Book Review

Hunt Her Down by Roxanne St. Claire

B

Title: Hunt Her Down
Author: Roxanne St. Claire
Publication Info: Pocket August 2009
ISBN: 143910221X
Genre: Romantic Suspense

Hunt Her DownHere are some words that should never, ever begin a review:

I am not a romantic suspense fan. It’s true. I’ve said it many times. I’m not a big romantic suspense reader because when I try suspense novels, they let me down. Too much running around in nightgowns, too much violence and not enough romance and sexual tension—or what tension there is gets resolved so quickly that I have to wait for Baddy McBugfuck to meet his or her bloody demise and … meh. I’m not a fan.

If all romantic suspense novels were like Hunt Her Down by Roxanne St. Claire, I would not have any hesitation in reading more of them. St. Claire spanked my fears of weak romance vs. weak suspense, imperiled heroine with no spine vs. overmuscled manmeat toting gun saving her lily white ass, lukewarm villainy vs. overabundance of violence.

It is safe to say that despite my hesitation, I will try any novel with St. Claire’s name on it. Seriously, I’m that impressed. It takes a LOT of skill and sparkle to change my mind to a genre that has left a terrible impression on me. I’ve read too many rom-sus novels where the violence is extensive and clumsy, and serves as a substitute for suspenseful plotting, leaving me with nightmares and an ill stomach.

Hunt Her Down blends the creepy factor, the mystery and the puzzle of good suspense, the romantic tension and emotional tauntness of romance, and action and danger to create a believable balance. That balance is required and through most of the novel, St. Claire nails it. It’s funny and sharp, it’s scary and tense, it’s romantic and sizzlingly sexual. The surrounding characters are real, and even if the situation they’re in is unreal to them, it’s still believable to me.

Maggie Smith has a new life: she runs her late husband’s bar in the Florida Keys, she’s a single mom to her teenage son, Quinn, and she’s doing her best to keep her life above water level. But she has a big secret in her past – fourteen years prior, she’d been a drug smuggler’s girlfriend, while having a fierce affair with a man named Michael Scott – until she witnesses Scott being shot and killed in a raid gone bad. In that same moment, she runs away into the night, leaving everything in her life – which wasn’t much to begin with – behind her.

Dan Gallagher, once upon a time, was Michael Scott, and when the drug lords he put away all those years ago are released from prison, he goes south to find Maggie, once again undercover, once again trying to resist how much he wants her. This time, he is the one who has his well-controlled world blown to pieces.

Maggie is flawed but sensual, aware that she’s hot and even more aware of her responsibilities. She owns her sexuality. She’s tough, but she knows she’s vulnerable – and carries with her regret for how fucked up her life had become when she was younger, equaled by determination to do better by her own son.

I loved her. I loved that she was sexy, I loved that she could own her desires and her flaws, and I loved that she knew she needed help even though she wanted to go hide behind a sand dune until everyone disappeared and forgot about her again.

The hero, Dan, is tough—the type of man who wouldn’t dare show his flaws except when being needled by someone he trusts, or maybe beneath the cover of darkness. He’s undermined a bit by Max, who is obviously a character from a previous novel, because Max always wins in their verbal sparring. Max constantly gets the better of Dan – and if I’d read more of the series I wouldn’t be surprised to see that Max is Dan’s true friend, and therefore one person to whom Dan can endure revealing any vulnerability. Without that knowledge of their past relationship, I thought Dan was undermined by Max.

But aside from that, Dan is one baaaad motherfucker. He is not to be messed with. He’s trained, lethal, dedicated and precise, and aside from one pesky flaw that allows Maggie to pull one over on him in a fantastic scene, he’s the type of hero who has one hand armed with a pistol and the other hand shoving people out of the way. He has that seductive heroic archetype of nobility crossed with furious dedication – mrowr.

But the story rises and sets on Maggie, and she is the crackling life to the narrative. She’s not whimpering or running around in a nightgown. She’s ready to kick ass, take names, or grab her son and hide. She’s brave and trying so hard to make the best of her new life. Maggie has moved from an existence where she had little to live for, and very little self-respect, to a life where she has everything to keep her fighting and every reason to take care of herself and demonstrate her own worth through her actions. Maggie grew up, and grew into someone to be proud of – and both Dan and Maggie have to adjust to the differences in them both between then and now.

Even the surrounding ancillary characters are funny and real:

“Now you have to talk to him. Get your butt over there and tell him you’re a widow.”

