are those who glory in the grey areas of morality and insist that this is as good a love story that you can get.

I’m torn, really. My suspension of belief has never been called into question more than when I was going through the more excruciating parts of this story. As clearly as I do recognise that ‘Prisoner’ doesn’t fit in any of the contemporary romance category that I’m used to, that the effectiveness of the story is so dependant on us readers trying to separate reality from fiction is what makes me uncomfortable. Because for many of us, reality isn’t—and shouldn’t—be that way and to buy wholly into Abigail’s and Grayson’s tale of lust and dark need, is akin to going against that I accept in my own ‘normalised’ world that isn’t about the microbalance of power in relationships or about living on the wrong side of the law and making do or even revelling in it.

Roughness, dubious consent and violence are par for the course, as are the lack of apologies for male behaviour that is overtly unkind and possessive, then mansplained away in a twisted kind of reverse psychology that I sometimes have trouble buying. We’re reminded often by both Grayson and Abigail that the former is a man beyond redemption—that steeped he is in his life of crime after the abuse he suffered in his early years.

One of my issues is that Abigail’s fighting spirit is what turns Grayson on, yet it also seems to show her as the weaker, cowering vessel with more than a hint of being steeped deeply in Stockholm Syndrome, because attraction and lust surely can’t trump fear and hate? In ‘Prisoner’, that happens. These toxic emotions intermingle, with more than a tinge of the delusional thrown in. But both author try to show up the similarities between Grayson and Abigail despite their outward differences and that’s where they find common ground: in the muddied waters of screwed-up life experiences and the apparent beauty that can be found in cruelty and compassion. Love isn’t all sunshine and roses, but rather, the man who overcomes a cop to rescue you in a jail cell because you belong to him.

Once again, I need to remind myself that this isn’t reality and because it’s a fictional book that I willingly chose to read, my tolerance level of this deviance must naturally be higher of what I’d be raising the alarm for in real life. After a while, enjoyment gives way to the conscious act of overriding my own instincts about romance; or maybe it’s just showing me up as a prude.

three-stars

Beautiful Killer by Sherilee Gray

Beautiful Killer by Sherilee GrayBeautiful Killer by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings, #3
Published by Swerve on January 9th 2018
Pages: 320
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three-stars

She’s wanted a big family ever since her distant father and cold stepfamily isolated her from affection. He’s an ex-SEAL sniper with PTSD.

Too bad she’s been told she can never have children, never have a family of her own.

Too bad he’s shut off his heart from love.

What do you do when one secret could bring you ultimate happiness…or destroy everything you hold close?

I was hesitant about ‘Beautiful killer’ because of my not-too-great experiences with Sherilee Gray’s last couple of books that actually left me reeling, but I’m glad that I picked up this one. ‘Beautiful Killer’ leans towards suspense-erotica (if there’s even such a term) rather than contemporary romance, like the rest of the other books in the series, though I did like Gray’s tortured, intense hero (I can’t begin to count how many times he actually growled and felt more animal than man) and a woman who’d always felt left behind.

It isn’t an unpredictable read, and there’s some slight suspense involved, which also proves to be the catalyst for Zeke and Sunny getting together, though their combined issues were certainly drawn out long enough in a push-pull vibe that stretched up to the end. Ultimately, both did seem somewhat self-absorbed in the beginning: Zeke in his own world of pain, regret and self-recrimination to see beyond how he isn’t good enough for anyone, and Sunny’s solitary state that’s self-pitying in her defeatist attitude of seeing everyone leaving her.

Still, I felt sorry for them somehow (developing a soft spot for the tortured arse hero too) and did think that they could be good together…if only they could stop the dance that circled around the word ‘love’ but never quite hitting the mark. With Zeke hardly speaking—his growly ways almost felt like a substitute for speech—and Sunny constantly retreating with Zeke’s inability to confront his past, I was left wondering how he and Sunny could actually communicate beyond scorching the sheets.

