Book Review

Medusa’s Master by Cindy Dees: A Test Driver Review by John C. Bunnell


Title: Medusa's Master
Author: Cindy Dees
Publication Info: Harlequin July 2009
ISBN: 0373276400
Genre: Romantic Suspense

Medusa's MasterI didn’t realize at first that *Medusa’s Master* was part of a series -quite an extensive series at that.  Nonetheless, one of the best things I can say about the novel is that it’s admirably self-contained, and retains focus and pacing even when a platoon of guest stars invades the book in later chapters.

Although labeled as a “H.O.T. Watch” novel, Dees’ introduction and the text make clear that the book is also seventh in the “Medusas” series, focused on an elite Spec Ops force made up wholly of women.  Korean-born Katrina Kim (called “Kat”) is just five-foot three, but she’s a trained sniper, linguist, electronics and black-ops specialist – and immediately on meeting H.O.T. Watch operative Jeff Steiger deep in a hidden Caribbean base, she flips him painfully flat on his face with one expert martial arts move.

Impressively, this leads neither to a knock-down brawl nor to a dozen chapters of macho posturing.  Quite the opposite, in fact; Jeff and Kat quickly develop a sincere, if wary appreciation for each other’s abilities.  However, they’re also victims of what Jeff calls “Cupid’s Bolt”, as Dees plays the Love At First Sight card with a vengeance.  The two must control their increasingly turbo-boosted hormones while simultaneously investigating a series of art thefts on Barbados that quickly escalate into something more complex.

Certain aspects of that escalation don’t bear examining too closely.  Both too many and too few players are actively hunting the true McGuffin[1] – its owner doesn’t seem to be, and it’s unclear in hindsight how the obligatory Evil Commandos know where it went.  But Dees keeps events moving fast enough, in both internal context and narrative pacing, to forestall most readers from second-guessing the plot logic.  In addition, the author’s military background ensures that the special-ops sequences are crisp, convincing, and intelligently framed.

As for the romance . . . as much as I like these characters, as impressively steamy as the sex gets[2], and as good a job as Dees does of exploring both Jeff’s and Kat’s viewpoints on their evolving passion, for me, this is where the book slips from an A to a B.  It’s clear almost instantly that Jeff’s feelings for Kat run deeper than alpha-male hormones, and that he consciously recognizes that fact.  And Dees does an exceptional job of portraying Kat’s long-delayed achievement of emotional maturity; we see her progress from intensely controlled Vulcan-like reserve (there are no onstage comparisons to Star Trek’s Spock, but the parallel is irresistable) to a woman whose passions run as deep as her principles. But it’s never clear on the page that Kat’s attraction to Jeff is deeper than sexual chemistry and professional respect.[3]  I absolutely believe that Jeff’s in love with Kat – but I’m not quite convinced that she’s truly, consciously in love with him.

Yet for all that I can’t quite make the conclusion ring true emotionally, I’m favorably impressed with Dees as a writer, and I suspect Medusas fans will find the book a solid capstone to the series.  Certainly I’ll be looking for more of Dees’ work in the future.


1: In case anyone’s not familiar with the term, “McGuffin” refers to whatever it is in a given story that everyone is trying to acquire.  In Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s the Ark of the Covenant, in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy it’s the One Ring, and so forth.  The term is said to have originated with Alfred Hitchcock.

2: Amusingly, Jeff and Kat both appear to have unconscious exhibitionist tendencies.  Almost all the makeout sequences, not to mention the ultimate Scene Of Mind-Blowing Sex, take place outdoors in public or semi-public places.

3: An odd inconsistency that doesn’t help: just prior to the first makeout scene, we see Kat sip from a glass of Chardonnay. Much later, however, Kat tells Jeff that she doesn’t drink and is allergic to alcohol.  This is almost certainly an accidental copy-editing glitch rather than a deliberate plot point, but the later comment casts the early scene in a decidedly odd light.


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    JenD says:

    Squeeee! *koff koff* I mean erm, yay?