Maggie shot her a vile look and scooped the tray full of shots in one hand. “Look, if I want to get a good look at his ass as he runs screaming out the door, I don’t need to mention my dearly departed husband. The teenager at home usually does the trick.”

“The teenager is at his uncle’s fishing for two days…and two nights,” Brandy leaned her whole body over the service bar to make her point. “And the merry widow hasn’t had sex in four years.”

“Four years?” Gumbo Jim slammed down his bottle and let his jaw drop. “Lena, that’s a damn sin. Smitty would’ve wanted you to get laid once in a while. You’re a beautiful woman, for God’s sake.”

Next to Jim, Tommy Sloane inched over and pointed at her. “You know, a hymen can grow back. I read that in Penthouse.”

“A brain can grow back, too, Tommy, so there’s hope for you yet.”

The flaw that kept me from launching this into vowel territory have to do with a section of the book where things are SO easy, it’s insane. Clues fall into hands, bad guys are subdued, and folks who should probably be hiding go running down the middle of the street in sunny daytime—making me cringe and wonder why they were being so careless with their safety.

Even when the hero acknowledges that it was too easy, all that grabbing of clue and besting of bad dude, he lets his suspicions go too easily—and then puts himself and heroine in danger. Despite a truly impressive amount of preparation and skill demonstrated by the hero and by the Bullet Catcher organization, Maggie and Dan end up in a serious amount of danger, with no backup plan for extraction, no safety plan to escape, and remained way too dependent on chance and opportunity in a truly perilous situation. Moreover, there’s a plot hole I still can’t close, no matter how much I think about it.

The plot was intricate and based on the tiniest of details, like Maggie’s bracelets, which jingle on her arms and have been with her since she moved into the drug lord’s home. One piece of detail I would have loved to have more of:

 

did Dan regret leaving her, letting her go when she saw him shot and killed? Was it as painful for him as it was for her? I’m never sure –  and aside from telling her outright, which could easily be seen as suave lies since his ability to tell the truth is a bit in question, we don’t know if Dan walked away from her all those years ago and felt any pain from it.

 

St. Claire keeps the tension building and escalating, never really resolving the romance, or the suspense. Even after the sexual tension has been smoothed a bit, there’s more. There is one scene that is SO hot and so funny- I can’t even go into it much without revealing its significance but as I said on twitter: OMGWTFFANYOURSELF. It’s deft writing – weaknesses are strengths, strengths are revealed as weaknesses, and the tension is both released and compounded. It is smart and steamy and suspenseful writing at its best.

I’m embarrassed that I’d never read Roxanne St. Claire before. Seriously. Major fail on my part. Her writing is taut, funny, tense and sparking-wire-on-wet-pavement sharp. There’s no wasted descriptions, no constant tagging or excess adjectives. A million little details coalesce to form nuanced, savvy characters who I still think about. The reader doesn’t need to be told anything because the dialogue reveals more than enough. The mundane is never ordinary in her narration. There’s a whole new genre for me to explore with St. Claire’s books as guideposts to quality.


Hunt Her Down is available from Amazon.com and Book Depository and other book retailers worldwide.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    Roxanne St Claire has defined for me what great R/S truly is. She’s a fantastic writer and one that I look to for hints on how to make my own better. Thanks for giving her a solid review!

    Jess Scott
    http://www.jessicascott.net

  2. 2

    I’m not a romantic suspense fan either – I’m really not interested in getting into the head of a psychopathic serial killer – but St. Claire’s books (I’ve read them all so far) are different. The villains always some motivation that makes them real, not just driven to kill because they’re crazy. Her books are more like romantic adventures. The romance gets equal play as the suspense.

    I love, love, love the Bullet Catchers and if our local bookstore hadn’t already run out of Hunt Her Down, I’d be reading it right now.

  3. 3
    Mama Nice says:

    You got me curious, I’ll be checking this one out.

    The point you made about the “all too easy” moments in the plot – I totally agree with – that really irritates me, even when (or maybe especially when) a character acknowledges the fact…to me that says the author realizes her plot is a little weak here, but what you gonna do?

  4. 4
    Tina C. says:

    I have loved all of the Bullet Catchers books, except the last one.  Since I couldn’t finish that one, I was leery about picking up the latest one, but your review changed my mind.  Considering how you feel about romantic-suspense, it’s rather serendipitous that you decided to review this one a mere one day after I saw the preview for it and thought, “hmmm”.  Thanks!