That said, ‘Beautiful Killer’ might be angsty, but it was for me, a nice change from the rest of the series that I didn’t really like. There might have been some frustration involved as it seemed as though something catastrophic needed to happen before they both got their acts together, but I can’t deny I felt more for the characters here than I have in a long time with Gray’s other books.

three-stars

Her True Match by Paige Tyler

Her True Match by Paige TylerHer True Match by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops, #6
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 7th 2017
Pages: 352
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three-stars

After a long game of cat-and-mouse

Feline shifter Dreya Clark picks the wrong penthouse to rob and ends up arrested by sexy detective Braden Hayes. But Braden isn’t the only one who’s been watching the cat burglar. Agents from the Department of Covert Operations swoop in to offer her a deal. If she wants to stay out of jail, she’ll have to work with them—and pair up with the hot cop. Great.

Danger throws this unlikely pair together

Braden isn’t thrilled about the DCO meddling in his investigation. He’s been chasing Dreya for years. Thrown together on a dangerous covert mission, fur flies and temperatures flare. But when danger closes in on them, their game of cat and mouse turns deadly-serious, and they’ll have to rely on each other to make it out alive.

The menagerie of animal shifters that I thought I’d be reading about so early in the series hasn’t yet come to pass and as I suspect, won’t ever. The shifters here merely shift partially, and Tyler does provide a believable-enough explanation for their genetic makeup and behaviour. The pairing of a shifter with a law-enforcement/ex-military character seems to be the default pairing here, though I’ve largely enjoyed the ways that they get together, and ‘Her True Match’ follows this self-same pattern. The cat thief and the cop is a pairing that had been set up in the previous book, so ‘Her True Match’ feels like a natural step for Braden and Dreya to come together.

I was nevertheless surprised to see how Braden and Dreya get on without the bumps I’d expected, but this—this relatively angst-free, easy get together—is probably a defining point as well of this series. Like others before them, Tyler made Braden/Dreya a pairing that get together without much difficulty, particularly since many of her her male heroes don’t seem to have any difficulty accepting that their heroines are part-feline with enhanced senses. The plot itself is interesting, as is the sub-plot and Trevor’s undercover role, though I thought Tyler’s focus on Ivy/Landon here as in all the other books gets tiring in a way that felt as if they are a pairing Tyler can’t let go of.

There are parts as well, that don’t seem to be addressed sufficiently or satisfactorily—Dreya being let off with stupid actions that seem to be beyond reproach, for instance. Keeping secrets from Braden despite the pledge of trust and partnership they make—with this indirectly leading to consequences that no one could have foreseen—yet having Braden think it is his fault (with his unfailing loyalty to a woman who might not fully deserve it) when Dreya hadn’t owned her own part in it put me off her quite a bit.

Still, that far down this series, I’m still not entire sure what to say about it. The villain’s villany grows—this does drag on as each book uncovers the villainy just a little bit more—as are there as well, parallel events that are anchored by Ivy/Landon as well as the hero/heroine of the next book to come. I’m invested enough to want to continue, though not jumping in excitement with the rather slow-moving overall narrative arc where the main characters still don’t seem to catch on quickly enough about the true motives of the bad guys.

three-stars

Prince Charming by C.D. Reiss

Prince Charming by C.D. ReissPrince Charming by C.D. Reiss
Published by Everafter Romance on January 4th 2018
Pages: 421
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two-stars

Keaton Bridge is exactly the kind of guy a straight-arrow like Cassie doesn’t need.

For one thing, he’s a criminal—and she fights crime for a living. And being criminally handsome isn’t helping her say no, either. Everything about him screams trouble, from his British accent to his mysterious past.

And Cassie doesn’t do trouble.

Keaton’s got his own trouble. He’s trying to go legit, and an FBI agent hanging around is the last thing that will help his credibility. All it took was one night of passion to sear her into his skin. Now he can’t imagine living happily ever after without her.

