Dear Ms. Webb:
I read this book directly after finishing Nameless that I liked quite a bit. As I said in the Nameless review, the characters generally make or break a romantic suspense book which means the suspense can be awesome but if the romance doesn’t fit, I’m not likely to read that RS author again. The biggest issue I had with this book was how I thought you wanted readers to perceive the characters and how they actually came off.
Carson Tanner’s family was brutally murdered almost fifteen years ago. A serial killer finally confessed to killing Carson’s family but in a face to face meeting that the killer demanded as part of his confession, he manages to leave Carson with uncertainty. Carson, the star assistant DA, wants to close that painful part of his past. His idyllic life was torn apart when he was fifteen due, in part, that he got drunk and woke up bathed in blood. While he was a suspect for only a short time, he lost mainstays of his life, including Elizabeth , the daughter of a current Georgia Senator.
Annette Baxter was raped at age 10, abandoned into the foster system to be continually abused until she started selling herself. She caught the eye of an organized leader of crime — Otis Fleming. He took her under his wing and now Annette is one of the more powerful people in Birmingham. She works as a fixer, making ugly developments for rich families go away. Several of these rich people are tired of Annette and her power and band together to bring her down.
Carson is unwittingly appointed this task. Bring Annette Baxter down and the DA office will be yours, is the unspoken promise. Annette must convince Carson that he is as expendable as she is and that they must work together before the powerful men in the city kill them both.
Suspense in this book? Check. Good Suspense. Characterizations? Eek.
In an email to a friend, I wrote that I wished toward the end that the bad guys would kill the male protag so I think it is safe to say that I never bought into Carson’s character as anyone likeable. I found him to be a priggish martyr who acted one way with his cock and another way with his “heart”. I put the “heart” in quotes because I wasn’t quite sure if he really felt certain things or whether he was telling himself he felt things. His heart lurches everytime he’s near Elizabeth. He remembers those warm teen feelings that they were going to be together forever.
There was one particularly grotesque sequence wherein he berates Annette for not feeling during their one previous sexual encounter. He is determined that she feel something for him. He takes her, angrily, because he has something to prove.
She came with the same fervor that she did everything else. The scream muffled between their kisses sent him over the edge. The release left him weak in the knees and suffering from a vulnerability he had never before experienced.
What the hell was wrong with him?
She trembled as she pushed at his chest, lowered her feet to the floor, and shoved her skirt back down.
He tugged at his own clothes, the air raging in and out of his lungs, his pulse pounding as if he’d run ten miles.
When he looked up, she would not meet his gaze.
The ice bitch had thawed.
Then he leaves her, after making her feel something for him, to run and comfort Elizabeth. While there, he feels guilty for having sex with Annette because it seemed like cheating on Elizabeth. Up to this time, all he’s shared with Elizabeth, besides crushing on her when he was 15, was a drink, a dinner and a driveway encounter but he feels guilty for having sex with Annette.
Elizabeth shook her head. “Thank you. Just being here is enough.” She cuddled deeper into his arms.
Guilt poked him at the idea of what he and Baxter had done in that elevator. It felt almost as if he’d cheated on Elizabeth. More crazy notions.
Another particularly unappetizing scene is where Annette’s spilling her guts to him about her abused past, one that he already knows a great deal about from her file, he’s a prick to her. Internally monologues that he isn’t going to feel sorry for her because she’s such an amoral character.
Maybe you did too good of a job making Annette likeable. Yes, she was amoral but it wasn’t like she had a lot of choices. She was surviving the only way she knew how. Her mother placed in a situation where she was raped at age ten and then abandoned her. She was abused while in the system and turning tricks at a young age was just her only way out. She had survived, by wit and sheer force of will. Pretty or not, socially acceptable or not. Legal or not. Most importantly, she never lied to herself or anyone else about her motives:
“We operate in the same world, Tanner. On my side of the legal line, we’re just a little more up front with our tactics.”
There was really no addressing that Tanner felt like he was still in love with Elizabeth and just because she didn’t turn out to be what he believed her to be, there was no discussion at all that he felt betrayed, that he recognized what he felt for Elizabeth was an illusion or anything. It was like he never had those feelings at all.
To some extent, I feel like there is a subtle villification of the woman’s character vis a vis the male character to make his misdeeds more palatable as Jennie talked about in her rant the other day. The hero has to be made likeable and in this story, he has to be made likeable despite the fact that he’s screwing one woman while his heart supposedly belongs to another and he is actively wooing her to the extent that he leaves screwing the one girl to comfort the other one. In order for that sick dynamic to work, the girl he’s screwing has to be villianized in some way to make the emotional betrayal justified. Thus the continued use of the male protag’s referral to the heroine as “ice bitch.”
The writing in this story is competent. The suspense is very good. There were some questions about the “why” that was never answered fully to my satisfaction. If the movers and shakers were tired of Annette and the danger she posed, why set in motion activities that happened? I.e., why not just get someone to cap her ass and move on instead of getting people to withdraw support and frame her for other’s deaths?
I’m sure that Carson Tanner was supposed to come off as this righteous lawyer who doggedly pursued the truth, thus his nickname, The Avenger. In his quest for his own achievements he forgot his humanity. Tanner came off as the judgmental prick who held everyone else up to exacting standards that his own life wouldn’t be able to match. He has one moment of illumination when he acknowledges that actions that Annette used were the same that he did as a lawyer, only his were legal and her’s wasn’t so there, you ice bitch.
This won’t stop me from reading another Debra Webb. I’m going to go and buy Traceless this weekend. I will stop reading, however, if every heroine is sexually damaged so that she “disappears” and every hero has the magical hoo haa to bring her back from Invisi-land. C