I’m a fangirl of Julie Cohen’s writing, particularly because she can blend sharp, smart, witty writing with characters who contain emotional depth and a unique perspective on UK-set contemporary romance. Cohen is funny, intelligent, and vivid in her stories, and I love reading them. But while I loved the hero and the setting of this book, the heroine and the mystery in the plot left me wanting more.
Sophie Tennant is a private investigator who specializes in honey traps. She’s hired by women who suspect their husbands or boyfriends are cheating. Sophie then lures them into situations wherein she records them making passes at her, and provides the evidence to her client. But when a honey trap turns violent, Sophie closes up her shop, changes careers, and relocates to a small town. When she’s hired as the aromatherapist for an 80’s rock band on tour trying to stage a comeback, Sophie finds out that the bassist is Dominick Steele: a washed up former rock star – and her first honey trap. When Dominick realizes that Sophie is on tour with the group, he nearly walks, but he needs the chance to play music, and more specifically, he needs the money. He thinks she’s still a private investigator, and suspects her every move, but he can’t resist her. And Sophie can’t stay away from him.
Dominick is amazing. He’s struggling to remain sober after nearly killing himself with drinking, and is trying to turn his life into something worth while after being on top of the world and falling suddenly into a pit of self-made destruction. As an alcoholic and druggie trying to stay straight, Dominick’s struggles to avoid temptation, particularly on a rock tour, are heartbreaking, and Cohen does a plain amazing job of balancing Dominick’s flaws and weaknesses with his determination and talent. Plus, Cohen sets up a tangle for herself in terms of the hero and the heroine’s nobility and morality in the eyes of the reader: Sophie was very nearly Dominick’s “other woman” when he was drinking, using, and cheating on his wife. Sophie suspects him, Dominick doesn’t trust her, and they’re both ferociously attracted to each other.
At the heart of the story is Dominick’s struggles. Dominick is trying to be a better person, and trying to resist the oblivion and soothing numbness of being drunk and high. He’s trying, basically, to resist all temptation – and that includes Sophie. So witnessing his attempts to navigate a sexual temptation when he’s convinced he needs to remain abstinent of everything gives the reader a unique perspective on the tortured hero, and, for me personally, a wealth of respect for Dominick as a character.
However, what fell flat for me was the ending: the mystery was solved, the dastardly fools involved apprehended, and there was a somewhat hopeful yet tentative happy ending. But while the hero grew a lot, I thought the heroine, rather than appreciating her own accomplishments and her own ability to survive and grow, merely made room for more of the same things she didn’t like to begin with. When the story opens, she’s a private investigator who specializes in honey traps, most likely because she’s a young attractive female possessing of the allure of honey. Then she becomes an aroma and massage therapist, because that was among the limited options she had before her.
There’s one scene that illustrates what I’m talking about as far as Sophie’s development or lack thereof. When she’s studying to become an aromatherapist, her heart isn’t in it. She’d wanted to be a private investigator since she was a little girl, but when her job seizes too much of her safety, she moves on to something else. She takes courses and certifies in aromatherapy, and she painstakingly researches the perfect location to set up shop with her new skills, but her attitude toward her new job is not a credit to her character, and makes her seem shallow and somewhat deceitful:
Faithlessness, betrayal, lust, and greed: it would be a relief… to inhabit a world where everything could be cured by a few whiffs of a pleasant scent. Her fellow students on the aromatherapy course had been so optimistic…and Sophie had done her best to be like them. She’s always had a talent for blending in; she’d received top marks and one of her instructors had told her confidentially that she was one of the most gifted aromatherapists he’d ever trained.
She’s inherently talented, but she thinks the concept of aromatherapy is bunk. Her private investigation career is, in her opinion, no longer an option that makes her happy. So, this would be a perfect opportunity for Sophie to discover who she really is, and learn to appreciate the depths of talents she has, right? Well, sort of.
At the end of the story, Sophie goes back to her shop and hangs a sign: private investigations and aromatherapy.
She doesn’t so much become herself as make room for all these different parts of herself without really, it seems, learning who it is that she wants to be.
Despite that, Cohen’s story is a hoot. The interaction between the aging tour members – who are all unique and likable while remaining complex and real – is hilarious, from the musicians to the crew. There’s one scene when Sophie is treating the drummer with various therapies, and I literally giggled out loud:
“Come on, Mad Dog,” she said. “Juniper, black pepper and eucalyptus for your wrists. Muscle-healing and relaxation.”
“Wicked, a sneezy drunk koala bear,” said Mad Dog, and presented his wrists to her.
Honey Trap is about realizing that someone is more than a stereotype, and that proves true for all of the characters, except Sophie. I wished as a finished it that she had come to realize more about herself, but with the hopeful ending, I can choose to believe she did.