As teen and young adult I read a tons of mysteries and thrillers but since I started reading romance I have for the most part ignored Romantic Suspense. I picked up a couple via the library, but I didn’t have good experiences. Sometimes I didn’t buy into the premise of the book, or I couldn’t stand the ultra-macho protagonists, but I DNFed nearly every single one I tried. The closest thing to Romantic Suspense titles that I had any success with are the Kristen Ashley novels or Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series. Like anyone else when I tried enough books that didn’t work for me I start thinking that it was the whole genre that I didn’t care for. However when Carolyn Crane’s Off the Edge was released, I saw a lot positive reviews and recommendations for it on my twitter feed. I was intrigued by the idea of linguist hero (I loved my linguistics class in college) but I still hesitated to one-click because it was Romantic Suspense.
Then a few weeks ago, I found myself in the middle of big book shopping splurge thanks to the 90% off coupon from Kobo. I bought all books on wishlist that were eligible for the coupon, buying well over 50 books to add to TBR pile. Riding that 90% off high, I decided I could spend a few pennies to try a books outside my safe zone.
I decided to purchase both of of Carolyn Crane’s The Associates series books, based on the positive buzz for Off The Edge. I read them out of series order, so I will review them in the order I read them.
Off the Edge by Carolyn Crane ( The Associates Book 2):
The book opens with Laney, a young singer on the run, hiding out in Thai hotel, venturing out for a lonely celebratory birthday lunch, only to suspect her ex-husband’s men have finally tracked her down. She trusts her instincts and makes to flee put ends up trapped in storage closet paralyzed by uncertainty, till her best friend Rajini’s is able to retrieve her and bring her back to their hotel, downplaying her fears of discovery while at the same time warning her not leave the hotel without the say-so of her gangster/hotelier brothers. The incident wakes up Laney to the fact that she needs to move on soon, she is starting to realize how ill-prepared she is to do so, with her money tied up in Rajini’s bank accounts, unable to withdraw the funds by herself and her fake passport long expired. Unable to shake off the feeling of dangers but trying not to upset Rajini and her brothers, Laney starts making plans to improve her readiness while continuing her daily routines including her evening singing in the hotel lounge.
The hotel is crawling with unsavory people, and among them is a Associate, Macmillan, there to track down a dangerous but as of yet un-identified arms trafficker only known as the Jazzman, who is set to auction off a powerful stolen weapon. Macmillan specializes in tracking down un-traceable people through their words, and their vocal tics. He and his partner Rio set themselves up at the Hotel’s lounge to observe as representatives from arms dealers, and other organized crime groups gather to mingle in advance of the auction hoping to overhear something that will give them a lead on the Jazzman’s identity. Macmillan is however unexpected distracted much to his partner Rio’s amusement by Laney’s act. Macmillan ends up decoding her songs, identifying her poet heart and deducing she is in hiding and on the run. He is able to use this information to his advantage when he realizes that Laney has been making recording of her shows and on her computer might the data Macmillan needs to track down the Jazzman and the easiest way to get to it to seduce her, using his Linguistics Professor Peter Maxwell persona.
In his mind, he went back over her songs, flipping through them like a Rolodex of her heart.
As Prof. Peter Maxwell he is able to charm her into going out with him, even as he hesitates when he realizes how much he would have liked a girl just like when Peter Maxwell wasn’t just a persona, but his actual self. Despite his claim of not doing damsels in distress before long Peter’s agenda has shifted from using Laney in order to identify & stopping the Jazzman and retrieving the stolen weapon, to ensuring Laney escapes Bangkok unharmed.
What I loved: Macmillan is jaded and cold, having closed himself off to emotion in reaction to a tragic events that launched his covert-operative career. While Macmillan can break part language into analyzable data for a living, Laney is that one who is able to puzzle out the whole man from the pieces he has broken himself into. There is some wonderful word play in the book, great flirtatious banter and fantastic action. I felt the suspense was very well paced, allowing the characters to form believable connections and develop intimacy while building up the danger.
The villain in the story was also genuinely terrifying. Some of the plans he has for Laney made my hair stand on end.
What I didn’t: While I can understand how Laney was manipulated into staying in Thailand with Rajini and her brothers long after she should have left, her loyalty borders on recklessness, especially when she continued to dismiss her own instincts. I understood her to be a naturally passive person, whose years with her husband trained her to avoid conflict, but it drove me a bit nuts.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
Against the Dark by Carolyn Crane (The Associates Book 1)
Angel Ramirez is retired safe-cracker whose childhood friends and former partners have recruited to do one a job in order to ransom one of their loved ones. They pose as prostitutes to inflitrate the home of Walter Borgola, a perverted and cagey criminal kingpin whose diamond collection they are after. It is a very dangerous job, because Borgola is known to be paranoid about security and has surrounded himself with a violent and cruel crew. While doing the job, Angel attracts the attention of Cole Hawkins, one of the Association’s agents, who is undercover in Borgola’s organization and has risen to be one his top security men.
“Have you spotted bad boyfriend material? White Jenny asked. “Imagine that. At a party like this!”
Cole is a logistical expert, who specializes on putting together seemingly unconnected information together to take down criminal organizations. Cole needs information stored in one of Borgola’s safes to avert a tragedy and Angel’s heist is both a complication and opportunity. He tracks Angel down and use White Jenny & Macy as leverage to get her to agree to return to Borgola’s mansion posing as his girlfriend and help him locate and crack Borgola’s second secret safe.
Angel knew he would be dangerous to her from the moment she spotted him at the party, not because he was on Borgola’s security team but because she was drawn to him and she had uncanny ability to find herself attracted to doomed men she can never save.
Macy smiled. “So says the Jane Goodall of the self-destructive man.”
Cole devoted to his job and mission has no problem blackmailing Angel into helping, and throwing her under the bus if it all goes wrong, until he doesn’t. He grows in admiration of her covert skills, and courage, getting to know her as person, figuring out her secrets, until he realizes he can’t sacrifice her, but keeps that information to himself because he can’t let himself get entangled with her and the best way to avoid it that is to push her away.
He wanted to tell her that, suddenly. He wanted to be alone with her and hold her and tell her about how if you felt scared of a thing and did it anyway, it mean you were brave and strong.
What I loved: I am sucker for stories where people try to deny their attraction for each other, and fight their love tooth and nail. I loved how complex Angel and Cole’s relationship becomes as they both zig and zag to try to avoid revealing vulnerabilities to each other. They lie to themselves and to each other, while at same time learning to depend on each other.
I loved being able compare and contrast Cole and Angel’s reasons for being drawn to dangerous covert work and the way the work has built up some relationships and damaged others. I particularly liked how you could see in their relationships with their associates the foundations of what Angel and Cole could give each other. Angel’s heist was daring and exciting, feeding her need for thrills and it revealed her friendship with White Jenny & Macy was genuine and believable. She never loses sight of them even as Angel is drawn into working with Cole. Cole’s associates enter the picture late in the book, but they are also shown to have bonds deeper and truer than they would ever acknowledge, but it shows in the little things they know about each other. It was also ton of fun to see Rio and Macmillan show up to help, after having met them in the second book.
4.5 out 5 Stars
I actually liked Against the Dark slightly more than Off the Edge despite having a more conventional premise because I liked how competent Angel was. While Laney’s is the kind of partner Peter needs, her skill set is essentially limited to her emotional and verbal ability and agility and Angel is the whole package. While Peter is the more interesting hero, Cole is still fascinating, and I was happy with their respective HEA. I am looking forward to other books in this series, and excited to realize that I do like Romantic Suspense after all.