When her ex-husband Frank died mid-divorce, he left Suzanne Mayhew with a lot of questions (was he cheating?) and some classic cars he never let her drive. Forty-something Suzanne is about fifteen years older than hot cop Neil Callahan, who wants to take her Mustang for a drive – and yeah, that can also be a metaphor. But the test drive becomes more interesting when he not only finds that he and Suzanne have a mutual and compatible dominance/submission sexual attraction, but they also find themselves evading mysterious pursuers. Character-driven romance and well-developed sex scenes elevated generic romantic suspense to create a book that is worth a look.
What made the sex scenes work was the specificity. I don’t mean in a technical or visual/storyboard sense, but in the sense that they read as very grounded in “the scene,” as the book generally refers to BDSM subculture. I can’t speak to its accuracy from personal experience, but it all felt realistic and reasonable – that a doubled-up belt sounds louder and “really fucked with a sub’s head, making it seem like something more violent was going on than really was,” or the emotional overload that Suzanne experiences after a time together. I appreciated Neil’s insistence on clarifying Suzanne’s consent for their acts and setting up a safeword. This was definitely not a “I know what your body needs better than you do” story. Neil’s more “You say you need a guy to spank you? Well, I’m happy to test that hypothesis. But we can stop any time if you change your mind.”
The author integrated sex into the characters’ journeys. Suzanne worries that she’s using submitting to Neil as a way to distract herself from the fallout from Frank’s death. The book includes several revelations about Frank and her marriage, and she grapples with guilt for continuing to have such intense and emotional experiences with Neil when she hasn’t closed the book on her time with Frank. I also appreciate that Frank – why are so many bad exes named Frank? – turns out to be more complex than just “cheating ex to get us on Suzanne’s side and give her a reason to have to start over,” although I facepalmed that a guy dealing in top-secret high end IT had such a pathetic passcode for his phone. (Yes, I know it happens in real life. I facepalm about it in real life, too.)
The phone is just one example of how the suspense plot is less successful. The author resorts to a couple of old standbys (the thing the villains are looking for is miraculously out of the house when they ransack it; the protagonists have something to search but postpone searching it until it’s convenient for the plot rather than doing it right away as any sane person would). At one point, Suzanne takes off on an errand that could not be more obviously ill-fated if lightning had flashed, and Neil the cop decides to invite himself along for a rescue when another agency is conducting an operation. The author does have him get in trouble for it, but that was a truly insane decision for anybody who isn’t hoping to put “friendly fire” as his cause of death.
As a suspense novel, it’s a by-the-numbers C. As an erotic novel, closer to an A-. If you want a moderately kinky and likeable consensual Dom/sub couple, and a book that at least to an outsider feels like an authentic representation of that lifestyle, this book is a solid pickup.
This book is also available in digital for $5.50 from Amazon and other retailers.