Suspense!

What’s a novel without suspense? Well, probably boring. All fiction, and for that matter the more readable sorts of non-fiction, need suspense. But not all novels are marketed with suspense as a main sales point. Here are two romantic suspense novels and one thriller that I’ve enjoyed recently.

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Years ago, when New York publishers ruled the romance world, we were told never to Tinderboxwrite stories about archaeologists. Turns out that’s no longer true, as Rachel Grant has proved with her romantic suspense novels featuring archaeologist heroines. The latest of these is Tinderbox (the first in a new Flashpoint series), set in the desert heat of Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. Dr. Morgan Adler has made an immensely important find while surveying possible routes for a railroad that will allow a U.S. Naval Base to expand, but someone clearly doesn’t want her dig to continue. Sgt. Pax Blanchard is the Special Forces man assigned to protect her after someone rigs her car with a bomb. The two fall hard, against their better judgment. Morgan is the rebellious daughter of a general, and Pax is just the sort of son-in-law Daddy would want, making him off limits to Morgan. And Pax was once married to an officer’s daughter—never again! As the action and the dangers heat up, so does the attraction between Morgan and Pax, until their romance is almost as dangerous as the threats to Morgan.

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I hadn’t read anything by Jayne Ann Krentz (or her alter egos Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle) recently, but when I learned she was coming to Houston for a book signing and dinner with a group of local writers, I picked up her romantic suspense from last year, When All the Girls Have GoneWhen All the Girls Have Gone, which I enjoyed. The two main characters, Charlotte Sawyer and Max Cutler, meet when the murder Max, a one-time profiler now trying to get a P.I. business off the ground, intersects with the apparent disappearance of Charlotte’s stepsister Jocelyn, the murder victim’s close friend. Charlotte and Max solve the mystery, of course, and, well, it is romantic suspense. Max does have a mystery of his own left unsolved, involving a childhood trauma shared by his two foster brothers, so I wasn’t surprised to discover that the next JAK suspense novel, Promise Not To Tell, will feature one of Max’s brothers and continue that story. I’ll be watching for it in January.

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The book signing was for Jayne’s Amanda Quick persona’s new book, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, a mystery set in southern California in the 1930s, a big change from Victorian London. That one’s waiting on the To Be Read Really Soon shelf above my bed.

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I’ve been a fan of Steve Berry’s novels since his first, The Amber Room. He’s written more than a dozen since then, and I have them all on my shelves, but I’ve fallen way The King's Deceptionbehind, and I’ve just read The King’s Deception, published in 2013. (I will catch up. Somehow. Someday.) Berry is not exactly a prose stylist (although who am I to criticize an author with his track record?) but he is one heck of a story teller, and I find his elaborately constructed and all too plausible historical mysteries/conspiracies irresistable. The historical elements in The King’s Deception date back to the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, at first appearing to be simply the search for a lost treasure, but turning out to be so much more. The modern action also involves the release of the terrorist who blew up Pan Am 103 over Scotland. Cotton Malone is back, as he and his son Gary find themselves in the middle of it all when they stop in London on the way from Gary’s home in Georgia to Cotton’s bookshop in Copenhagen for what was supposed to be a quiet Thanksgiving visit. Not quite how things work out. This one kept me up a couple of nights in a row.

Reviews: Romantic Suspense

Lark Brennan’s Dangerously Yours is a very entertaining read, but a bit difficult to categorize: romantic suspense, certainly; paranormal elements, definitely; even a touch of science fiction, all in a fascinating Caribbean island setting.

Dangerously YoursTo outside eyes, Lex Durand is a marine biologist studying whales and dolphins. Only her close relatives in the large and powerful Durand clan know that she is an animal telepath, and that some of her study subjects have gone mysteriously missing.

Her brother sends Lex to ask for assistance from Bodie Flynn, a near-recluse scientist studying newly discovered forms of energy which may just hold the clue to the disappearances. But Bodie used to be someone else entirely, and he blames Lex’s family for his current situation.

The scientific puzzles are too much for either to resist (and pretty soon they’re having trouble resisting one another, as well). Off they go, via sailboat and seaplane, to one small island after another in pursuit of missing whales, reappearing, and possibly insane, dolphins, mysterious energy, psychic powers, and the occasional explosion.