    I fell in love with the Medusa series and was in my own personal hell while waiting for the books to keep coming. Doesn’t help that I’ll read one of her books in a sitting- not even a potty break.

    Now I can add Kat to my collection.
    *twirling evil voracious-reader moustache*

    spamword size74, if his feet are that big- I’m out.

  2. 2
    Nadia says:

    And this is where shrinking page counts can hurt the book.  When the Medusas started off in the Bombshell line, there were more than enough pages to kick serious ass and convincingly fall in love.  Moving the series to SRS has allowed for time in the hero’s head (Bombshells were very much about the heroine), but I miss the longer book.  I’m just glad Ms. Dees was able to finish out the series, I enjoyed it.

  3. 3

    Yay for Silhouette Romantic Suspense!!  And woo-hoo for dudes reading romance.  Great review, this one sounds great.

  4. 4

    Actually, I read Cindy Dees’ The 9-Month Bodyguard, a Silhouette Romantic Suspense, just the other day.  It was my introduction to the author, and I was pleasantly surprised by both Dees, and the Silhouette Romantic Suspense line…enough to pick up two more in the line.  I saw this title (Medusa’s Master on Amazon yesterday and very nearly picked it up because Dees’ name is on the cover.  The only thing that stopped me is the size of my TBR pile.

    Based on this review, I may have to go back and get it.

  5. 5
    mirain says:

    Nice, clearly organized review. I love footnotes! But I did want to make the clarification that “McGuffin” applies only to an object of pursuit which *does not matter in and of itself* but is only present so the characters can go after it. Eg the Maltese Falcon is a McGuffin because any item of value could be substituted without altering the plot, but the One Ring is NOT because it has peculiar properties which influence events in the story.

  6. 6
    Star Opal says:

    Regarding the “McGuffin” mirain is correct. The sole purpose of the McGuffin is to give a reason for the characters to come together, and is often completely unimportant by the end. The One Ring does not count. The Maltese Falcon is a perfect example.

    The reason Hitchcock is so associated with it is because he used it A LOT. For example, in Psycho it’s the stolen money, and in Notorious it’s plutonium (or was it uranium? see, not important), the love birds in The Birds are often included in the McGuffin category. It could be anything that gets the ball rolling on a set of characters interacting: jewelry, or a photograph, or a body… it doesn’t matter.

    Sorry, movie fan, just had to comment.

  7. 7

    I love Cindy Dees and the Medusa series, so I was happy to pick this one up.

    What I love about the reivew – the alcohol allergy! I caught that same thing and pointed it out to my fiance, who asked if it was supposed to be part of her cover story or something like that. Nope, just a mistake :)

  8. 8
    voodoo chile says:

    I’ll have to check this series out. I’d never heard of it and love this review.

  9. 9

    Point well taken on the nature of McGuffins; luckily for me, the one in the book fits the stricter definition.

    Meanwhile, I’m glad the review is finding its audience; in the wake of Doc Turtle and SB Nonnie, I had been worrying that I wasn’t nearly funny enough.  [The opportunity may arise, however.  I’ve just finished one of my gift-code purchases for which the word “cracktastic” definitely applies.  Who knew one could find comic-book superheroes in category romance?]

  10. 10
    Nadia says:

    Oh, yes, indeedy, it’s not all secret babies and virgin mistresses!  I don’t buy categories by series but just certain authors, so I don’t know what might be out there recently.  But if you enjoy a comic-book style hero, you should pick up a couple of oldies:  “Cinderman” by Anne Stuart, and “Night Shadow” by Nora Roberts.

  11. 11

    I may have to go looking for those, if only because the present example is…well, so cracktastic, and not in a good way….

  12. 12
    Kim says:

    Cindy Dees is kick ass in person, too!  She is intelligent, witty, and an AF Veteran, so she knows what she is writing when it comes to women warriors. Looking forward to more HOT stuff from this talented author!

  13. 13
    Diane says:

    Love the review, and the footnotes.  I’m not really one for contemporary romances, but I’ll definitely have to check this one out.  It looks like a great read.  :)

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