  5. 5
    Rhian says:

    I have the same hesitance about romantic suspense – too often too contrived – but I think I’ll have to try this author. I’m in desperate need of sharp prose and women who can stand up for themselves, and so far my summer reading has had neither! St. Claire has been recommended to me before, but I forgot about it ‘til I read this review.

  6. 6

    Roxanne St. Claire’s rom suspense books are just about the only ones I like—and I don’t just like them, I love them! She really, really gets that “romantic” is the first, most important bit of “romantic suspense.” Plus, I learn something about the craft of writing every time I pick up one of her books. She could teach a master class on plotting and I could listen to her preach the gospel of “show, don’t tell” all day long. I can’t WAIT to read Dan’s book! It’s sitting next on my desk taunting me right this minute.

  7. 7

    St. Claire sent me a copy of her first Silhouette Desire when I used to be a reviewer and also included a copy of her rom/sus French Twist.  The Desire was terrific (she wrote 8 of them) but French Twist was the one that really hooked me and I’ve been a fan ever since.  I’ve read all the Bullet Catcher series and will keep coming back for more.  One difference between her books and those of some bigger name authors is they are ROMANTIC suspense while the bigger name authors write suspense novels with some romantic elements tossed in along the way.  I want romance with my drug lords and murders.  And for those readers who are ticked that Dan didn’t end up with a certain other female, read Hunt Her Down and I believe you’ll agree that everyone ended up with the right person.

  8. 8
    Bren says:

    I am also a St. Claire fan – big time – and will be, very shortly, barreling out to B&N to snatch this latest off the red hot shelf.

    People who are NOT romantic suspense fans should also check out Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series.  Before Suz and Rocky I avoided romantic suspense like the plague but these two ladies have turned me around 180.

    Now if we could just lock them in respective caves somewhere and allow to do nothing but WRITE!

  9. 9
    Janet W says:

    Be honest … do I have to have read the other books in the series first? Bren compared this series to Suz Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series—I can’t even imagine reading a Troubleshooters book without reading the others first.

    AAR gave this book a B and a Hot rating—so that + your review makes me tempted. My big thumbs down, really big thumbs down with most of these books, is way too much twisted serial killer POV and not enough romance. Some have not enough romance to fill up a tepid teacup and that’s just not my cuppa reading tea!

  10. 10
    Kate Jones says:

    Am I the only one who’s relieved that the hero’s real name isn’t Michael Scott?  That would have been beyond distracting. 

    Thanks Sarah!  Can’t wait to check it out!

  11. 11

    Roxanne St. Claire is one of my favorite RS authors because I prefer the romance to the suspense and she has a way of making it all so sexy and relevant to the story.  I’m not a fan of lots of violence either.  Not a fan of tormented serial killers and dark plots that give me nightmares.  But give me a book by Roxanne St. Claire any day!  I first read Thrill Me to Death, but then had to go back and read everything I could find.  I’ve been a fan since.  Cannot WAIT for this book.  Have already pre-ordered for my Kindle.

  12. 12
    Katie Ann says:

    @Katie Jones –
    I was wondering if someone else was going to mention that.  That name would be exceedingly distracting the whole time.

  13. 13
    Katie Ann says:

    err, Kate* Jones…my hands have a will of their own on the keyboard apparently

  14. 14

    People who are NOT romantic suspense fans should also check out Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series.  Before Suz and Rocky I avoided romantic suspense like the plague but these two ladies have turned me around 180.

    Bren, I’m with you! Roxanne St. Claire and Suzanne Brockmann are my favorite action/adventure romance authors, hands down. Love those Troubleshooters and Bullet Catchers! And I have to say, I’m seriously looking forward to Roxanne’s new series…

  15. 15
    Jamie says:

    Kate Jones said:

    Am I the only one who’s relieved that the hero’s real name isn’t Michael Scott?  That would have been beyond distracting.

    Unfortunately for those of us of a certain age in Soviet Canuckistan, the name Dan Gallagher may be as much of a hurdle.

  16. 16
    library addict says:

    Roxanne St. Claire’s BulletCatcher series is very much hit-or-miss for me.  I usually like the characters, but often don’t find them very suspenseful. 

    That said, I’ve always liked Dan and am looking forward to his story.

    Be honest … do I have to have read the other books in the series first?

