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Bulk Review: Bullet Catchers Trilogy by Roxanne St. Claire (First...

Dear Ms. St. Claire:

141654906401lzzzzzzzI am a wary reader of Romantic Suspense, disappointed in either the romantic or suspense aspect of the story of too many books in the subgenre or frustrated by the amped up violence and gore that sometimes substitutes for suspense.   But when Jane gave the first book of your latest Bullet Catchers trilogy a favorable review, I put it on my TBR list.   And I am glad I did, because before I was halfway into the book I was over at Fictionwise looking for the rest of the series.

First You Run, Then You Hide, and Now You Die are a continuation of the Bullet Catcher series, featuring an organization highly trained private security and investigation specialists.   The books possess a unified story arc around a dying woman named Eileen Stafford, who has been languishing in prison for thirty years in payment for a murder she did not commit.   Now in need of a bone marrow transplant, the Bullet Catchers have been enlisted to find the triplets Eileen gave birth to in secret, three girls who were delivered and adopted as part of a large black market baby operation known as Sapphire Trail.   Although the three girls were tattooed for identity recognition, their exisstence remained a secret, because Eileen had grave fear of their father, who, she believes, is the one who framed her for the murder of a romantic rival.   Despite the farce of an investigation and trial, Eileen accepted the sentence, fearing for her daughters’ safety more than her own fate, until her cancer and the intervention of Bullet Catcher Jack Culver, who is not only convinced of Eileen’s innocence but is determined to locate her daughters in order to save her life and clear her name.   But all he has to go on is a list of Sapphire Trail babies and the unusual tattoos Eileen’s triplets supposedly bear.

First You Run is the story of Miranda Lang, an anthropologist and rising star at Berkeley, whose new book debunking the Maya doomsday prophecy has garnered a lot of attention, both positive and negative.   Bullet Catcher Adrien Fletcher (aka “Fletch”) has been dispatched to determine whether Miranda is one of Eileen’s triplets, but soon enough Fletch realizes that he has two bigger problems on his hands:   1) someone is sabotaging Miranda’s book tour and endangering her life, and 2) he’s powerfully attracted to Miranda.   While the latter motivates him to search for that mysterious tattoo, his growing respect and affection for Miranda spurs his conscience as much as other parts of him.

Miranda has no idea where this handsome Aussie stranger came from, but after the scare at her first book signing, the crazy wild-eyed man who threatened her, and the bloody, sacrificed quetzal left at her front door, Miranda is more than a little relieved to have Fletch’s protection, wanting to be strong against her detractors – who she assumes are among the cultish followers of the Maya doomsday prophecy – but feeling more than a little frightened.   But when Fletch accompanies her to an incredible reproduction of a famous Maya temple site, the woman who has invited Miranda, a professed Maya shaman, warns her that Fletch’s intentions are dark, to steal Miranda’s very soul, she insists.

So whom should Miranda trust, especially when so many strange things are happening to her? Who is behind the increasingly crazed violence aimed at Miranda and her book?   How will Fletch know if Miranda is Eileen Stafford’s daughter?   And if she isn’t – because Miranda has no idea she was adopted – how will Fletch be able to leave her to find the next woman on the list?     Will Eileen survive while the hunt for her triplet daughters proceeds?

First You Run is a very entertaining story with a strong suspense plot and romantic development.   While very sensual, the emotional bond between Adrien and Miranda is well-developed, allowing them room to grow as characters and connect as people, not merely as attractive bodies.   And the background story of Eileen Stafford, the overall goal of proving her innocence and saving her life, is well-established but not resolved in this novel, even though the romantic relationship finds closure.

