Monday, January 13, 2014

The Man Behind the Mask

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0373742738/themisaofsupe-20
There was some "unpleasantness" in the Bat Cave last week, and I called in sick to work one day.  I always feel guilty calling in sick to work.  When you work in public service and you have "good" coworkers, well I always feel like I'm abandoning them.  Silly, I know.  However if I could spend all my days away from the office reading stories like The Man Behind the Mask, the first in a new trilogy from Barbara Wallace?  Yeah, I'd get over my guilt pretty darn quick.  I'd also start pouring over medical texts to find various "ailments" that could befall me at a moment's notice.

Delilah St. Germaine knows it's stupid, but she's got a horrible crush on her suave, sexy boss, Simon Cartwright.  A mover and shaker at his family's advertising agency, Simon is the kind of guy who attends various and sundry charity events in New York City with beautiful women who are either 1) models 2) actresses 3) aspiring models or 4) aspiring actresses.  He's way out of her league.  Sure, she's a great PA but she knows who and what she is.  She's a girl from Kansas that men like Simon Cartwright look right through.  And now she finds herself having to spend the weekend with him in Boston working to land a big, key new account.  Gee, that's not going to be torturous at all!

Simon is all flash and no substance - so it would seem.  In reality he's a guy who is play-acting his way through life.  Yes he's handsome, wears the right clothes, pours on the charm, and keeps his romantic entanglements strictly superficial.  However that's not who he is.  The real Simon is a man hiding a lot of pain, running away from a traumatic past that he's swept under the rug instead of confronting head-on.  That traumatic past happened in Boston, and now he's on this business trip, back in the city that irrevocably changed him15 years ago.  He's not handling his return all that well, and into this mix, when he's already off balance?  Delilah.  His attractive personal assistant whose mere presence seems to be the only thing keeping him from slipping right over the edge.

Explaining what makes a really good category romance is often an intangible thing.  The simplest explanation, for me, is that you'll know it when you read it.  This story has that indefinable "magic" that all really good category romances do.  It's a perfect tasty morsel, a candy-coated confection wrapped around an emotionally gutting story.  Two characters, perfectly matched, seemingly with nothing in common, but in truth they have everything in common.  They can only belong with each other.  One doesn't make sense without the other.  Which is exactly what happens with Simon and Delilah.  Two characters both hiding secret pain, both characters who have had to "act" their way through life because of pasts that were traumatic and trying. 

So often when it comes to emotional baggage in this vein, events that happened to the characters when they were children or teenagers, it can be easy to dismiss.  It's never fun to read about a character's endless pity party, and the trick for the author is to write it in a manner where the characters don't come off as sad sacks.  Delilah found herself having to tap-dance, put on a brave face, when her father died and her mother fell apart in her grief.  She's "fine."  Everything is "great."  Because in reality?  It's not great.  Her mother has fallen apart and someone needs to keep the ship sailing.  That's an easy act to keep up even after Mom crawls out of her hole.  She can't very well tell Mom when she's "not fine" because what if that sends Mom back into a tailspin? 

Simon's baggage is a doozy.  Readers who love their heroes really damaged?  Yeah, this is your guy.  The best part of it is that not only is it horrifying and gut-wrenching, but it's also sadly believable.  Simon believes himself a coward, traumatized by an event that wasn't his fault, but unable to move forward from it because his method of "dealing with it" was to shut down.  In other words, it happened 15 years ago.  The past is dead.  Well, until the past comes back to bite you in the ass in the form of a key business trip and an assistant who looks at you with all-knowing and all-seeing eyes.  It's a very tough subject for the author to address though a character, but she does it exceedingly well with Simon, an emotional brick wall at the start of this story.  The author also, wisely, gives just enough back story on this event so that the reader is crystal clear on what happened, but we don't find ourselves wading through awful, horrible details.

It's a deceptively simple story, with zero in the way of external conflict (yeah, yeah - there's the mission of the business trip, but it's very minor).  This is all about the characters, their internal conflict, and them somehow getting to the point where they realize that they cannot live without the other one.  Not anymore.  Because that business trip in Boston shows them both that how they have been living?  Is not living at all.  Simon's past isn't something that will magically go away now that he's admitted to himself and Delilah how he truly feels about her - but you know what?  He's taken the first step.  These two kids, I think they're going to make it.

Grade = A-

10 comments:

Amy said...

I'm adding this one to my Nook. Love tortured heroes with a real internal conflict. Hmm, does that make me a Sadist?

Rowena said...

Holy goodness, this was a great review Wendy. I'm on my way to go and buy it right now.

Hilcia said...

Awesome review. And, it's about internal conflict, not outside, extraneous stuff. That's my kind of romance! Getting it!

Wendy said...

Amy: Oh, man - he's really tortured. And for a darn good, compelling reason. No silly baggage for this guy.

Rowena: I inhaled this in one sitting. I was home sick that day, and My Man called to check on me - and all I could think was "How dare he interrupt me while I'm reading this book!" LOL

Hils: There's the business trip "stuff" but honestly it just serves the purpose of moving the plot forward. The meat of the conflict really is all about the internal character angst. Great characters, great conflict, I couldn't get enough of this story while I was inhaling it.

Lynn Spencer said...

Oooh, that one sounds good. I'll have to give it a try. I'm a sucker for a good tortured hero/heroine!

nath said...

Hey, if you give it an A-, it's worth a look! I just hope it's not following the current Contemporary romance pattern... but you gave it an A-, so probably not!

Wendy said...

Lynn: It was good! I've had good luck with Wallace's books in the past - I need to go rooting around in her backlist....

Nath: I love the boss/secretary trope, even though in real life they can be a complete disaster and/or lawsuit waiting to happen. They have that fairy-tale quality to them, I think. Nice thing about this one is that while the author does sequel-bait a bit (two of the heroine's coworkers will eventually get their own books), there's not any of that cutesy-small-town-crap here. Story starts in New York, and the bulk of the action is set around Boston.

Amy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy said...

So, get this, I tried to go and post something about the book I read for this month's challenge (yes, I did read one, and, yes, it was done before the deadline), but Google is giving me an error on the page and I can't post anything. Argh! But I can put up a spiffy post title. Oh la la!

Anyway, for January, I read Heather MacAllister's Never Say Never, one of the last Temptations in 2005. Was it good? Sure. But for some reason I was left wanting a bit more -- maybe it's that minor aversion to categories I have and not feeling there's always enough room for the story. A minor minor thing, but there you have it.

Wendy said...

Amy: I was getting an error message for while with IE, but not in Chrome or Firefox. But I could click through it and still post. My latest issue (that just cropped up today!) has to do with image posting - so I'm hoping the problem is dealt with soon. But for now I have a work-around, just requires me to do things a little differently than my normal workflow.

And yeah for getting your book read even if you didn't post!