Monday, October 8, 2007

It's Raining Men

I know a lot of romance readers who aren't wild about romantic suspense because in their words, "Too much suspense, not enough romance." I'm exactly the opposite. When I read the genre, I like suspense first, romance second. Ann Bruce's first novel, Fall Dead, should fit the bill for those readers who like the genre heavy on the romance. Unfortunately I found aspects of that romance a bit problematic.

NYPD detective Nick Markov's partner has had another fight with his gorgeous, model wife and that means it's up to Nick to roust a drunken Ethan out of the bar and haul his sorry butt home. Parked in front of his partner's high-rise apartment building, Nick is pulling a surly Ethan out of the passenger seat when the sky opens up and a dead body lands smack on top of Nick's SUV. The two guys that flee the scene tell Nick that the swan dive was no suicide.

The dead body is Andrew (Drew) Langan, business mogul and son of one of New York's most prominent families. Needless to say, the heat is on to solve this case and immediate suspicion falls on Augusta Langan, Drew's soon-to-be-ex-wife. But his gut (and his Mr. Happy) tell Nick that she didn't do it. When her life is threatened, his gut (and his Mr. Happy) have confirmation.

Augusta has a traumatic past, and married her best friend for emotional security. Then Drew confesses to an affair and Augusta realizes that their passionless marriage isn't terribly fair to either of them. She wants the divorce, and while Drew doesn't, he's agreed to give it to her. There's oodles of money involved, and naturally Augusta (who is still Mrs. Langan) stands to benefit. Cops tend to follow the money, as does the press. Life becomes Hell rather quickly. Which means relying on the one person who actually thinks she didn't kill her best friend - none other than Detective Nick Markov.

This is a pretty good debut novel, and the author certainly opens it up with a bang. I was immediately intrigued by the suspense angle, and was curious about who wanted Drew dead enough to kill him in such a gruesome fashion. Unfortunately, the romance didn't work as well for me, namely because by page 50 Nick and Augusta are making out like two horny teenagers in his car. He's a cop. She's a suspect. He's shoving his tongue down her throat before he has any "proof" (other than "his gut" and Mr. Happy) that she didn't hire someone to toss her soon-to-be-ex off his penthouse balcony. Then before we get to page 70 he's practically molesting her in a police interrogation room.

Is it hot stuff? Damn skippy! Terribly believable? Hell no.

I also found the timeline a bit problematic. We're talking about a week, and within that time Augusta (remember, traumatized past) decides to chuck her birth control and get down to the business of procreating. She tells Nick, who is all for the idea. I have a hard time believing a woman with Augusta's past would happily think of becoming a baby-making factory after knowing a guy for a week - but hey, that's me.

But the romance isn't an entire wash - there is the chemistry. While Nick and Augusta have a tendency to bicker early on, once they're past that the sex practically sends the pages up in smoke. Even as a reader who wasn't convinced of their twu-wuv, I totally got the lust. Hot dog!

It's the suspense that's really interesting here, but frankly it's hard to remain disinterested with such an imaginative opening chapter. Suspense relies heavily on "hooks." You've got to have a crime that will "grab" the reader or what's the point in reading the whole story? And that's why I kept reading. Even though the romance left me lukewarm, I had to know who killed Drew Langan and why they threw him off his balcony. But I'm a morbid girl by nature.

I found some of the transitions in the writing a bit awkward, but I suspect it was more due to the formatting than the author. I read a print edition from Cerridwen Press (it's also available as an ebook) and they didn't clearly mark page/paragraph breaks when the focus in the story shifted. Suspense stories often employ head-hopping, as Bruce does here, and the style can work, but the publisher really needs to toss in those page breaks. Just saying.

Final Verdict? Good suspense, so-so romance. Final Grade = B-


Alie said...

Have you ever read Heather Lowell's When The Storm Breaks? It's pretty similar in some areas. I liked it, but mainly for the chemistry as you said. Not for the believability lol.

Ann Bruce said...

Thanks, Wendy!