Desert Isle Keeper
For a few years in the early 2010s, Kristen Ashley was the bingiest of binge authors. I have had mixed impressions of her books, mostly driven by the fact that her heroes are overbearing. However, 2012’s Law Man rises above the rest, because if there’s one type of overbearing hero I can get behind, it’s a hero who bosses his way into helping with childcare. You go, Mitch.
Mara Hanover lives across the hall from Detective Mitch Lawson, but unfortunately, Mara knows all too well that he’s out of her league (Mitch, of course, knows no such thing). Mara grew up as the daughter of the trashiest trash in the trailer park, and her mother effectively conditioned Mara to believe there are attractive, successful, worthy people like Mitch, a 10.5 on Mara’s scale, and then there’s Mara, who can hit a 2.5 on a good day. When her cousin’s neglect endangers Mara’s beloved niece and nephew, she steps up to take them in – in her mind, further evidence that she’s a bad bargain for a hot single neighbor. But Mitch is undeterred.
‘Oblivious heroine’ is one of my favorite tropes, possibly because I relate a little too well. Mara does not have a single clue that she is attractive, to Mitch or to anybody else. Every time Mitch reaches out to her, whether it’s to fix her plumbing or invite her to dinner, she flails for every rationale under the sun – neighborly! Helpful police officer! Guilt-ridden! Polite! – to explain his actions in a way that doesn’t have the hubris of imagining herself to be attractive. I did think that her numerical rating system was overdone as a device, but I saw Mara as deeply scarred by her spiteful mother, and so shy that she’s humiliated just imagining how it would feel to risk believing a man was interested and being wrong. As a heroine, Mara may not work for everyone, but as someone who was actually invited out to dinner by a guy and didn’t realize I was being hit on, well, I get it.
And then there’s Mitch. Like I said, Ashley is known for her heroes, who are called capital-M ‘Men’ by fans and ‘alpholes’ by detractors. Mitch is certainly assertive, but unlike many Ashley heroes and alpholes in general, is assertive in an entirely reasonable way. Your classic alphole is domineering about the heroine’s career, wardrobe, arousal (‘you know you want me’), etc. Mitch is domineering about… childcare. Yep. Mara is sure Mitch isn’t serious when he offers to babysit entire weekends while she works her retail job – what single cop wants to watch the elementary-aged offspring of a drug-addicted criminal on his days off? But Mitch cares about Mara and the kids, and he’ll be damned if Mara doesn’t let him pitch in. ‘Let me take care of your kids, woman!’ is a kind of bossiness I can live with. Also, unlike other Ashley heroines, who are typically self-confident, Mara is genuinely messed up. Mitch’s pushiness felt justified as the only way to crack her insecure exoskeleton.
At the core of this plot is Mitch, Mara, and the kids, Billy and Billie, forming a family, and the book is at its best when it focuses on this. Both of the kids are well-developed, and the author doesn’t skimp on what it means to take care of them. I didn’t love the suspense plot, which is part of the overarching Russian mob conflict of the Dream Man series, and the fact that there are more books to come means it’s not resolved in a satisfying way here.
I’ve read the other two books in the series (yes, even the beloved Motorcycle Man), and suffice it to say, neither of them motivated me to write up a review. If this is your situation with Ashley, but you think you’d enjoy an insecure heroine and assertive caretaker heroes, I strongly encourage you to drop your preconceptions and give Law Man a shot. I’m glad I did.