I’ve enjoyed a number of Laura Griffin’s Tracers series of romantic suspense novels, and have been impressed with her ability to craft fast-paced, complex plots that combine a bit of steam with action-packed set pieces and fascinating, behind-the-scenes detail. Desperate Girls is book one in a new series – Wolfe Security – which is linked to the Tracers books by virtue of the fact that security expert Liam Wolfe, the owner of the high-end private security firm is the hero of Shadow Fall (Tracers #9).
Defence attorney Brynn Halloran has a reputation as a ball-buster, which is just the way she likes it. Coolly professional and determined to get the job done, she’s tough as nails and lives for her job… which is just as well, because her personal life – what there is of it – is a bit of a mess. The case she’s working on right now is one that could make or break her career; it’s the first time her boss has given her the lead on such a high profile case as this one, in which a mixed-race teenager is accused of first-degree murder. Brynn knows he’s innocent and is sure she can win the case – until her key witness disappears just days before the trial is due to commence.
But there’s more bad news to come. Arrived at the offices of the small defence firm she works for, Brynn learns that her friend and mentor, Judge Jen Ballard, has been murdered in her own home. And that’s not all; the suspected killer, James Corby, escaped from prison just days before the murder, and he has reason to want to exact revenge on the two lawyers – Jen and Brynn – who secured his conviction, three years earlier, for the rape and murder of a number of women. When Brynn’s boss insists that she could be Corby’s next target and that she needs protection during the upcoming trial in Dallas, Brynn tries to argue against him – she doesn’t need some lumbering goon hanging over her 24/7 while she’s trying to track down a missing witness and save a young man’s life. But her boss is adamant and she’s overruled.
Erik Morgan, former Marine and ex-secret service, is one of Wolfe Security’s top operatives and is leading the team of six personnel assigned to protect Brynn and her co-counsel, Ross Foley. Erik is damn good at his job, and knows immediately that Brynn isn’t happy at having a round-the-clock bodyguard, but, well – tough. His team’s job is to protect her and Ross, and that’s what they’ll do, even to the point of taking a bullet for them if they have to.
There are thus two threads to the narrative; one concerning the murder of the judge and the hunt for Corby and the other centring around the murder trial, and these storylines are delivered in three different PoVs – Brynn’s, Erik’s and that of detective Lindsey Dillon, who is investigating Jen Ballard’s murder. Corby is a sadistic, frighteningly clever man who always liked to think he was one step ahead of the police and thrived on the publicity generated by his notoriety – and it’s clear he’s out to settle a score. But as her investigation progresses, Dillon begins to see certain anomalies in the killer’s MO, and realises that there’s something that doesn’t fit.
Sometimes, in a book with separate storylines that feature characters other than the main protagonists, I get frustrated when the focus shifts away from the principals – but that wasn’t the case here, as I was equally intrigued by the murder investigation and the trial plotline. The courtroom scenes near the end of the story are intense and very well done, the action scenes are great, and the pacing is excellent; the author does a great job of keeping the tension bubbling along and then ramping it up at key moments. So with all that going for it why, you ask, haven’t I awarded Desperate Girls a higher grade? Simply put – the book falls down in the characterisation of the hero and heroine.
Erik is likeable enough – tall, dark, handsome, fit, competent and an all-round good guy, he knows his job and isn’t about to let Brynn run rings around him because she doesn’t think she’s in danger. He makes a big thing of how important it is for him to remain focused at all times, and how he can’t afford to allow himself to be distracted by a smart, leggy redhead … and promptly does exactly that. To be fair, he does recognise what’s going on and tries to keep his distance, but … yeah, that doesn’t work out so well. Okay, this is, in part, a romance, and the bodyguard/protectee trope wouldn’t exist if the bodyguard maintained a professional distance at all times, so I could go with the flow on that. But as a character, Erik is barely two-dimensional and I never felt as though I got to know him outside of his relationship to Brynn and the assignment.
A bigger problem, however, is that I couldn’t warm to Brynn. I like stories featuring clever, tough, professional women who’ve earned their place in a man’s world (and who – to paraphrase Tom Thaves – can do everything a man can do but backwards and in high-heels), but the trouble with Brynn is that she’s stubborn to the point of stupidity. She refuses to believe her life could be at risk, in spite of the fact that people with far more experience of such things tell her it’s possible, and then, tries to make demands and changes to the operational procedure of the people who have been hired to protect her – again, in spite of the fact that they are experts and she is not. Her attitude leads her to do some really stupid things that put people other than herself at risk, which is something that always bugs me.
I’d still recommend Desperate Girls, because the story is intriguing and well-constructed, and I was entertained in spite of the flaws in the characterisation. I’ll be looking out for the next in the series and crossing my fingers I’ll find some more fully-rounded, engaging characters within its pages.