This is the first entry in Brennan’s Durand Chronicles series; the next one, Irresistibly Yours, releases June 21.

Rachel Grant’s Cold Evidence combines steamy romance with taut suspense. It’s the latest in her evidence series, stand-alone thrillers loosely connected by a circle of characters. In Cold Evidence, set in the northwestern corner of Washington state, the action revolves around a small submarine sunk under mysterious circumstances in 1962. Undine Gray, diving on the wreck, is the sole survivor when an explosion destroys the dive boat above her and the people on board. Weeks later, unnerved by the accident but determined to dive again, she asks Luke Sevick, the most accomplished diver she knows, to dive with her.

Cold EvidenceBut Undine and Luke have history, going back twelve years, when a lie and one night ruined Luke’s plans for a career in marine biology. Now an ex-seal, Luke is a commissioned officer with NOAA, still angry at the Undine of the past, but drawn to the Undine of the present. In spite of their past, Luke understands Undine’s need to reenter the deep, and agrees be her partner for one dive.

Diving rekindles their old attraction, although they both agree it can’t lead to anything—their lives have diverged too much. But what they discover on the bottom of the Salish Sea draws them together into a world of sabotage, espionage, and possible catastrophe.

Grant combines archeological and military technology with high emotion and thrilling suspense to produce a roller coaster of a novel. Romantic suspense at its best.

Recent Reading

I sat down this evening to write this post and found myself wandering off into an entirely different article.  That one’s not finished yet, but I’m back here for my occasional report of what I’ve been reading.  This morning I made the mistake of opening the Kindle App on my computer, and found myself staring at the vast array of books that I have downloaded, most of which I have not yet had time to read.  I’m not sure of the experience is discouraging, embarrassing, or just overwhelming.  (It doesn’t stop me from downloading more books, of course.  A few days ago I went on a minor binge and downloaded Blind Fury by Gwen Hernandez, Withholding Evidence by Rachel Grant, and Writing Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell.)

For the last few months I’ve only been working three or occasionally four days a week, and friends have asked if I’ve been catching up on my reading.  Alas, so far the answer appears to be No.  I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like, either.  I have, however, been getting a lot more sleep.

But I’ve managed a few books so far this year, and I’m reading three more as I write this (possibly having three books going at once isn’t the best habit, but I seem to be stuck with it.

Grave DangerGrave Danger is an excellent romantic suspense novel by Rachel Grant.  I particularly enjoy Rachel’s books because, like me, she has a background in contract archeology.  (We even went to the same school, Florida State University, although I was there mumble mumble decades earlier.)  In Grave Danger, archeologist  Libby Maitland has landed a great contract in a small town in the Pacific Northwest.  She can deal with the usual problems of the business, keeping the crew at work and the clients happy, but she’s got serious trouble this time: a burial where there shouldn’t be a burial, and a stalker no one else, especially not Police Chief Mark Colby, believes in.  Libby’s been stalked before, but is this the same man, or has she become entangled in something far bigger than a simple excavation project?  Grave Danger kept me turning the pages (or rather pressing the button on my Kindle) in search of the answers.

Bride of the Rat God, by Barbara Hambly, was as enjoyable this time around on my Kindle as it was when I first read it in Bride of the Rat Godpaperback twenty years ago (something I didn’t remember when I snagged it from the Kindle Daily Deal offerings recently).  It does eventually live up to its rather lurid title, with a cursed necklace, a Chinese wizard, and a powerful demon, but it is also a fascinating picture of Hollywood in the 1920s, when movies were silent, parties were noisy, and Chinatown was a mystery.  Not to mention the three gallant Pekingese dogs who help fight the demon.  Bride of the Rat God is full of eccentric but believable movie folk, silent movie production, and thoroughly spooky suspense.  There’s even a romance.

I even got around to updating the software on my Kindle this morning.  Good thing those files don’t weigh anything.  The  App on my computer says I have 214 items on my Kindle.  That’s kind of scary.

More Reading

The other night I stayed up late to finish reading Rachel Grant’s Concrete Evidence, one of the tensest suspense novels I’ve read in a long time.  I mentioned the book recently when I started reading it, and it turned out to be just as good as I expected.

