I love both romances that are heavy on action and books with heroines that kick ass. So when I heard about Trash Course and saw that it added action and kicking ass to a house packed to the brim with old stuff and a sexy photographer, I was hooked and pressed the “Buy” button. I wasn’t sorry, as the book proved hugely enjoyable.
In the prologue to the story, we meet Terry Faye and her employer Diana Hawk, as they rescue an American boy from a child trafficking ring in Russia. The scene is heavily reminiscent of the opening of any James Bond movie, and delivered tongue in cheek. Terry’s next job is slightly less exciting: A lady with strong allergies asks Hawk Enterprises to help her in entering her aged uncles’ house, from whom she hasn’t heard in weeks, and about whom she is quite worried. The uncles are recluses and compulsive hoarders, and their large villa is filled to the brim with trash of all sorts. There are some paths, complete with booby traps, so the whole house is one large, dusty, and smelly labyrinth. And they are not alone in investigating it: Soon they come across two corpses and photographer Zack Archer, who may or may not have an agenda of his own.
The novel is divided into two parts which are quite distinct from each other but manage to both be enjoyable. First, there is the exploration of the house and some background investigation about the uncles. That is great fun. The atmosphere in the house is developed so evocatively that it almost becomes a character in its own right. Add to that the slowly-developing relationship between prickly Terry and charming Zack, and you’re in for a lot of fun.
In the second half, the action really kicks in and, without giving away too much, I can say it’s gripping and far more serious than the first half of the book, though it fits the crime that is at the back of all the strange events taking place.
Terry is rather enigmatic at first, and there are only hints of some very dark shadows in her past. These are revealed to the reader later, but not to anyone else, so that I felt Terry was not quite as rounded a character as she could have been. Zack’s secrets (of course he has some) are used to greater effect – partly plotwise and partly for plain fun. What I loved best about these two was their relationship, though. Zack needs the cooperation of Hawk Enterprises if he wants to stay involved in the investigation, so he sticks to Terry like a (likeable) burr. When it comes to getting her to cooperate, he never ever tries to order around or emotionally blackmail her, instead he relies on the fine art of persuasion and making a deal. I cannot begin to tell you how refreshingly different that was from oh-so-many romance heroes out there, and how delectable I found him.
What should also be mentioned is the setting. The novel mostly takes place in Ann Arbor, an unusual location for a romance, and while I’ve never been there, I got a feeling of the town that made it feel very real for me.
This may be the first book in a series, and the romance is only at its beginning by the end of the book, hence the “kisses” rating. I for one would love to read more about Terry, Zack, Diana Hawk, and their assorted associates. It was only after finishing the novel that I realised “Penny Drake” is an pseudonym for SciFi writer Steven Harper aka Steven Piziks. Maybe it’s partly the male author behind the female first-person narrator that makes this book so subtly but refreshingly different. Be that as it may, Trash Course earns my strong recommendation.