REVIEW: Secrets of Sin by Chloe Harris
Dear Ms. Harris:
Thank you for sending me your book for review. I suspect my review will solidify rumors that I just do not like erotic romance. I don’t believe that that’s true but I do find many erotic romances to be problematic. This is because I require some emotional connection to accompany the physical acts. I can see the accounts to create emotional depth in the story but I felt that those were written around the sex rather than the sex flowing from the emotional headspace. In this book, I felt like the story was created around a bunch of sex scenes rather than the sex scenes used to highlight any emotional progression.
Many times in the story I kept asking why. Emiline du Ronde was the daughter of a wealthy African sugar cane plantation owner in the Caribbean. When her father dies and leaves her alone, young and immature and spoiled, Emiline was easy prey for seducer, Reinier Barhydt. Reinier wanted his own ship but he lacked the funds. By marrying Emiline, Reinier got access to her money and her body. He uses both and then takes off to build his shipping empire, abandoning Emiline for four years. After four years of her husband’s absense, Emiline goes to her family lawyer to see about a divorce. When Reinier hears about this, he is enraged. He won’t be a cuckold and he won’t be sloughed off like dead skin. But before he runs to correct his wayward wife, Reinier has to introduce a new whore to the ways of whoredom with his best friend and business partner, Connor.
Why? Why open a book with the hero having sex with his business partner and a whore? What’s the point of that? What does it say about the hero? That he is a licentious philanderer? That sex is meaningless to him? (The business partner and the whore are the main protagonists in the sequel to this book but sequel bait sex scenes don’t set a good stage for a believable romance between the protagonists of this book). Reinier is portrayed as emotionally distraught because Emiline didn’t love him while he loved her. Yet not once do thoughts of Emiline enter Reinier’s mind while he’s pleasuring the whore. He does think of Connor though.
Connor and Reinier have a sexual attraction to each other that is alluded to but never acted upon. The way in which the two inflame each other and the time they’ve spent together alone on ships, one has to wonder why is it all talk and no action? In other words, why the titillation of two men being attracted to each other, two men who engage in menages, yet who are not screwing each other up one side of the captain’s cabin and down the other? At one point, Emiline does confront Reinier about Connor but Reinier never addresses his feelings for Connor, instead dismissing her jealousy as unreasonable.
Like Emiline, however, I felt that the strongest emotional connection was between Reinier and Connor. In one of the opening scenes, Connor gets hard just thinking about Reinier. They love each other, unreservedly:
His affection for Connor, Reinier knew, went beyond what was sane or sensible, but at least it was mutual. Reinier had never questioned it, nor had he ever had reason to. Connor was his friend, his only, best friend.
He was so much more than that if Reinier were completely honest with himself.
Rainier’s emotional insecurity is blamed on his bad, bad childhood and lack of mommy love, but the explanation was too little, too late for me. Further, Rainier never acknowledges that he pursued Emiline for her money, for the express purpose of marrying her and gaining access to the money. His actions are supposed to be offset by the fact that she bragged to her friends about capturing him. However, I never saw Emiline do anything adverse to Rainier. We were told, through Rainier’s words, that Emiline hurt him, but we saw through sex scenes and through Connor’s explanations, that Rainier has been whoring up and down the continental seaboard with Connor.
I felt like there was a mismatch between the character’s actions and what those actions told me as a reader and the words that were said by the characters. This passage is a perfect example:
He noticed her hands were trembling. When she put the cup down on the saucer she was holding with her left hand, it clat- tered. Emiline cleared her throat at the embarrassing noise.
Reinier laughed softly.
“What amuses you?” She was only smiling at him, her stun- ningly bright eyes searching his face, and as always she didn’t have the slightest idea what he was thinking.
“I see that nothing has changed.”
“Oh . . .” Emiline set out, but he rose to leave and she didn’t continue.
Reinier had had enough for the moment. If he’d missed the evening tide, then they had plenty of time to talk before morn- ing. “Since I feel fatigued after the journey, I will retire until supper. I expect you to honor me with your presence, Emiline.”
Her mouth opened and closed a few times, but in the end, she nodded, “Of course.”
Reinier hid his disappointment behind a detached but self- assured smirk, an expression he’d practiced well over the years. He’d have preferred her sneering at him, or screaming she’d rather starve or eat maggots than dine with him. But no, he wouldn’t get any emotional reaction from her.
Emiline. Always polite. Ever the perfect wife.
He wouldn’t get any emotional reaction from her? He was just laughing not a few sentences previously at her trembling fingers, the clattering teacup, and the embarrassing noise she made from her throat. At one point, Reinier is acknowledging that he married Emiline for her money and then he is cursing her for not loving him and running far, far away because she had broken his heart. Or was it because he was obsessed with her and didn’t want to be obsessed. Or was it the call of the sea, his first love? His reasons for abandoning her varied from section to section. I wanted to know what the root cause of their separation was because without knowing, how could I be convinced that being landlocked with Emiline would result in a happy ending?
And that was the crux of my problem with this book. I wasn’t convinced that Emiline and Rainier were happy at the end of the story. There wasn’t enough believable emotional development to accompany the sex scenes. Not even the exotic setting or the multicultural heroine saved this story for me. D
As an aside, I call the hero “I-can-see-the-hymen-from-my-porch-Renier” because when he and Connor took the whore he saw a “secret” in her girl parts which turns out later to be a half torn hymen. You have to wonder how many hymens Renier’s seen to make that kind of diagnosis.