All they have to do is walk away.

But neither of them ever walks away from danger.

C.D. Reiss doesn’t often come around on my need-to-read list, but there’s no doubt her stories are stylishly written and her plots imaginative. The blurb of ‘Prince Charming’ spoke to the geek in me and the hacking, white-collar crime, the criminal and the fed were just ingredients that could and should have made a story as explosive as I’d expected.

The web Reiss wove from the beginning had a noir-ish, sometimes claustrophobic (though sexually-charged) feel to it. But if I was initially intrigued and loving the toxic, uncertain atmosphere of distrust mixed with attraction, my excitement flatlined a bit as I couldn’t see where the story was heading, except for the instant lust and the moral ambiguity that seems to be all-pervasive each time Keaton Bridge enters the picture. With every action described, every thought catalogued in a cat-and-mouse game of questions going nowhere that was perhaps meant to build suspense, but got distracting and draggy instead—oddly enough, because Cassie’s and Keaton’s attraction seemed inversely proportionate to the pacing. Cassie’s and Keaton’s to-and-fro dialogue always seemed to be heading for a stalemate (though his constant arousal and her wet panties are a separate issue entirely and rather bewildering), interrupted often by long, protracted mental musings. The point is, both of them were dodgers in so many ways and the pages and pages of dialogue and their dangerous, reckless relationship showed it.

I’m guessing that this might not be a book for everyone—the style and the introspective narrative might not be for those who prefer ‘straight-up’ writing—and I found myself on the fence about it, especially when I started getting impatient for things to roll on instead of stalling when Cassie and Keaton hit the sheets with so many questions still left unanswered. That said, the plot was well-drawn, and the details of cyber crime, the dark web and the hackers involved believably thrilling. There were some twists that I didn’t expect, carrots dangled, and like rewards for continuing to turn the pages, they were hooks that I bit into despite skimming some parts of the story.

two-stars

Dangerous Moves by Karen Rock

Dangerous Moves by Karen RockDangerous Moves by Karen Rock
Series: Dallas After Dark #1
Published by Kensington - Lyrical Press on February 13th 2018
Pages: 385
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three-stars

Pounding music. Sculpted men. And a conspiracy that could cost far more than a few dollar bills . . .

HOT COP

Detective Blake Knight has been undercover before. But an assignment to bust a steroid ring running out of Dallas’s elite male strip club means his new cover will be nothing but his own taut muscles and oiled skin. It’s one thing for the tough, by-the-books agent to take down bad guys with his gun. Facing a rowdy crowd in only a G-string is another story . . . especially in front of his new boss, gorgeous, mysterious Reese Landon.

Her father’s club and shady business practices bring back terrible memories for Reese. But when he’s shot and goes into a coma, she vows to protect him the way he never did for her. That means keeping the police at a distance—especially sexy, driven Detective Knight. If she has to give him a cover job, it would be a crime not to put that glorious ass on stage. But no matter how good he looks in a Velcro uniform, she can't trust him, or give into the undeniable heat between them. They're both chasing the truth. And it might expose more than either wants to show . . .

Having a cop going undercover in a male stripper club is is something new and I’ll admit readily that this played a huge part in wanting to read ‘Dangerous Moves’. Marvellous premise, after all and I’ll not say no to this. Romantic Suspense or not, that does start off rather hilariously, as Blake Knight takes on one of the dodgiest cases and had the (good?) fortune of meeting the owner’s daughter.

But with the strip club as a front for illegal activities amid the red-hot male routines, Blake and Reese find themselves on the opposite sides of the law, and that proves to be the rift that this pairing is built on despite the helpless pull of attraction that both have for each other.

Both Blake and Reese clearly have some sort of character-growth arc throughout: Blake for seeing the world in black and white and having his moral code flipping on its head when he learns about dirty activities involving cops and steroids were happening under his nose. On the other hand, Reese’s blind, naive loyalty to her father gets her close to obstructing justice, as is her refusal to see family as anything but culpable. However, it isn’t one that’s realised early on enough until it’s nearly too late, having her come across as naive and a bit TSTL, and possibly a bit selfish, to the point where she thinks that Blake doing his job means not putting her first.