141655243x01lzzzzzzzThen You Hide, the second book in the trilogy, is focused on Vanessa Porter, a successful and driven Manhattan asset manager.   Vanessa is currently in the Caribbean searching for a colleague and friend who has dropped out of a successful career after an uncharacteristic vacation to the islands.   Vanessa suspects something darker, and her questions have piqued the interest of some powerful and threatening people.   Fortunately, Wade Cordell has reluctantly agreed to locate Vanessa, who has been positively identified as one of Eileen Stafford’s triplets, and bring her back to South Carolina to determine whether she’s a bone marrow match for her birth mother.   Unfortunately, Vanessa has no interest in her birth mother, whom she blames for her father’s carjacking and death after the one time he went to speak with Eileen in prison, and her interest in Wade is just about as limited.   The last thing Vanessa believes is that she needs any sort of protection from anyone, let alone a slow-talking, gun-toting former Marine like Wade.   Wade is less ambivalent about his attraction to this potty mouthed, hyper New Yorker, and he knows she is big trouble in little St. Kitts, making his supposedly breezy assignment something of a bait and switch.

Vanessa is anything but restful, and her unwillingness to return with Wade forces him to strike a deal with her:   he’ll help her find her friend, Clive Easterbrook, and then she’ll go to South Carolina for the marrow evaluation.   It is hardly a surprise that Wade and Vanessa get into more than they anticipated on Clive’s trail, which soon branches onto some dangerous paths involving several murders, a plethora of parties interested in Clive’s whereabouts, and a lot of wild goose chasing after bad leads.   And then there’s the incendiary but problematic attraction between Wade and Vanessa, which Vanessa believes imperils her hard-ass independence and Wade knows will generate more than a few personal and professional challenges.   All in all, there is a great deal to be worked out before Vanessa will even consider returning to the States, where Eileen Stafford lies in a coma, weakening by the moment.   Vanessa and Wade may find the answers to some questions – about Clive and their own relationship – but it takes one more book, Now You Die, to solve the larger mystery of the trilogy.

Saving Eileen’s life and clearing her name entails far more than a matching bone marrow donor.   It also requires the uncovering of Wanda Sloane’s real murderer, whose identity Eileen seems to know but will not reveal, because “he can do anything.”   Jack Culver is convinced that “he” is Justice Spessard B. Higgins, or “Higgie,” with whom both Eileen and Wanda worked in the state court as legal secretaries at the time when Eileen became pregnant and Wanda was shot, and who has recently been appointed to the US Supreme Court, making him one of the most powerful and influential men in the country.

But Lucy Sharpe, as head of the Bullet Catchers and an acquaintance of Higgie and his wife, Marilee, is not convinced of Higgie’s guilt.   She is, however, willing to launch an undercover investigation of the judge, even though it brings her into close working proximity to Jack, who was suspended from the Bullet Catchers after accidentally shooting Lucy’s closest friend and confidant, Dan Gallagher, followed by heavy boozing.   Jack and Lucy also have some personal history, namely one very hot night in the middle of a Malaysian jungle, a torrid mating brought on by mutual loneliness, grief, and a longtime attraction neither had been willing to act upon.   Complicating matters between them even further is Jack’s belief that Kristen Carpenter, the third Stafford triplet, did not die several months ago as records show, but is instead alive, in hiding, and gunning (literally) for Higgie.

141655244801lzzzzzzzUnlike the previous two books, the romance in Now You Die is not between one of Eileen’s daughters and a Bullet Catcher; this book is focused on Lucy and Jack’s relationship as it deepens during their investigation of Higgie’s involvement in Wanda Sloane’s murder and Eileen Stafford’s unwarranted conviction.   It is difficult to talk about the circumstances around these events without revealing substantial spoilers, so I will try to limit myself to Lucy and Jack’s relationship, which is clearly the most difficult and complicated in this trilogy.   Lucy bears the emotional scars of a dead child and husband, while Jack has his own childhood demons to keep at bay, which make him particularly invested in proving Eileen’s innocence.

Because these two – especially Lucy – have so much baggage, it is difficult to keep the balance between developing a strong emotional bond and keeping the suspense element alive.   In this book, the crackle of suspense edges out the romantic depth, although Jack and Lucy’s past enables a more rapid establishment of emotional intimacy that makes their relationship believable.   I still wished for a bit more exploration of the pain each of them worked to sublimate (both are insomniacs), since it appeared to drive them so powerfully.   There may be more in some of the earlier Bullet Catcher books, but I’m not sure even that would be enough to fill in some of those missing layers in Now You Die.

