I've been reviewing for TRR since 1999. That's a long time. I get tired. I get fed up when the book gods decide they hate me and I have to read several crap books in a row. And believe me, I read every horrible, awful word when I'm reviewing it. I think about drinking Drano. I think about flying to NY and hunting down the editor and beating her bloody. And then, miracles of miracles, cooler heads prevail - usually because the slump breaks and something awesome drops in my lap.
I discovered Lisa Lawrence thanks to reviewing. I believe she was first published in England, and since she doesn't write romance, I'm not sure how many readers of this blog even know she exists. But I love her books, and let me tell you why.
Beg Me is the second book in her Teresa Knight series. Teresa is an odd job specialist - that is to say she isn't a slave to the grind. But every now and then she gets cash flow issues and takes on an investigation for a friend. In the first book, Strip Poker, it meant infiltrating the latest craze among London's elite - strip poker games where anything goes. In Beg Me, it's going undercover in a New York City BDSM cult to find out who murdered her friend.
The story opens in Bangkok where Teresa meets with marginally shady businessman, Jeff Lee. Jeff's sister, Anna, was found murdered in a seedy New York City back alley and the cops have declared it a drug buy gone bad. Anna was Teresa's masseuse, and friend, and the drug angle just doesn't wash. Jeff is convinced it was something else, because shortly after his sister's death he receives some disturbing photos in the mail - Anna trussed up in bondage gear, in pain, and enjoying it.
The story has a wonderful global sensibility - with Teresa going from Bangkok, to New York, to Nigeria, and back to New York to solve the case. The author takes her heroine off on tangents that seem unrelated at first (What does the Vietnam War have to do with anything?) and ties it up in such a fabulous way that I was practically screaming "bloody brilliant!" in the final chapters.
The author does tend to info-dump during the Nigeria portion of the story, but it's almost a necessity since all this dumb American knows about Nigeria is that it's a country in Africa (which I would wager is more than most Americans). I also love how Teresa is a citizen of the world. Raised in Britain, living in London, but African (her family is from Sudan). She thinks nothing of traveling the globe, getting her passport stamped, and irritating the police on several continents.
The BDSM angle is interesting, as it's a tool being perverted and used by the cult. Naturally, not all BDSM practitioners behave in a manner as this story illustrates - but give someone enough rope and they'll find a way to hang themselves if the desire is there (pun intended).
Random House has marketed Beg Me (and the first novel, Strip Poker) as erotic thrillers, and I think that's a very good description. Erotic Romance (when done right) uses the erotic elements to enhance the romance. Here, the eroticism is used to enhance the suspense angle. Readers who like their sex with some kink but with Sunshine Happy Rainbow tenderness underneath, aren't really going to find it here. Lawrence truly writes sex as being more than about love. That's not to say this novel is completely devoid of tenderness, there is some - but it's saved for the girl-on-girl action. That said, tenderness in this world is not without some sort of consequence, and it's when Teresa opens herself up to it that she becomes very vulnerable. While the novel ends "happily" in the sense that the bad guys get theirs, Teresa and others do not exit stage right completely unscathed. And that's all you're getting out of me.
I hope Lawrence is finding a readership here in the states. Sure there's a ton of erotic romance, and straight-up erotica out there these days - but blending it with a very (very) good suspense thread is not something readily available to the reading public. While I enjoyed Strip Poker, I did feel the author had a tendency to get a bit "talkie." Beg Me is much more streamlined, even as Teresa finds herself wandering off on seemingly unrelated tracks in the investigation. It's all tied up beautifully, but not without serious consequences for our heroine. I cannot recommend this book enough - from Teresa's smarts, to the morally ambiguous secondary characters, to the cracking good mystery. God, I hope there are more books coming in this series.
Final Grade = B+ (I'm tempted to give this one an A-, but even as good as it was, I'm not sure I'll ever reread it, so B+ it is).