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REVIEW: Against the Dark by Carolyn Crane

Dear Ms. Crane:

I read your romantic suspense novel the day after I (very belatedly) saw Skyfall. For plot and passion, I prefer your novel, Against the Dark. (I’m still not clear on the plot in Skyfall or why a woman who’d been a sex slave wouldn’t freak out when a man she just met shows up in her shower. I know: “It’s Bond, James Bond.“)

Against the Dark by Carolyn CraneAgainst the Dark is briskly action-packed, genuinely suspenseful, wryly witty, and hot. Plus it has a villain who’s so evil it’s quite a satisfying thrill when he gets his comeuppance.

Angel Ramirez has been living on the right side of the law for five years now. Yeah, all those times she and her two best friends from middle school–White Jenny and Macy–successfully stole all the bling they could fence were fun, but fear and remorse coupled with her family’s disdain for her life choices just weren’t worth it. These days, Angel runs her interior decorating business and stays out of trouble.

But then a lowlife gang named The Flesh Boys kidnapps Macy’s Aunt Aggie and demands a ransom of a pouch of diamonds belonging to Walter Borgola, “the biggest pimp-scumbag and God knows what else in L.A.” Borgola’s stored the diamonds in his bedroom in a rare Fenton Furst model safe. There are only a few in the world who can crack a Fenton and Angel is one of them.

The three women come up with a complex plan for stealing the diamonds from Borgola’s hideously tacky mansion. On the night the heist is planned, Borgola is throwing one of his infamously sleazy parties. Angel, Macy, and White Jenny head over there, dressed in their hottest outfits. They’re “posing as party girls—hookers paid by Borgola to have sex with the party guests.” As they wait for the right moment to begin the robbery, Angel can’t stop staring at one of the guys on Borgola’s security team because 1) the guy is gorgeous and 2) the guy keeps staring at her. Finally, Angel walks over to him, acting like the hooker she’s supposed to be.

“Now what are we going to do with you?” he asked with a hint of humor in his voice.

Focus, she told herself. You’re a hooker who doesn’t know he’s security. She shrugged her shoulders.

He spread his legs open a little. “Come here.”

“You wanna play?” she asked, heart racing. It had been such a long since she’d been around a guy like this. He didn’t add up as a nerd. He didn’t add up as a member of Borgola’s security team. He didn’t make sense to her in a lot of ways. But she wanted him; that one fact cut through everything.

“I want you to come here,” he said.

She stepped in close. Her girls would grab her if she gave the signal, but she still couldn’t tell if his interest was professional or sexual. A real poker player, this guy.

He hooked a finger over the top of her bodice and pulled her even closer, and she allowed it. His skin felt electric near hers.

“There’re a lot of bad girls at this shindig,” he said, lips too close, filling her with need. But it was his eyes she worried about. He was seeing too much.

“I don’t need no muthafuckin’ memo to tell me there’s bad girls here,” she replied, throwing off her perfect grammar for the role she was playing.

He scrutinized her more. The intense intelligence that radiated off him scared her.

She looked away from his eyes, but that left her gazing at his straight, strong nose, and then his lips. Oh, yeah, his lips.

She knew that he’d kiss her moments before he did it, as though the kiss came from outside of them, pre-ordained by the universe. Wild energy danced in her chest as he drew in; at the last moment, he paused, letting her feel his heat. Then he closed his lips over hers.

His kiss was light and heavy at the same time, like summer fog, rich with mysterious magic. There, then gone.

As he ends the kiss, he disarms Angel of the handgun she’s strapped to her thigh. He also takes her tiny safe-cracking kit–it’s disguised as an mp3 player–but she snatches it back from him. He then tells her to get lost and seems to lose interest in her which, of course, he hasn’t.

Cole Hawkins isn’t who he’s pretending to be either. He’s an operative for a shadowy good-guy spy group called The Associates. Cole is a genius with anything that involves numbers… and he’s lethal when he needs to be. Right now, he’s investigating Borgola’s child trafficking.

Evidence suggested they were from Southeast Asia or possibly former Soviet states; he didn’t have that piece of the puzzle yet. One thing he did know: they had five days until they landed, and then they’d be lost. Borgola’s snuff films—violent, disturbing sex films that always ended in death—seemed to be filmed in trucks and shipping containers, mobile studios that could be anywhere.

Cole had originally been planted undercover in the team to develop intelligence on a different operation of Borgola’s, sex slavery out of Myanmar. He’d worked out the details pretty quickly. And then he’d uncovered the snuff film operations. He hadn’t found direct evidence of the films; rather, he’d discerned the operation’s presence via his equations, like a ghost limb. He’d asked Dax to let him stay on and bring it down. Dax was all for it.

Associates sometimes got planted in deep cover for years doing unthinkable little things and sometimes unthinkable big things to keep their credibility. They helped with the small plots and sabotaged the big plots and leaked information and executed people when they had to. Officially, no governments knew about them; unofficially, they were central to the international fight against crime.

Cole knows the info he needs is hidden in a secret safe–another Fenton, not in the bedroom. He’s determined to find it.

Team Angel pulls off a brilliant robbery and Angel returns to her crime-free life. That is until, Cole shows up, waiting for her in her apartment. He’s tracked her down and wants her help. He knows she can crack the secret safe and he pretty much blackmails her into helping him.

What follows is fast, fun, and sexy. Angel and Cole have great chemistry before, during, and after the two get down and dirty.

