Back in September, Susan contacted me about a Carla Kelly book she had reviewed. She emailed me again recently about her discovery that sometimes, paranormal elements in a contemporary romantic suspense novel can work. Here's her review of how and why that's true for her.
I discovered Lisa Marie Rice when I started to read hotter romances and she quickly became a favorite. I adore her earlier books, like the Midnight series, and her single titles. But her books have gotten a bit formulaic recently: super alpha ex-military heroes who have instalove for the less experienced and/or damaged heroines, heroes that protect the heroines at all costs, and hot sex with behavior and descriptions that are often repeated from book to book. However LMR remains my reading crack. The books are fast-paced and I look forward to the next one, always. I figured the first book in the new Ghost Ops series would be more of the same. When I realized that Heart of Danger was a move into paranormal, I hesitated.
I am not a paranormal fan—I have read a few here and there but for the most part it is not my cup of tea. I particularly dislike paranormal elements in contemporary stories. I stopped reading Shannon McKenna’s McCloud brothers and Maya Banks’ KGI series when they added paranormal heroines. Romantic suspense stories operate in a heightened version of our world, and adding the paranormal element just blows it out of the water for me. Even in contemporary romances, I just cannot buy into witches with powers and all that stuff—I have stayed away from Lisa Kleypas’s Friday Harbor series for that same reason.
So here’s the surprise: Heart of Danger worked for me. Not 100% but enough that I will at least read the next book. This is not my favorite LMR book, but the things I don’t like about it have nothing to do with the paranormal element. The book is set about 10 years in the future, in a world where the US has a female president and the iPhone 15 is on the market, among other things. Some things are the same but there is enough difference from now that makes the world of this book different. And so I was able buy into the paranormal in a way I wouldn’t in a contemporary romantic suspense. In addition, LMR has tweaked her formula a bit.
The romance is a beauty and the beast story. Tom McEnroe, called Mac, is very tough ex-Special Forces soldier. He is in hiding with two other teammates; they were framed as traitors after an op gone wrong that killed his commander and three other teammates. Mac is described as huge, strong, and ugly. He was never handsome and his line of work has made things worse, with a flattened nose, long knife scar on one side of his face, and a big burn scar on the other side.
Dr. Catherine Young is a physician who has turned to brain research. When she makes skin-to-skin contact with a person, she can “read” their emotions. Because of this ability, she leads a very isolated life. As is typical of stories about someone with this type of ability Catherine has had to learn that not everyone perceives what she does, and that she needs to keep quiet about the extra things she learns. Thus, she was a social outcast as grew up, and she remains a loner. Her special ability has affected her dating life most particularly, since she sees into the soul of anyone she touches and has been terrified by most of what she has learned. She touches a date and sees his inner anger, in one example. I have often found that the reasons for the lack of experience of LMR heroines (often near-virginal) somewhat implausible given modern behavior, but in this case it makes sense.
Catherine works in a pharmaceutical research lab, studying end-stage dementia patients. Most of her patients are too far gone for her to read their emotions when she touches them. But she is able to get a reading from one of her patients. He “tells” her to go find Mac, and off she goes, driving her electric car into the mountains on a cold snowy night. Her car shuts down in the snow—due to Mac’s security—and he brings her to his hideout and is instantly entranced (instalust), although suspicious about how she knew where to find him. Once Catherine convinces him that she is not a spy and knows something he needs to know, the instalove is ON.
The Villain is an executive/researcher with the parent pharmaceutical company. Like many other LMR books, he seeks geopolitical world domination, in this case by creating a drug that will turn regular soldiers into supersoldiers. Slight spoiler here: the patient that sent Catherine off to find Mac is his former commander, presumed dead. Mac and his team are off to rescue the commander, reluctantly bringing Catherine with them because she knows the facility. Some of the special ops future technology they use during the rescue is pretty cool. But eventually all hell breaks loose, and (spoiler) Catherine nearly dies (end spoiler). I am not sure that I buy into how that issue was resolved but this is LMR, so over-the-topness is to be expected.
The Villain is not caught, and the success of the mission actually piques his interest in Catherine—he realizes there is something special about her. Presumably this will be part of the focus in the next book, due out in July.
Mac is a typical LMR hero: super strong, super leader, and super in love. Like the typical LMR heroine Catherine has a professional career of substance. But in a break with past heroines, she is a direct actor in the rescue and in fact is a necessary component. The sex is typical LMR as well, for better or worse (since she tends to use the same descriptions). I wish she would show more about why her h/h are attracted to each other, especially emotionally. This is my overall quarrel with all her recent books, not just this one, though.
The world-building and futuristic elements were pretty well done. Most of the technology has a basis in existing technology, although there wasn’t a description of what the iPhone 15 does that is different from current models. Catherine’s car, the security used by the research lab, and the set-up and security of Mac’s community all include technology that exists, although there are also many things that are super advanced. But we don’t go 10 years into the future and end up with the Jetsons.
Some aspects of the world-building were very much over the top. I question is how Mac got his community up and running so fast? If I have my timeline correct, the op gone wrong takes place a year and a half before this story. During that time, Mac and his teammates Jon and Nick have created a very sophisticated and large multilevel hide-out and have been joined by a substantial number of people who want or need to drop off the grid. The growing community includes builders, nurses, a cook who is a former Hollywood star in hiding (and why isn’t Access Hollywood looking for this woman?), and other various workers. They even grow a lot of their own food—underground! I know the setting was described as isolated but in this era of Google Earth, the comings and goings, and the disappearance of people, would certainly be noticed.
This is not my favorite LMR but it worked well enough for me to keep reading. The futuristic setting helped make the paranormal element to work for me. Overall grade, B -.