The heroine of Concrete Evidence, Erica Kesling, has a job and a life far from the troubles that cost her a career in underwater archeology, but she knows she’s still in danger.  If the truth comes out, she may lose the job she has now, and her entire archeological career.  The incompetent intern assigned to her, Lee Scott, is far too attractive to ignore, and may not be what he seems.  When the man who caused her career-changing disaster appears on the scene, apparently thick as thieves with the management of the Cultural Resource firm where she works, Erica no longer knows who the real thieves are.  Who stole the artifacts, and where are they now?  Who is smuggling what?  And who is out to silence Erica, by killing her if need be?  Concrete Evidence is an edge-of-your-seat ride, all the way to an ending that I did not see coming.

Grave DangerAs soon as I finished Concrete Evidence I looked for Grant’s next book, Grave Danger, another archeological thriller which has just been released on Amazon.  I’ve added it to my Kindle, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

At lunch yesterday (a pork fiesta bowl with extra onions at Pollo Campero in Webster, Texas), I pulled out my Kindle and read Tempest in the White City, a short story by Deeanne Gist.  The story, like her new release It Happened at the Fair, which I picked up Tempest in the White City(the paper version) last weekend, takes place at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.  The story introduces Hunter Scott, a Texas Ranger serving as a Columbian Guard at the Fair, and the lady doctor who treats him for a rather embarrassing illness. (Even Gist’s short stories come with beautiful covers!)  Hunter and Dr. Tate will be back in Gist’s next novel.  Meanwhile, the download includes a peek at this year’s book, the recently released It Happened at the Fair, which is high on my To Be Read list.  I even bought an extra copy for a friend–books do make such wonderful gifts.

Reading: Mystery & Suspense

A few weeks ago I won a door prize copy of Barbara Taylor Sissel’s Evidence of Life, a book I might have missed otherwise.  Sissel is a Houston area author, but I don’t know her, although we have mutual friends.   I pedal fast enough trying (unsuccessfully) to keep up with the books of my friends.

But one of those friends, Colleen Thompson, highly recommended Evidence of Life, and as soon as I opened it I understood why.   It’s a hard book to categorize, but literary thriller may come close enough.  It’s the story of a woman, Abby Bennett, whose husband and daughter, on a camping trip in the Texas hill country, disappear without a trace in the wake of a storm and flash flood (yes, that does happen).  In the course of trying to discover what happened to them, Abby learns too much that she had never suspected, about her husband, her family, her marriage and her friends.   An excellent and beautifully written novel.

Falling for FrederickFalling for Frederick, by my friend Cheryl Bolen, was one of the first of Montlake’s Kindle serials, but is now available as a full novel.  I read it in installments, which suited me because I usually read on my Kindle once or twice a week while waiting for an appointment or grabbing lunch by myself.  So when the last installment was delivered to my reader recently, I was nearly caught up, and I found myself sitting up late to finish the story.  Falling for Frederick is a contemporary romantic suspense tale, featuring an American grad student in England, the handsome earl she meets when she’s found crouching over the body of his archivist, knife in hand, a missing (and highly valuable) artifact, and an historical mystery to go with the modern one.  And, of course, a romance.

Yesterday at lunch I opened my Kindle and began reading Concrete Evidence, by my friend and fellow Starcatcher andConcrete Evidence Firebird Rachel Grant.  Although Rachel is considerably younger than I, we have quite a lot in common:  we both studied archeology at Florida State University, worked as cultural resource management archeologists, and married men involved in marine archeology.  So I wasn’t surprised to learn that Rachel’s romantic suspense novels involve archeology.  Fortunately my own involvement in archeology (and Rachel’s, I’m sure) never included the sort of danger the heroine of Concrete Evidence finds herself in.  I picked it up again last night and had to force myself to put it away at 1:30 this morning–I had too much to do today to read all night.  I can hardly wait to get back to it.

Lowcountry BoilAnother of my Firebird sisters, Susan M. Boyer, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel last night at the Malice Domestic Conference, for her 2012 Golden Heart finalist, Lowcountry Boil.  Published by Henery Press last fall, Lowcountry Boil is a wonderfully entertaining mystery (with a paranormal twist), the first in a series.  Huge congratulations to Susan, and to Henery Press, a new publisher with a bright future.