Against the Dark avoids the too much love in too little time trap by pacing out the next robbery and by giving Cole and Angel time to connect. It’s quick but not too quick.

The suspense plot is excellent. The stakes for Cole and Angel start high and get higher as the novel winds on. Cole needs to do whatever it takes to save those kids. Angel needs to do whatever keeps Macy and White Jenny safe. Borgola needs to do the sickest thing you can think of. Cole and Angel keep just one step ahead of Borgola and his cretins and the plot spools out tautly.

I enjoyed this book. Even the secondary characters are well done and, given that it’s the start of a new series, I bet we will be seeing more of them in the future. I’m looking forward to it.

Against the Dark gets a B from me.

Dabney

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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

10 Comments

  1. Carolyne
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 08:48:04

    Carolyn Crane is auto-buy for me now–not just because of our similar names (and initials) :) Skyfall just left me flat and confused in so many ways; it’ll be nice if this book can wash that blah memory away!

    One of the side-effects of always picking up an author’s titles is I end up not doing more than glancing at the reviews until after…

  2. DB Cooper
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 10:27:41

    OK. I’m not trying to stir the pot here, but I wonder if there’s an audience/demographic expectation going on here?

    I thought Skyfall was excellent. There are a few small bumps I would have cut or changed, but I did not find the plot of it confusing or unclear.

    (Dabney, I’m with you, and the victims of sexual violence groups, about the shower scene’s portrayal…that’s an interesting side discussion I think).

    Of course, my mind immediately goes to the fact that I’m a different demographic than many readers here… So, did anyone here really like Skyfall?

    More on point with the book. “The Associates” and group names like that really raise warning flags in my mind (I had similar issues with Skyfall’s predecessor: quantum of solace, BTW), the more shadowy, secrety, namey an organization is, the more I have trouble believing. Is the book a wild ride? Are the super skills restrained and practical? Are we given enough to believe in them?

    Not a criticism here, just curiosity. :D

  3. Dabney
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 10:44:13

    @DB Cooper: I think, more or less, the guys in the Association are reasonably portrayed. It’s interesting–and kinda cool–that Angel and her two friends are every bit as skilled as the trained operatives.

  4. Carolyne
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 15:16:34

    I’ll admit that although I love the concept of Bond and the Bond franchise, and enjoy the choice of actors for the various recurring and featured roles, all the same I don’t know the movies well. I found the ineffectiveness and “refrigerating” of the women in Skyfall irritating and not the most satisfying way to go with the plot. But this may be the usual way all characters are used in the movies for dramatic effect. It’s about Bond and his perspective, after all. It just didn’t work emotionally or stylistically for me.

    On the other hand, I seem to love the (animated) secret-agent series Archer, and that’s so over the top awful it comes back around to funny again, then passes it and sometimes does or doesn’t make it back one more time.

  5. DB Cooper
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 08:36:32

    Hmmm, had trouble posting twice. Did I do something to get blocked? :)

  6. DB Cooper
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 08:36:59

    My @Carolyne:

    (Nooo! My comment disappeared upon posting! Forgive if I end up double-posting.)
    If you’ll permit me a short ramble. :)

    I guess I’ll cop to having a familiarity with Bond. (!) And I’ll say, I rather like what happened in Skyfall regarding the woman from the sex trade. From my perspective, anyways, it wasn’t “refrigeration”. He has no relationship with her–though he makes a passable attempt to save her–and there is no real plot around her. She drives no need for revenge. No anger. What happens is ugly, and his reaction is cold–exactly what I want from Bond, especially Craig’s Bond.

    But yes. Relationships. Unlike most other Bond films, where the “relationship” is an “unrealistic appendage” to the plot (I make an exception for Casino Royale), Skyfall does center around one–Bond’s relationship with M. Yes, she does occupy a different position. As his superior, and as director of MI6 (in a “traditionally masculine” role), it lends the relationship a sort of “rah, rah, honor, fraternity, duty” sort of feel to it, but to his credit, Daniel Craig called Judi Dench one of the great (unsung) Bond Girls, and I find I have to agree.

    In fact, if you want to read the movie from a “Dear Author” perspective, next time you see it look for:

    - Enemies to lovers (metaphorically), who share more in common than they want to admit to (M and Bond)
    - Rivals for affection (Bond and Silva)
    - Big reveal about past relationship 1 (Silva)
    - Big reveal about past relationship 2 (M)
    - Hero goes charging to Heroine’s rescue–from crazed ex, no less (Bond and M)
    - Hero kidnaps Heroine for her own good (Bond and M)
    - Heroine stubbornly involved in her own defense (M)
    - Hero gets affirmation he needs/learns to be a better person through Heroine (Bond)

    This movie really is about them.

    Oh, and I love over the top. I love so bad it’s good (or at least, so bad my sides hurt). I guess I’ll have to check out Archer then.

  7. Sunita
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 09:57:08

    @DB Cooper: There were multiple identical (or nearly identical) posts and they all went to spam. I pulled one of them out.

  8. DB Cooper
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 10:23:51

    @Sunita: Thanks. I appreciate it. :D

  9. MaryK
    Jun 09, 2013 @ 22:54:52

    Dabney – Are there a lot of details about the villain and his crimes? The book sounds interesting, but I wonder if it might lean toward the not for the squeamish side of RS.

  10. Dabney
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 06:47:30

    @MaryK: I think you will be fine. There’s no overt stuff, just plans.

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