That said, I found this Bullet Catchers trilogy to be compulsively readable and well-integrated, with relationship closure allowing for stand-alone Romances and an enmeshed suspense arc that works very well across the three books.   In fact, it was the strength and the cleverness of the suspense plot(s) that really kept my interest in the trilogy, because the Eileen Stafford story frames several smaller suspense plots throughout the trilogy.   That layering of mysteries helped sustain my interest over what turned out to be a simultaneously complicated and straightforward wrongful conviction plot, and also allowed the localized mysteries to help drive the romance itself.   In other words, I felt there was a very effective blending of romance and suspense, which is something I find lacking in so many books within this sub-genre.   The prose is serviceable, not at all overly-sentimental, and not standing out in any direction, but generally cogent and believable for its purpose.

For those who prefer romance to suspense, First You Run was the strongest for me in this regard, because the road trip element combined with Fletch’s guilt allows he and Miranda to build a friendship in tandem with a growing attraction.   Neither Miranda nor Vanessa ends up in bed quickly, creating another kind of romantic suspense in the books – the suspense of watching two people grow closer without the convenience of sex to bond them.   And in Lucy and Jack’s case, the sex actually complicates things, because they must build backwards, in a sense.   I appreciated that there was a separate and distinct focus on creating emotional intimacy and friendship between the romantic protagonists in this trilogy, because for all the love in Romance, I’m not always sure how much like there is between the many strong personalities that populate the genre.

There was also quite a bit of like between me and the heroines, especially Vanessa, whose serial swearing struck me as quite daring in a Romance heroine, especially since it grates so harshly on the drawling Southerner Wade.   All of these women are intelligent, even though Miranda and Vanessa have an annoying habit of ignoring signs of danger to satisfy their curiosity, a trait that would have signaled TSTL if they did not show clear reasoning skills the majority of the time.   Miranda, especially, seemed conflicted in her character, presenting as a sheltered young woman who is claustrophobic, terrified of flying, and prone to panic attacks, yet thinks nothing of following a complete stranger into the depths of a replica Maya tomb.   On the other hand, Lucy Sharpe, who could easily have become a caricatured ice queen, is both vulnerable and fallible, which makes her strengths as head of the Bullet Catchers seem more realistic.   That all the Bullet Catchers are susceptible to trickery and deceit made them more interesting for me.

There are a number of things I don’t know enough about to address as authentic or inauthentic, including the medical rights of prisoners, the South Carolina appeals courts, and the habits of alligators, but I was willing to go with most of it because I was entertained enough not to start consulting Google in the middle of the books.   I was even able to ignore all the legal stuff I knew was impossible and/or incorrect and focus on the other aspects of the stories, which is no small thing, since I generally have the attention span of a strung-out gnat, especially when distracted by frustration.

There is one thing that drove me absolutely crazy in all three books, but it is more of a pet peeve than a strike against the work itself:   no condoms.   Now I know that some feel that because Romance is a fantasy condoms aren’t part of the romantic fantasy, but in a contemporary, where I am supposed to respect these women as intelligent, independent, and self-sufficient, I just cannot take that leap when a heroine begs for the hero to “come inside me,” especially before any declaration of love or commitment.   I will refrain from further ranting on this subject here, but I do have to say that the way all three women seemed to relish the unprotected sex (although Lucy begs Jack to withdraw, which makes sense given her past) cut against the image of progressive womanhood I felt I was supposed to see in them.

If I had to grade these books individually, First You Run would get a B, Then You Hide a B/B-, and Now You Die a B-/C+, averaging out to a high B- for the trilogy .   The cleverness of the Maya plot in the first book, combined with the solid emotional development between Miranda and Fletch (as well as the dimensional portrayal of their characters) made that book the strongest for me, followed by Wade and Vanessa’s story, which was buoyed by the crisp banter and opposites attract energy of their relationship.   I got frustrated with Vanessa’s refusal to see what was so obviously a trap in numerous situations, but since her rashness was an overt point of tension between her and Wade, I was satisfied that it was an intentional character trait.   And while Lucy and Jack’s relationship was the most complex, it unfortunately suffered against an equally complex suspense climax and resolution, which was itself quite satisfying but could not completely eclipse the somewhat abrupt leap Jack and Lucy make to full devotion and commitment.

