Desert Isle Keeper
Off the Edge
Romantic suspense is one of the most “difficult to do well” sub genres in romance. If the romance works the suspense is often weak. If the suspense is fabulous, the romance is often unbelievable.
But those of us who like romantic suspense got lucky in 2013. Carolyn Crane published two books in her The Associates series. The first of these, Against the Dark, is a very good book. The second, Off the Edge, is even better.
Peter McMillan was, in an earlier life, a brilliant scholar of linguistics. His life was shattered ten years ago when a bomb on a train blew up everyone he loved. Now he’s a covert agent who works for the Association, a ruthless, shadowy, vigilante organization dedicated to, as its leader Dax says, “keeping the balance of power intact. Keeping World War III from happening. And stopping the most despicable crimes.” Peter, in addition to being a stone cold killer, is a hunter. And his choice of weapon is language.
Nobody escaped Macmillan. Back when he had been a rising star in the linguistics world, he could spend entire months studying the way different people pronounced a diphthong like the ow in low, and draw all kinds of conclusions about what that meant. He could see a universe in a single word choice. He used his expertise to understand people, and by extension, humanity itself.
Peter is in Bangkok, along with representatives from every evil corner of the world. They’ve all gathered because a weapon, a weapon which will give its owner the ability to rule the world, is being put up for auction by the criminal Jazzman. The Associates are there to make sure the good guys get the weapon. The problem is no one knows who Jazzman is. Peter, however, has studied everything the Association has on Jazzman, and will be able to identify him if he can hear him speak.
Jazzman is indeed coming to Bangkok to auction off the weapon, the TZ – 5. He is also coming to capture his ex-wife, a woman who turned him over to the law and then ran. This woman, Laney Lancaster, has been hiding out in Bangkok for the past two years, living in the Bangkok Imperiale Hotel Des Roses, owned by a family of Thai criminals, where she thinks she is safe. Laney too loves words; she’s a singer songwriter who performs nightly at the hotel. Unfortunately for Laney Jazzman has chosen the Hotel Des Roses as the place to hold his iniquitous auction.
Peter is drawn to Laney from the moment he hears her sing. That’s not why he seduces her, however. He beds her in order to steal her recording of the night’s show from her laptop. He thinks there’s a good chance that if he listens to all the voices of those watching her show – almost all of whom are there for the TZ – 5 auction – he’ll be able to figure out who Jazzman is.
Ms. Crane takes this very suspenseful set up and imbues it with enough adrenaline to keep readers eagerly and anxiously flipping the pages. Within a few chapters, seemingly everyone is after Laney and Peter as they wend their way through the back alleys of Bangkok. It seems impossible Laney will be able to escape her heinous troll of a husband, the Associates will be able to get their hands on the TZ–5, or Peter will survive to live another day let alone find a way to live happily ever after. Just as in the Ice series, it’s unclear whom Laney can trust and whom Peter can rely on. The two are forced to work together in order to survive and together they make a damn good team and a surpassingly sexy couple.
There are so many great things about this book. The plot is excellent, the suspense riveting, the location palpable, the secondary characters stark and interesting, and the writing brilliant. Peter and Laney have incredible chemistry, physical and verbal. The conversations are full of wit, sex, and smarts.
Take this scene where Laney is trying to rescue Peter who is trying to convince her to save herself instead.
She paused only a moment. “I get it.” She began to unbend a paperclip. “You don’t want me in danger or something, so you’re being jerky. Chivalry noted and rejected.”
“Is that what I’m doing?”
“I think it is.”
She felt his eyes on her.
“And this is the expert assessment from the woman who thinks a cornpone hee-haw singing show is a capital way to hide?”
His words were a punch in the gut.
She tried not to show it. “Excuse me?”
“Cornpone hee-haw singing show,” he repeated. “It’s rather precise, don’t you think? Hardly needs a supporting cast.”
“I know what you’re doing,” she said.
“You don’t know the first thing about me.”
“I know you think words are your bitch. Just some shell game for you to play. Making things real that aren’t, or putting a new face on things you don’t like. But guess what?” She fixed him with a good glare. They were close enough to kiss, but that wasn’t in the air now. “When a man is chained up in a cage like a circus tiger, then it’s the right thing to help him. And doing the right thing is always the right thing. And I’ll tell you something else: when a dog gets run over by a car, it’s a goddamn tragedy, not an exercise in phonemes. So take the fucking paperclip and unlock yourself.”
He laughed that beautiful laugh.
You think it’s funny?”
Oh it’s not funny so much as delicious,” he said. “I see you read my book.”
“That’s right. A whole lot of bunk designed to hornswoggle folks.”
“What a coincidence,” he said. “That’s what I was planning on calling my next book. A Whole Lot of Bunk Designed to Hornswoggle Folks Two. What do you think?”
I love this book. It’s nearly flawless. It gets an A from me.