Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-265580-6
Romantic Suspense, 2017
There are hints all over the Web that Dangerous Games was first published around 2015 and is first of an ongoing series, but I can’t find any information as to whether this is simply a reissue or a completely rewritten book. So if you do happen to have the original story, it’s best to ask the author directly whether it’s worth buying this one again. I can tell you, though, that this one is so formulaic that you can accidentally skip a few dozen pages and can still keep up with the story using your knowledge of genre tropes.
A senator’s daughter has been kidnapped. She has “blue eyes” and “corn silk hair”, so of course everyone in the FBI is galvanized to look for her. Hey, don’t be cynical – I’m sure these people will do the same if the missing girl is someone from a poor family who has brown eyes and cornrows. Right? Anyway, some missing white girl from a very rich family is important enough for the FBI to drag back negotiator Maggie Kincaid, who has quit after a bungled case a while back, and Jake O’Connor, ex-soldier who does everything with a sneer and a swagger because that’s how romance heroes are supposed to be. And that’s the plot, basically. Of course, the father is hiding something, the heroine has a lot of issues, and Jake is there because, ooh, action men are hot.
The author plays her card very clearly and early. When Maggie is introduced, it’s all about her issues – she was once kidnapped, and lost her sister in the process; she had a tendency to become overinvolved in her cases; and her last case was the last straw. I am given no idea what she looks like, or anything else, because these details don’t matter. What is important is that Maggie is defined by her issues, and that her character arc involves her getting over these issues thanks to passion and penis. Meanwhile, when Jake is introduced, I know he sleeps without his pants on, he has an impressive action hero resume, he is the best – the best – at everything he does, and he says everything in an arch tone that suggests he is only capable of two nuances: crotch thrust and swagger. Does he have issues? Who cares – he’s not the one getting the love-and-sex-as-therapy treatment here, after all. In just two chapters, the author has delineated her end game for this story as well as encapsulated romantic suspense in general.
For the bulk of the story, Maggie will constantly be seized by doubts and indecisiveness, questioning herself and all, and the culmination of her character arc is her weeping tearfully as she narrates all her hidden issues and angst to Jake, who’d then basically go, “There, there, let me manfully erase that pain away just by being the most awesome man that turns you on!” Jake swaggers around, constantly lifting his brows, sneering, and generally trying way too hard to impress me. And I don’t know whether it’s deliberate or accidental, but Maggie often experiences “that burst of attraction” or some variation thereof every time Jake corrects her or calls her “Goldilocks”. This is a nice way of ensuring that I will never be able to take Maggie seriously as a strong heroine.
As for the suspense, here is where things get a little weird, because the bulk of the book focuses on Maggie basically wringing her hands and repeating the same hysterical internal monologue of hers, and what little of the suspense present here will feel very familiar indeed. Familiarity by itself is not so bad, but there are also oddly placed and timed sex, both the hero and the heroine often saying and doing questionable things that undermine the author’s assertions that these two are the best in their respective fields, some dodgy geography and science, and increasingly overwrought twists and turns that require more and more suspension of disbelief.
The focus on Maggie rather than the kidnapping drama makes sense by the last page, when it becomes evident that this book is the first one in an ongoing series featuring Jake and Goldilocks, so there will also be unresolved plot arcs here that will hopefully be addressed in future books. Both the packaging and publicity material make no indication of this, and I know some readers are not happy to find out only when they reach the last chapter. So, I’m letting you guys know.
On the bright side, Dangerous Games has some potential. The narrative can be gripping at certain places, so if the author can rein her tendency to go all outlandish and over the top, she may be able to dish out some solid romantic suspense one of these days. That is, if she is also willing to deviate even a little bit from the formula. This is also a story that is a bit too predictable and familiar for its own good. The main characters, especially, are cookie cutter to their very core. If these two are going to carry a series on their own, they will have to be more interesting than that.