The Bane Affair
by Alison Kent, contemporary (2004)
Brava, $14.00, ISBN 0-7582-0668-2
Alison Kent's full-time, big-time "Watch out Lori, here I come!" debut The Bane Affair (which is, of course, one of those first in a series thingies) is an enjoyable story for readers looking for a rather typical wounded-inside macho-outside secret agent action man hero prototype and - this is the holy grail, people - a heroine who is intelligent, capable, and doesn't threaten to bring on Alzheimer's disease on me. It takes me almost two months to slough through the first half of the book (I'll explain later) but the second half of the book is so enjoyable that I finish that part in one sitting and end up wondering what's next on the menu.
Our hero Christian Bane is part of a Spice Girls type of secret agent organization called the Smithson Group, where a JR-meets-Bosley type leads five pretty boys to save the free world. He's Broody Spice, the one who was a player until he was betrayed by a treacherous woman and now all he wants to do is to brood like the latest Gucci pretty boy when he's not playing the secret agent. His assignment is to pretend to be Peter Deacon, the Spectra IT boss who is cooking up some fishy schemes with the scientist Wickham Bow. Wicked Wickham has a goddaughter, Natasha Gaudet and Broody Spice at first suspects Natasha Got-It of being in cahoots with Wicked Wickham. But when he starts getting to know her better (read: after forgetting the condom when he's getting acquainted so fabulously with Ms Got-It), he starts having second thoughts about her treachery. I mean, so what if he suspects her of using her body to throw him off-balance and he ends up sleeping with her within a few days into her acquaintance - how can this woman be a trained seductress? There's no way she can be Mata Hari. When she says that she is sleeping with him because she wants him to answer the more erudite calling of her hormones, she has to be telling the truth. She got it, yes baby, but take it from Broody Spice, she ain't got that, no siree.
Luckily for Broody Spice, Natasha Got-It is a romance heroine so she isn't the kind to be in Wicked Wickham's schemes. Ms Kent bucks tradition by giving Natasha a functional brain but she isn't so foolhardy as to court an open rejection from the genre by making Natasha devious or evil. This is why I have a hard time working through the first half of the book, by the way. There is a very distracting disconnection between Natasha's perception and loyalty to Wicked Wickham and the real Wicked Wickham that Ms Kent presents to the reader. The Wicked Wickham presented to the reader is a ruthless control freak and it's not as if he is hiding his real personality behind any pleasant facade - Wicked Wickham openly treats Nastasha, even in front of Broody Spice, in several scenes in such a manner that makes Natasha's continuous perception of him as some replacement father figure in her life puzzling indeed. To put it simply, Ms Kent creates a stereotypical mad scientist character in Wicked Wickham that is very easy to see through. I don't think I have a decent explanation as to how Natasha Got-It takes so long to see the real Wicked Wickham. I often put the book aside when I become too distracted by the voice in my head screaming, "Egads, Ms Got-It is supposed to be smart! Clever! Why the heck is she so content to be led around by Wicked Wickham like that?"
Thankfully, the things that I am terrified of encountering, like painfully prolonged big miscommunication issues, female stubbornness to accept the truth that is staring at her face, and other agonizing nonsense passed off as "conflicts" in too many romance novels - those things never crop up in this book. Apart from her bewildering cluelessness regarding Wicked Wickham, Natasha really has got it. One can argue that she believes Broody Spice probably a little too easily but she proactively tries to discover whether Broody Spice is telling the truth or not. She proves that she can analyze a problem from several logical approaches and come to a sensible course of action. She talks to the hero, she opens her eyes, and she thinks and listens. Does she got it? You betcha.
Broody Spice is another one of those heroes that springs a full-grown secret agent from the fountains of royalty blessed by the patroness of action heroes, Suzanne Brockmann, complete with one of those godawfully cheesy names like Bane or Samm (two M's, please, they're Macho Men) or Cameron, and proceeds to walk straight into some Greek tragedy involving either a faithless seductress or a treacherous master before sweeping into the heroine's life for some healing TLC. But just like how Natasha could have been some stereotypical innocent clueless dingbat but instead she got it, Ms Kent tweaks Broody Spice a little so that he doesn't come off like a complete stereotype. Broody Spice doesn't go on a ridiculous woman-hating rampage, for example. I also like how Broody Spice feels conflicted about seducing Natasha in the name of democracy and freedom, which is a refreshing change from the usual "heroes can't do wrong to a woman as long as he tells her he loves her at the end" schtick.
I don't find the story too compelling because Ms Kent relies too much on tried-and-true stereotypes and plot developments to the point that the story feels like a cross between a particularly cheesy episode of Alias and a corny James Bond movie plot. What makes the story work though is how Ms Kent respects her characters enough to make them think, solve problems, and work together through the external conflicts along with their relationship issues without insulting me, the reader, with cop-out too-obvious coincidences or deus ex machina resolutions. The sexual tension is well done although for me, the sex scenes aren't as exciting as I thought they'd be after hearing all those raves about the author's love scenes (memo to Ms Kent: there's no shame in bondage, so why can't those two just get down with it?). The well-done characters with their functional brains as well as sexual organs make The Bane Affair one of the better "sexy romantic suspenses" I've come across in a while. Still, I must confess that I wish the story has less cheese and more dark and genuine suspense and Natasha is introduced into the story in a less awkward manner. I find the first half of the book really difficult to read especially because of the latter.
This book at Amazon.com
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