This one is w-a-a-a-a-y Over The Top. In big bold letters. With an exclamation point! No, two!!
Superrich tycoon hero oceanographer. Mega-bucks. Mega-smart. Ex-SEAL. (Of course.) Painfully beautiful, so-frail-and-delicate-he-fears-she’ll-break heroine who can take care of herself and her pet dolphins (yes, that’s right) just fine, Mr. Rich Man. (Oh, she’s spunky, this girl!) Add in the fact that her horrific childhood would put the so-called horrific childhoods of every other heroine totally in the shade and the final result is a melodrama masquerading as romantic suspense.
I’ll admit right now that I proudly own very tattered and worn Loveswepts by this author that I’ve kept since the mid-80’s. Equally, her forays into historical romance resulted in quite a few long-time keepers for me. But, for my taste at any rate, the kind of overblown, florid plots and characters of which the author is so fond work far more effectively when she’s writing historicals or modern day fairy tales (as her categories certainly were). Regretfully, in the context of contemporary characters in contemporary romantic suspense, it all seems more than a little silly.
Melis Nemid’s life on a private Caribbean Island is abruptly interrupted when her erstwhile foster father Phil resurfaces in Greece after a long and mysterious absence. Worried about the perennial bad boy oceanographer (and dreamer) and what he might be up to, Melis makes the long trip to Athens to confront him. Meanwhile, Phil, it seems, has been trying unsuccessfully to contact gazillionaire oceanographer Jed Kelby by holding out a simple one-word lure: Marinth.
Marinth has very special meaning to both Melis and Jed since both have been haunted by lifelong vivid dreams involving the mysterious long lost Atlantis-like land. Obsessed by the possibility of discovering Marinth, Melis’s foster father is determined to enlist the vast forces at Jed’s disposal in a final push to locate the ruins and, of course, the treasures that might be found there. But, just as he’s succeeded in breaking through Jed’s minions to reach him, Melis arrives in Athens only to witness the explosion of Phil’s ship – an explosion that kills Phil and leaves her wounded.
His interest now thoroughly piqued – both by Melis and by the possibility of locating Marinth – Jed is far too sure of himself to be put off by Melis’ initial rejection of his assistance. But when her close friend is brutally murdered, Melis is forced to join forces with Jed to seek the murderer who has already taken the lives of two people she loves. Especially since the killer also delights in mentally torturing her through a series of bizarre and disturbing phone calls.
Jed Kelby is a standard-issue romance novel Alpha guy hero who wields his immense power effortlessly. And, while a rich hero is always a nice fantasy, Iris Johansen just went too far here with the SEAL stuff and his brilliance as a famous oceanographer. Hey, only Buckaroo Banzai is more over the top than this guy. Equally regretfully, Jed never advances beyond fantasy figure status. Not even remotely.
Now, Melis, though, I really grew to dislike. Telling you too much about her childhood would be a spoiler, but her “secret” is one of the most ridiculous I’ve ever come across in a contemporary. But, she hasn’t let it stop her, by gad, because she’s still the spunkiest gal for miles around. And her dolphins love her, too! Yes, they’re called Pete and Susie and they alone fully understand her pain and the desolate landscape that is her life. As someone who considers the day I spent at the Dolphin Research Center in Florida as one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life, even this was just too much.
As for bad guys, boy, do you have one here! Not only is he a ruthless killer, he’s also a sadist who is sexually obsessed by our darling Melis (all you have to do is take one look at her, you see). And, as if a ruthless killer, sexual sadist villain wouldn’t be bad enough, this one is also out to threaten the security of the entire world.
But, even with the overblown plot and over-the-top characters, I could have enjoyed Fatal Tide as a romance alone – well, at least I could have if I was ever able to believe in the supposedly very intense relationship between Jed and Melis. But, unfortunately, we don’t go there. Literally. I certainly don’t have any problems enjoying romances without sexual content, but offstage sex is far more problematic if the reader is supposed to firmly believe in the hero and heroine’s powerful sexual connection. In that instance, I always want to know how the couple relate to each other in bed and simply telling me that they had great sex just doesn’t cut it.
Despite the pleasure I’ve always found in Iris Johansen’s particular style of over the top romantic fantasy, in a modern romantic suspense story it just doesn’t work. Here’s hoping for either more historical settings or less florid contemporary work from this immensely talented author.