Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-269223-8
Romantic Suspense, 2018
There is this piece of private property called Salvation in Pennsylvania. It started out as a school of sorts run by the Sullivan family, and as time passes, it grew to become some kind of commune. All seems good, except once in a while people die. The FBI had investigated them, peacefully and not-so-peacefully, but had found nothing to incriminate the Sullivans.
Our heroine Cate Pendleton is convinced that something is wrong, as one of the dead folks is her sister, and she is not going away until she gets to the bottom of this and find justice for her sister. She eventually turns to our band of brothers agency, and is placed in the good hands of Damon Knox. Unknown to her at that point, he is very familiar with Salvation, as he grew up there. In fact, Knox isn’t his real surname; it’s Sullivan…
If you are anything like me, you’d probably be going, “Oh! This is going to be exciting! Maybe it’s a romantic suspense set in the backdrop of a cult! Oh, oh, could the hero be some sleeper agent that will betray Cate? Will she be tempted into joining the cult?”
Well, perish the thought. The only suspense in The Protector comes from the anticipation of when the party will start. Hint: it will never start.
Is this even a romantic suspense? If I were a cynical bat, I’d suspect that this was originally a small town romantic comedy hastily reworked at the last minute with the addition of some throwaway romantic suspense elements. These two go to Salvation only by the midway point of this story – before that, it’s all conversations, fast food porn (really), mental lusting, and two supremely annoying male characters throwing in Buffy-speak one-liners like they are teenage girls who have stuffed a roll of sock down their crotches and are now desperate to be seen as secret agent dudes in an upcoming sitcom. Even after that, the pacing and tension never rack up even by a slightest degree. Let me put it this way: Cate and Damon can have sex several times, talk endlessly about everything from burgers to their fee-fees, and trip over someone wanting to attack Cate once in a while like this is all a walk in the park before retreating to some cozy love shack.
Seriously, the two speaking bathos buttocks are aggravating here. Damon was like this in previous entries, but he of course goes all mysterious and brooding here because romance heroes can’t do that “Tee-hee-hee, wisecrack!” thing without their penises shrinking to under half an inch in the reader’s eyes. However, Damon is replaced by two – two! – of those things here, and their inappropriately-timed one-liners ensure that I will never be able to take any scene with gravity seriously. Given that The Protector isn’t a slapstick suspense comedy, Butthole and Buttocks end up ruining everything by destroying all tonal consistency in this story. Oh, it’s so sad, he just bared his heart to her, and…. WISECRACK! HA-HA! Oh, sod off.
Anyway, I’m not sure how well the romance is, when taken into consideration separate from everything else about the story, because the execution is a tonal mess, with the lack of suspense in a romantic suspense as well as the author’s deliberate efforts to destroy the build-up in any remotely emotional moment with awkwardly timed “witty” interjections by the clown sidekicks. If anything, this one convinces me that HelenKay Dimon may just write better romantic comedies than romantic suspense.
In the end, though, The Protector is a missed opportunity to an insulting degree. Why have a cult-like setting only to come up with this half-baked, suspense-free thing?