Dafina, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-61773-778-7
Romantic Suspense, 2015
Don’t be fooled by the cover or the synopsis on the back cover – Deborah Fletcher Mello’s Playing for Keeps is not some lighthearted romance story. The hero’s “ex-wife who knows how to bring the drama” is a junkie, and there is some suspense drama here involving some sordid things indeed.
Malcolm Cobb has a lot of “former” in his life story. He was formerly married – now divorced, he shares the custody of his twin daughters with his junkie wife. He was formerly in jail as well as a former alcoholic – the two are related. In the last ten years, he has turned his life around though. He’s now sober, he is even-tempered and gentlemanly, and he co-owns The Playground, a club that plays Norah Jones and Michael Bublé while the staff and the bosses make sure that nobody drinks too much. Oh, and the bosses know your parents because they all go to the same church, so good luck trying to get naughty in there. I personally think that club sounds dreadfully dull, but hey, different strokes and all that.
Cilla Jameson isn’t sure whether she wants to settle down and have children, but meeting Malcolm has her wondering whether it is time to reevaluate her life. He’s hot, nice, and loaded, while his daughters and the grandmother all adore her. So what’s not to love?
And really, what’s not to love indeed. These two quickly fall in love and decide to give the whole relationship thing a go, just in time for the author to focus on suspense drama involving one of Malcolm’s daughters. The story switches gear from a conventional romance to a romantic suspense story pretty dramatically, but the author has planted enough signs early on that this is coming. Still, none of the suspense is even hinted upon in the packaging of the book, so I suspect that some readers may be taken aback by what they end up getting here.
Despite her initial reluctance to be in a relationship, Cilla soon gets comfortable with the idea of being with Malcolm. Any potential internal conflict is easily swept aside here, as the power of love is strong indeed. Then again, it makes sense in a way because there is really no reason to play hard to get with Malcolm. He’s nice, rich, has no weird issues or bad habit, and his family adores her – so, why not? Also, this frees up plenty of space for the author to focus on the drama involving Malcolm’s teenage daughter. The romance isn’t bad by itself, it’s pleasant and features two likable characters that seem sane, normal, and well-matched.
The suspense plot is readable. On one hand, it’s not the most exciting thing around, as Malcolm’s so well-connected to all the right people in all the right places, therefore solution often comes in him making a phone call. Still, the author manages to keep the momentum going, and the whole thing is pretty hard to put down. There isn’t any particularly suspenseful moments here, but the characters are engaging and likable to the point that I keep turning the pages anyway because I want to see them get a happy ending.
Playing for Keeps, therefore, is quite an interesting example of a story that doesn’t hold many surprises, but is still nonetheless very entertaining and very hard to put down because the characters get under my skin and I have to see how they turn out in the end. Of course, I know they will be happy and all, but the fun is more in the journey than the destination. This one, therefore, is easily a four-oogie read.