Harlequin Romantic Suspense, $5.75, ISBN 978-1-335-66192-0
Romantic Suspense, 2019
First we have Seduced by the Badge. Now we have Tempted by the Badge. I can’t wait for Carrying the Badge’s Baby. Don’t worry, this one can stand alone well, although readers who haven’t read the previous book may be taken aback by how the couple from the previous book abruptly shows up late in the story for a cameo appearance.
I’m not sure about the title, by the way. The hero Mingus Black is a private investigator, while the heroine Joanna Barnes is a history teacher at a high school in Chicago. So whose badge are we talking about here?
Also, I pointed out in my review of the previous book that it felt like a Kimani story shoehorned into a romantic suspense format. This one, however, is a complete 180. It may not have dead bodies and secret agents, but there is a mystery central to the story alright, and not once does the mystery sink into the background for the romance.
Basically, Joanna Barnes is accused of committing statutory rape with one of her students. She is innocent, of course, but the evidence seems stacked against her. Fortunately, her BFF has both a lawyer brother and a PI brother, and she practically tells them to go help Joanna or else. Mingus is the PI brother, and he is compelled to believe Joanna because of both his instincts and his knowledge that her sister is a pretty good judge of character. So the story begins.
Deborah Fletcher Mello has never written any stories with characters that feel like duds where I am concerned, and she’s not breaking the trend here. Both Joanna and Mingus are likable, normal people that are so easy to root for, with the extra bonus of Mingus showing an action hero side of him now and then that is so exciting to read. Ahem. Joanna doesn’t have much to do here, as being on bail means that there aren’t many things she can do even if she wants to, but she’s no dumb dumb. She is generally sharp and sensible, and she also comes without the neurotic hang-ups most heroines tend to have in order to drive home the fact that they aren’t sluts and hence deserve the love of judgmental readers.
What is really impressive here is how the romance manages to feel complete, believable, and real despite the story taking place over a short period of time. The chemistry between those two is such that it is so easy to believe that these two are really in love and are in for the long haul. Even the love scenes are easy on the nerves to read – in the past, the author tended to go overboard with purple phraseology, with everything exploding in all kinds of colors while people were scaling mountain peaks or something, but here, the love scenes are mostly devoid of such lurid phrases. Thank goodness. They are happy, and I am happy too.
The secondary characters are fine too, as they all have a place in the overall plot. Well, except for that insane best friend thing who just has to ask in a squeal whether Joanna is doing the hot PI and if yes, eeeee so exciting. Seriously now – poor Joanna is being investigated by the law and attending traumatizing court sessions because people think she has raped a student, and this stupid woman is more concerned about Joanna getting boinked. Is she Joanna’s BFF because she makes Joanna look so much smarter in comparison?
The only weakness of this story is the suspense. I know, this isn’t a long story, so there is the word limit to think about. But this isn’t a mystery or thriller as much as it is the Black family coming in to fix things up. Things go way too easy for the main characters here. Mingus comes from a family of well-respected law enforcers, so it doesn’t matter that he’s just a PI: he has so much sway over cops and lawyers that he may as well be Luke Cage or something. Important clues practically fall onto Mingus’s lap, and if things get even a little sticky, his family members will come to the rescue or make a phone call to bail him and Joanna out. So, where’s the suspense? Initially I’m curious about the identity of those who framed Joanna as well as their motivations, but I soon begin to lose interest when it appears that our main characters face a mere walk in the park when it comes to clearing our heroine’s name. The pacing and the nature of the mystery are alright for the most part, even if things become rushed towards the end – it’s the way the author puts too many get out of jail cards and safety nets for our main characters that kills the tension and the suspense in the story.
Still, I have a lot of fun reading this one, mostly because of the romance and the solid narrative. There is a nice balance of romance and plot here, with both elements coexisting together very well in a manner rarely encountered in romantic suspense. If the suspense hasn’t been too reliant on the hero’s amazing connections with every well-connected and powerful people in town, Tempted by the Badge would have been a no-nonsense clear winner.