    @Janet W, with the exception of the trilogy she wrote last year (First You Run, Then You Hide, Now You Die) which had an interconnected mystery, the rest of the series can all easily be read as stand-alone novels.  You may miss out on a tiny bit on the backstory vis-à-vis the friendships between the characters, but the plots are wholly independent from one another.

  17. 17
    megalith says:

    Actually, it was the name Maggie Smith that caught my eye. Had to Google the other two. Probably showing my age there. Sigh.

    Random message to the universe: I know she had breast cancer. Hope she’s doing okay.

  18. 18
    Suze says:

    Unfortunately for those of us of a certain age in Soviet Canuckistan, the name Dan Gallagher may be as much of a hurdle.

    I’d forgotten all about him, so it WASN’T a hurdle.  Until you reminded me.

    Oh, heroes with common names.  There’s always somebody in real life with the same name who bears no resemblance to anything heroic, or romantic.

    But you can’t solve it by creating uncommon names, because then the reader gets all distracted with the weirdness of it, and trying to pronounce it, and stuff.

  19. 19
    megalith says:

    Um, where “she” would be Maggie Smith, NOT Ms. St. Claire.

    Oh, geeze. Don’t want to start any crazy rumors. Yikes.

    spamcatcher: think98     Eeeexactly. Think 98 times before hitting Submit.

  20. 20
    JulieLeto says:

    Roxanne is one of the reasons I don’t write romantic suspense—I know there is no way in hell I could be half as awesome at it as she is.  She’s a master.  And I’m not exactly sure why she’s not a huge star yet because her books are consistently sexy, consistently twisty and consistently awesome.  And yes, I’m a friend of hers…but I’m also a genuine fangirl.  I’d be each without the other. ;-)

  21. 21
    Magnolia says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one questioning the name choices of “Maggie Smith” and “Michael Scott.” 

    If I read this, I will be picturing the heroine as Prof. McGonagall and I imagine she probably isn’t supposed to look like that.

  22. 22
    Kaetrin says:

    I usually really enjoy Roxanne St. Claire’s books. Last year’s trilogy didn’t grab me as much as the earlier books but I think I’ll be picking this one up.  Thanks for the review.

  23. 23
    Carmen says:

    First time reader – loving the site!
    St. Clair sounds like fun, but my favorite rom-sus is Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard.  I read it in one night and have been a fan ever since.

  24. 24
    MarilynS says:

    I’ve been a fan of Rocki St. Claire from the very beginning.  I’ve read everything she’s written and can’t wait to get my book which should arrive this week.  Even her Harlequin contemporaries are incredible.  What I love most about her Bullet Catcher series is in each book she usually has a “special and unique scene” which I always look forward to as well as her cast of characters, extremely interesting.

    Great review by the way!

  25. 25
    Robin says:

    Great review, Sarah; I had so many of the same responses you did.

    I just want to point out something re. the names of the characters:

    Michael Scott was an undercover name that Dan Gallagher assumed for a short time at the flashback opening the book. The character known as “Michael Scott” is pretty limited to that part of the book (the prologue, IIRC).

    And I don’t think the heroine is ever known as Maggie Smith. At the beginning of the story, in the flashback, when she’s a young woman, she’s Maggie Varcek, and when Dan meets her again, she’s Lena Smith (married name Smith, the Lena an attempt to break from the past). Dan calls her Maggie, because that’s how he knows her, but until someone mentioned Maggie Smith, I had never even thought of her that way.

    Regardless, I highly recommend this book, gave it a B myself (my review was posted at Dear Author yesterday), and think it is the best book in the series. As others have said, St. Claire always gets the balance of suspense and romance so pitch perfect, and HHD entertained me from start to finish.

    In response to the person who asked if you have to read the entire series, I had read all but two (Max and Johnny’s stories, which I read when I finished HHD), and I was fine. I agree that reading the recent trilogy will fill in some of the relationship stuff among the men, but in no way is it essential, IMO. If anything, it will probably create an overwhelming desire to hit BOB or your favorite bookstore to glom the rest. That’s what happened to me when I first read St. Claire last year, lol.

  26. 26
    Nancy Bristow says:

    I’ve thought Roxanne St. Claire ten kinds of awesome since my first read of her in 2005.  I loved some of the Bullet Catcher books better than others of course, but I think that’s normal with any author in a series.  Am really looking forward to reading Dan Gallagher’s story in Hunt Her Down.

    I’m also a fan of Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters but am running about a year behind since I don’t purchase hard covers.  Not a problem since I have a list of at least 50 favorite authors that cross almost all genre’s.

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