Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-052339-5
Romantic Suspense, 2004
I’ve seen Gennita Low being compared to Suzanne Brockmann, but I would personally peg her as an author that fans of Jessica Hall may enjoy. Unlike Jessica Hall, however, Ms Low writes a deliberately convoluted plot while exposing all her tricks at the same time.
I’ve noticed this problem in her debut Into Danger but I let that slide as she’s a new author. Facing Fear, her follow-up effort, has the same problem – the author deliberately tries to mislead or keep her readers in suspense by creating a convoluted plot, but her attempts are standard textbook tricks of misdirection. I am always ahead of the author’s characters and I am subsequently annoyed by the author’s mistaking labyrinthine plotting for sophistication or innovation.
Ricardo Harden – who is either Rick, Dick Hard-on, or Dumbass depending on whether you are asking his friends, himself, or me – has lost his wife ten years ago and is now a raging asshole that boasts of his sexual conquests to anyone who will listen. Frankly, I find his history of banging his women into unconsciousness more painful than arousing, but maybe that’s just me. Everything about him, from his overcompensation to his calling the heroine “little bird” (a projection of his insecurities, perhaps?), just grates on my nerves. His dumbass behavior culminates in him currently being forced to push pencils, a fate which he abhors. When his superior is arrested for treason, Dumbass comes under suspicion as well.
This is where Nikki Taylor comes in. She is from Internal Investigations charged with determining whether Dumbass is as guilty as his superior. She has no memory of her past before she was rescued a decade ago from horrendous abuse and captivity, and now she hopes to piece together her life. Much has been made about Nikki being Asian-American, so I may as well join the bandwagon and do so here. Yay – Nikki is Asian-American. Nay – she comes complete with stereotypical philosophical mumbo-jumbo like “beware the center” and “release the frozen heart”. When are David Carradine and Pat Morita going to show up? More nay – she has very, very long hair. Is that practical for a woman in her line of job? I keep waiting for the villain to drag her by the hair as she screams “Ow, ow, ow!” but alas, no luck there.
Oh, and Nikki is Dumbass’s wife – still alive, but has had five cosmetic surgeries to repair her damaged face after her ordeal, so Dumbass can’t recognize her, not one bit.
The romance suffers from the author’s very transparent attempt at foreplay interruptus and other methods to prolong the couple’s internal conflict, but the author is even more transparent – and inept – in her treatment of the external conflicts. The labyrinthine descriptions of TIARA and their operations, coupled with the presence of sequel-baits, are deliberately opaque. The plot is obfuscated with jargons to come off as slick and sophisticated when in actuality it is not. Instead, there are plot holes galore as well as contradictions, the latter most noticeably being the author’s changing Nikki’s backstory several times throughout the story. For example, Nikki maintains that she has no idea who she was in the past, but later Ms Low will have Nikki saying that she knows who she is all along.
Gennita Low tries too hard to put in red herrings and to keep her readers in the dark using her labyrinthine plots and large cast of characters. It is so easy to imagine Ms Low cackling, “The readers will never see this coming, hee-hee!” as she works away at her computer. But at the same time, this reader can see through the workings of her storytelling style, spot Ms Low’s blatant attempts at manipulating the reader, and get irritated by the amount of effort I have to put in to slough through the author’s cluttered plotting only to get a meager payoff. Facing Fear is like an effort from an author that is trying way too hard to the point that she’s too focused on the technicalities of her plotting and forget what really counts in the first place: readability, entertainment, memorable and compelling characters, and a plot that isn’t riddled with holes and inconsistencies.