That said, Karen Rock writes the suspense excellently and the pacing during these action scenes is well done. Yet it got predictable—the villain’s identity seemed as obvious as daylight—and there were parts in the middle of a scene or chapter transitions that felt awkward with several odd phrases that stood out during the sex scenes for instance. But there were also bits that had me laughing, particularly in the beginning. I did want to know more about another secondary character however (and was slightly mollified that there will be a book on him) and was disappointed when he merely flitted in and out of the pages like a passing ship in the night.

‘Dangerous Moves’ is nonetheless a decent read, albeit not a perfect one. Rock however, teases the blurb of the next book in here and that’s making me look forward to it already.

three-stars

Silent Threat by Dana Marton

Silent Threat by Dana MartonSilent Threat by Dana Marton
Series: Mission Recovery #1
Published by Lake Union Publishing on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 316
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three-stars

A former Navy SEAL, Cole Makani Hunter has returned home from a disastrous black ops mission without his best friend, his hearing, or the use of his right arm. So when his ex–commanding officer assigns him to an undercover mission at a rehab center for vets to discover who leaked sensitive military information to an enemy, he’d rather be anywhere but there. Almost immediately, Cole finds himself at odds with Annie Murray—a peace-loving ecotherapist whose dream is to open an animal sanctuary out of her home. While the two seemingly have nothing in common, their spirited arguments soon fuel a passion for each other.

But just as things begin to heat up between therapist and patient, dangerous complications arise. So does the past—and a shocking revelation that puts Cole and everything he now holds dear in the path of a murderous traitor.

Dana Marton’s books tend to stand out for me particularly since they tend to involve unusual and unlikely pairings with protagonists who aren’t the most good-looking or the usual types that conform to the stereotypes of romantic suspense. Throw this unbalanced relationship—whether it’s convincing or not depends on the book and the kind of characters Marton chooses to portray—into a plot that’s generally tight and unpredictable enough to keep you guessing and Marton has become one of the authors I’ve come to realise I want more of.

‘Silent Threat’ is no different in this way: a disabled ex-SEAL who’s undercover seeking a traitor and an ecotherapist who dreams of having her own animal rescue sanctuary facing a stalkerish (and very creepy) threat provide more than enough intrigue for the suspense to be built on. Marton sets up 2 apparently separate threats, though there are hints that they are from one and the same source, in a more elaborate twist of the tale that I didn’t see coming.

Marton’s characters however, so obviously flawed and so far beyond the traditional definitions and appearances of what we think of when the terms ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ pop up, may not always appeal.

In ‘Silent Threat’ as in a few of other Marton’s books, Cole and Annie take some time to warm up to, though Cole was easier to relate to as a protagonist than Annie’s softer and more fickle tree-hugger ways. Like Cole, I was too sceptical of Annie’s Ecotherapy—the things she stood for and her earth-mother motivational sayings just sounded too flaky and naive to me with her trite and overused phrases like ‘deep cleansing breaths’—but admittedly this is my jaded, cynical self talking along with the other SEALs under her care who rolled their eyes at this form of treatment. It was harder to like her as well, as I thought she simply needed to grow a spine when all she did was push away and run without working things out like the adult she was while she hid behind the excuse of preserving therapist/patient boundaries.

Cole and Annie’s relationship however, isn’t rushed, the build-up is slow-going with some amount of push-pull between them, with an equally slow burn until past the halfway mark, flowing well with the suspense that amps up toward the end.

In short, while ‘Silent Threat’ didn’t quite stun me like Marton’s other books have, which isn’t to say that it isn’t a decent read. It’s a series that I’m going to continue with in any case, if only just to see what Marton has up her sleeve the next time around.

three-stars