Overall, though, I would recommend any and all of these three books, which together proved to be a diverting and energizing read, perfect for a little post-holiday R&R.

~Janet

First You Run, Then You Hide, and Now You Die can be purchased in mass market or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

13 Comments

  1. Kristen
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 07:22:40

    I love the Bullet Catchers! I just wish they’d come out faster. I already have the next book, Hunt Her Down, on pre-order from Amazon even though it doesn’ t come out until August. I can’t wait!

    ReplyReply

  2. ArkansasCyndi
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 07:49:56

    You nailed it with this review. Great books…All of them

    ReplyReply

  3. DebbieB
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 09:40:58

    I’m so glad you did this review of these books. I love the Bullet Catcher series and think it’s one of the best out there for a true blend of sexy romance and adventurous suspense. Romantic suspense is getting too dark and full of serial killers and a lot of “military” stuff, but this series is just what I love.

    I read all three of these books twice and agree with a lot of what the reviewer says. However, I found the third book to be by far the most emotional, so I am surprised that she said the opposite. Maybe because I’ve read the series and know the character of Lucy Sharpe, but what I liked was that these two people did have so much emotional baggage but didn’t whine about it or think about it for pages and pages. Also, the reviewer didn’t talk about the fact that Lucy is kind of set up to be with Dan Gallagher in the first three books, but that doesn’t happen. When I found that out, I was not happy, but after reading the book, it was okay. I think this coupling made perfect sense and since Dan’s story is supposed to be next, I’m okay with it.

    I would have graded them a little higher, especially the third book, but enjoyed the review of one of my favorite series.

    ReplyReply

  4. Condoms in Contemporary Romance | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 09:58:37

    [...] Janet’s positive recommendation  of Roxanne St. Claire’s Bulletcatcher series, she mentions the lack of use of condoms: [...]

  5. Roxanne St. Claire
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 10:28:26

    Thank you so much for the triple play, Janet. I really appreciate the reviews and the time to you took to analyze the stories and characters, giving such an accurate overview of the storylines without giving away spoilers. I love that you did the trilogy all together, too. I’ve been burning in Deadline Hell and today was the first time I could emerge and go blog hopping, so this was a great surprise.

    Love Jane’s insta-poll on condoms. I voted, of course! What can I say? I’m kind of a “condom implied” writer on the love scenes.

    Thanks again!

    ReplyReply

  6. Carolyn
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 11:58:31

    I also loved each book. Both the romance and the suspense keeps you reading. It’s hard to put down one of her books once you start it. I’m anxiously waiting for the next book.

    ReplyReply

  7. Sue
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 12:13:39

    What a great idea to review the trilogy together. I am a big fan of Roxanne St. Claire’s and have read all of her books. I’m never disappointed and these were no different. Her heroes are amazing! I just wish it weren’t such a long time until the next one- August! But like someone said, it’ll be Dan’s book and he is one of my favorite Bullet Catchers.

    ReplyReply

  8. Jennifer Estep
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 13:45:32

    I’m just getting ready to start the third book in this trilogy. I’ve enjoyed it so far and am looking forward to the conclusion of the overall murder mystery. RS is a tough genre to do well, and I think that the overall mystery has been balanced nicely with the other suspense and romance threads in the books.

    Vanessa is my favorite BC heroine so far (loved her sass and overall toughness), but I’m really interested to learn more about the mysterious Lucy.

    ReplyReply

  9. GrowlyCub
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 13:46:51

    Janet wrote:

    all three women seemed to relish the unprotected sex (although Lucy begs Jack to withdraw, which makes sense given her past)

    The author replied:

    What can I say? I'm kind of a “condom implied” writer on the love scenes.

    Those two things don’t compute. If the women seem to enjoy the unprotected sex and one of them begs her partner to withdraw (and as the result of a coitus interruptus, I really wish people would stop thinking and/or implying that withdrawal works in preventing an unplanned pregnancy), then there wasn’t an implied condom anywhere in that scene.

