Cam Johns, $2.99, ISBN 978-1005806064
Romantic Suspense, 2021
His name is Raja Benoit and he’s with the Mafia, which makes him sexy as every good girl wants a bad boy, and there is no boy badder than an actual player in organized crime. A wealthy one, of course, and a hot one with lots of power, because ain’t no virtuous woman going to slum it out with some no-dough nobody.
Isabella Ricci is a virtuous woman, and she is book-throwing, foot-stomping, “But… mom… you hag!” mad because she’s being made to marry Raj in a pragmatic arrangement for the benefit of both their families. Sure, she has a crush on him, and she’d totally splay her legs and do that sashay inside honey if he would just tell her that he’d boink out of true love, but he didn’t so she’d hate him forever. Then she remembers how her family spent so much money to put her through the Ivy League and her father would be destroyed if she didn’t worship the Raj, so she does every romance heroine is born to: claim to play the martyr.
Oh, and he wants to kill the villain that murdered his beloved grandfather.
Cam Johns’s Betraying the Beast is for readers that read a typically story of a cold and mean SOB paired with a heroine and think, “You know what would make this perfect? If the hero had been a criminal!” Pattern after the fairy tale of you-know, this one has our heroine escorted to the house of the Beast after her father ends up owing the man a whopping amount of $20,000—maybe the author missed out a few zeros—and there, she starts dancing with singing candlesticks and the like. Okay, no singing and dancing, just our hero brooding and going “Woo! Me brooding and tormented! Woo!”, and our heroine going, “Oh! Let me prove that I’m that special someone that can understand you, and you don’t have to shag those no-good bitches and slags anymore because I’m that special Not Like Other Girls honey pot that you need!”
In other words, the same old stuff. Only, this one is set in a backdrop of organized crime that is completely, hilariously artificial. Raj does plenty of bad things, like killing people, but conveniently enough, they totally deserve it. He had slept and discarded women before, but you know how it is, those women totally deserve it because they are not pure, special, and virtuous enough like
me the heroine. Nothing here feels authentic, and I snicker when Bella’s biggest complaint about Raj is, not that he’s a criminal, but rather he didn’t immediately declare his affections for her in the past and now she is determined never to open her heart out to anyone again.
That last part is just one of the many head-scratching contradictions in the author’s portrayal of Bella in this story. At first, she wants to marry for love, then later, she’s announcing that she refuses to leave herself vulnerable to feelings like love. Which is which? One moment Bella will pout and throw a childish tantrum. then later she will act like a self-aware, mature person. The author seems to have a different personality inhabiting Bella’s body from chapter to chapter, and I can’t figure that character out.
Then again, Bella’s many personalities are all wrong for this story. It takes a woman with a different kind of mindset to be okay with marrying a man like Raj. Maybe she has a flexible sense of morality, and has no issues having her husband mow down anyone that stands in the way of her and the family, or maybe she just loves the life of luxury that comes with being wedded to a successful man of both culture and malfeasance. Just sticking into this story a generic heroine that could have easily fit into any first person point of view romance… nah, it doesn’t work.
So yes, Betraying the Beast feels very artificial and hence it’s not something I’d consider successfully executed. The author should have deviated even further, much further, from the formula to make the whole “my hubby is a crime boss, and that makes me hot” premise a plausible one.