St Martin’s Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-250-10405-2
Romantic Suspense, 2017
Luca is part of Sarah Castille’s Ruin & Revenge series, but it can stand alone quite well. Chances are, though, you may mistakenly assume that it is a sequel to any of the random “bad boy alpha male” books available out there, as it is very generic and formulaic that way.
Just like in Nico, this one has a take-charge alpha male, a heroine who acts sassy but is ultimately a cow tethered to and led around by the hero, and lots of familiar elements in the relationship dynamics. Also, the vagina tax is in full effect: men are allowed to do anything – kill, cripple, sell drugs, et cetera – and still have readers squealing about how much they want to have sex with such men, but at the same time the author is very careful to make sure that the women in her story conform to the good girl rules, as these same readers will scream bloody murder about the immortality of these females and claim that the author must be morally defective to put such female characters into the story.
And just like with Nico, I know I have problems with this one as soon as the story opens. Luca Rizzoli is said to be a crime boss, but when the story opens, I see him personally going down on the streets, in his suit and all, to intimidate shopkeepers for protection money and beat up competitors. That’s not what a crime boss does, that’s a lackey’s job! Given that Luca is “very dangerous” and is powerful, and he also has people to boss around, I don’t understand why he has to personally go out to do a lackey’s job. Then again, I suspect that the author is just making up things as she goes along, so maybe I shouldn’t expect much from this thing.
Gabrielle Fawkes is a police officer, but like most heroines in alpha male stories, she has no personal philosophy, conviction, or anything of that sort. She only wants revenge on her late husband’s murder. Oh, don’t worry, that late husband is a much older man, the marriage wasn’t so hot, blah blah blah. On the other hand, Luca doesn’t love his late wife, whom he married only because he knocked her up; he kept women on the side during his marriage, and then got mad when the wife left him and later died of an overdose. The author points out that this late wife was a lying slut who – gasp – took drugs; clearly, a harlot unworthy of the affections of a hero who loves extorting money from shopkeepers. As I’ve said, the vagina tax is in full bloom here: men can’t do anything wrong, while women who aren’t the heroine or her BFFs who cheer her to spread her legs and take in mob don’s penises can’t do anything right.
Anyway, Gabrielle and Luca first meet when they are in hospital due to injuries sustained on the job. Our heroine had dated in the past since her husband’s death, but oh, they never made her feel anything. Luca, on the other hand, makes her gush with liquid passion, so she has to abandon professionalism and shack up with the mob boss. Oh, and they take down some bad guys, he shows her lots of sexual healing, and she shows very little cop-like personality throughout the story. The final conflict here is Gabrielle flailing because she is convinced that Luca believes her to be a traitor and hence, nobody will ever love her and think of her as beautiful ever again. Gee, who would’ve thought that people may have a hard time buying her loyalty when she, a cop, happily betrays her own people and abandons her responsibilities to shack up with a crime boss – all for a good poke? You’d think she would at least ask for some diamonds or drugs while she’s at it, but that’s a romance heroine for you.
This time around, the author shows more Mafia stuff, which is to say, we have our hero and sequel baits going to war with rivals over turf sizes and more, but this only reinforces the huge double standards permeating every page. The romance is not believable at all. Luca has way too many ex-girlfriends and ex-mistresses popping up here to convince me that this man knows even how to spell “fidelity”, and our heroine doesn’t show any believable reasons to fall for such a man. This story would have worked so much better if Gabrielle had been a corrupt cop, but you know, vagina tax.
At the end of the day, Luca is a very contrived and artificial story through and through. There are no believable motivations or emotions, just characters going through the motions to clumsily enact all the scenarios typical of any alpha mule romance. I’m far more curious to know whether it is the author who deliberately did this on her own or it was the publisher’s mandate to make these Mafia dudes as toothless and fake as all those equally fake motorcycle clubbers, boxers, tattooed mules, and what not out there.