    I’m firmly in the ‘if it’s contemporary put at least the opened wrapper somewhere in the scene’ camp unless the unprotected sex is part of the story arc.

    ReplyReply

  10. Roxanne St. Claire
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 15:22:06

    Growly Cub, I see how those two don’t compute for you because, you are correct, there wasn’t an implied condom in that scene and the unprotected sex was part of that story line. There is, in fact, a clear mention of a condom in the first, earlier scene in that book because it does play a part in the final outcome of the story, as Janet notes.

    The whole condom thing is a challenge because I deeply respect that it is something many readers prefer to have mentioned. In the vast majority of the love scenes I’ve written, I do include some mention of the condom, but sometimes it is such a jolt out of the fantasy, taking the reader right out of the moment. In that case, if it can’t be included gracefully, I’ll let it be implied and not specified, as many of the actions during the love scene are not spelled out in point by point detail. I give the condom usage a great deal of thought and I’ve watched the poll results with interest today.

    ReplyReply

  11. GrowlyCub
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 15:34:57

    Roxanne,

    thanks for clarifying.

    I agree, the poll is interesting and so are the comments. I was really surprised to see how many people say they don’t want condoms because that jolts them out of the fantasy, when it’s the exact opposite for me. Guess I lack imagination. :)

    As for disrupting the flow, I don’t require an exact description of when and by whom the condom was applied, a mention of an (or several, grin) opened wrappers (on the floor, bed, nightstand, pillow :) the next morning or whenever else it fits into the scene is just fine.

    And in one fell swoop you have also shown male prowess without having to describe 12 different positions, rofl.

    ReplyReply

  12. Janet
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 19:38:06

    Kristen: I’m looking forward to the next one, too, but still have the first ones before this trilogy to finish first!

    ArkansasCyndi: Thanks! I recently finished the very first Bullet Catcher book and I liked that one, too, although I kept wanting Jazz to hurry up and figure things out!

    DebbieB: Perhaps because these three books were the only ones I had read in this series, I didn’t have a strong sense that Dan had been the anticipated mate for Lucy, although certainly I saw that there was some triangulation there. Maybe finishing the rest of the books will give me a stronger sense of that.

    Roxanne St. Claire: I hope I didn’t reveal any spoilers! It’s always tough, especially with mystery-driven plots. It’s weird, because having read all the books in one shot, I never considered anything but a single comprehensive review, so I didn’t think I was doing anything unusual!

    Carolyn: I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed *both* the romance and the suspense, because I have honestly gotten used to sort of putting up with one for the sake of the other.

    Sue: Thanks for the heads up on the next book. I hope I get to know Dan better through the earlier books, so I have some background before reading the new one.

    Jennifer Estep: Vanessa is my favorite heroine of the series, in part because she’s not all ‘oh, I have to change for this guy!’ I thought her willingness to follow every stupid lead was a bit overplayed, but she was so entertaining that it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book. Although I wish she had caught on to what was going on a bit earlier, even as I relished the fact that no one in this trilogy had super-sonic mystery solving skills.

    GrowlyCub: I think one of the reasons I paid more attention to the condom thing in these books was because of the whole black market adoption angle. All these women who were having children in secret, delivered by a midwife, and sold to supposedly qualified families. So much attention to what one might call the ‘unintended consequences’ of unprotected sex made me hyper-aware of the pregnancy issue among the girls themselves.

    re. the implied condom, I don’t really have a problem with that, and am usually satisfied with even a casual reference to a wallet or a nightstand drawer or even a moment of panic that such things have been forgotten. Unless, of course, the unprotected sex plays into the story line and then it’s another issue altogether, at least for me.

    ReplyReply

  13. The Condom Conundrum | Murder She Writes
    Jan 27, 2009 @ 06:44:10

    [...] were featured in a “bulk” review on my favorite form of on-line crack the popular web site Dear Author. In my opinion, DA reviewer Janet did an outstanding job of presenting a thoughtful overview of the [...]

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