REVIEW: Price of Passion by Susan Napier
Dear Ms. Napier:
This is the second of your books I have read, and it was selected purely by what was available on Fictionwise. Luckily for me, Price of Passion was a winner, an entertaining and smart interpretation of the enduring Harlequin Presents equation of plucky but overset heroine + darkly passionate and misunderstood hero = operatic drama and fiery loving. I loved every overwrought page of it.
Kate Crawford has a secret, a growing concern, and she’s come to Oyster Beach to figure out what to do about it. The vacation property she has rented is right next door to famous author Drake Daniels, who has shared Kate’s bed and commanded her heart for the past two years. But Drake, itinerant and unsettled, both physically and emotionally, does not seem happy to see Kate. When Kate — accidentally on purpose — stops by Drake’s super-secret writing haven, casually inquiring about a spare cup of sugar, she proves an irresistible disruption to Drak, catalyzing an anger and lust-fueled game of cat and mouse, although who acts and cat and who acts as mouse changes over the course of the book.
Most of the action in Price of Passion takes place around the push and pull of Kate and Drake’s relationship. We find out that they have been involved but uncommitted, and now that Kate needs something definitive either way from Drake, her fear of rejection clashes loudly with Drake’s well-developed insecurities, especially his difficulty trusting women (a wholly new trope in Romance, right?). And at first, all of Kate’s paranoiac fears about Drake seem well-justified. Like Kate, we see Drake’s aggression in his accusation that she is stalking him. We see the woman living in his house with him – whose forehead Kate initially identifies as “positively botoxical,” a term I think should be delivered to the mint and coined immediately – and curse Drake for his two-timing ways.
It is only as the novel proceeds and the back and forth intensifies that we understand that some of Kate’s perceptions are not accurate. She has believed, for example, that Drake never wanted a particularly close relationship – that he wanted sex but not the affection that goes with it. And so she had structured the relationship as to not get hurt and feel rejected, essentially creating its terms, all the while projecting that aloofness onto Drake. For his part, Drake definitely has trust and intimacy issues, but they are of a different character than Kate believes, and he is as uncertain about what she really wants as she is about him. So much of their relationship development involves rearranging those perceptions and adjusting to a different sense of reality.
Jane said in a recent review that she measures HP books “by the asshole to doormat heroine ratio. The grade for the book is inversely proportional to the ratio.” In Price of Passion, Kate was not a doormat and Drake was not an asshole. In fact, much of the pleasure in reading the book emerged from having my expectations subtly altered much in the same way Kate’s are. It is clever the way I was encouraged to think as Kate does that Drake is the typical careless seducer; it worked to engage me in the story and to challenge my own perceptions of this particular category line. Because I am still learning to appreciate these books where the hero is so much bigger and often louder than life, I especially appreciated the little subversions here and there. How, for example the “other woman” trope is reconsidered here, and how, again, I had to learn that lesson along with Kate. Then there is the prose, which is certainly dramatic, but sometimes surprisingly elegant, too.
Someone had lit a bonfire at the far end of the beach and through the big picture windows she could see the fiery sparks leaping up into the sky, reaching out for the cool sprawl of stars that were just beginning to prick through as dusk teetered on the edge of night.
I like that phrase, “the cool sprawl of stars” and the vivid image it conjures, even as the whole description “teeters on the edge of” too much. In fact, there are a lot of nice details in the book. Drake’s dog, for example, has a funny moment in which he plays a dog, exuding, as Kate describes it, “sarcasm” at the idea of being a typical dog (read: typical cute Romance mutt). At one point Kate is crying in a bathroom stall at the veterinarian’s office and she finds herself looking at the back of the door, as we all do, except that Kate is crouched there under the beady eyes of six fat hamsters crowded onto the veterinary products calendar on the back of the door. In what could have been a relatively insignificant moment, the presence of that calendar makes it more concrete and memorable. Even Drake’s thrillers seem a bit of an in joke, as they pit the world-weary hero against the world and the heroine’s innocence. Then there is the end, which features on of my least favorite Romance scenarios, but which I found unexpectedly fitting and not over the top.
It may be that so many things in this novel seem self-conscious comments on the novel, on the category line, and even the genre, that I somehow felt I was getting both a great HP drama and a smart commentary on it simultaneously. And the commentary merely increased my pleasure in the drama, sometimes even mooting my frustration with the overly-neat wrap up, the too-convenient coincidences, and the annoying and persistent use of the “pale face” to characterize surprise, fear, pain, and most other forms of emotional extremity. Drake, for all of his issues, is unreasonably quick in his emotional healing, and I still don’t really understand how he initially thought Kate could be stalking him, given the context of their relationship and his obviously strong feelings toward her. In fact, the way he let the relationship develop did not completely match his actions at the beginning of the novel or the later revelations we get about how seriously he took their intermittent affair. Had I not been so distracted by the novel’s strengths, I would have found these things a lot more annoying. As it happened, though, I closed Price of Passion feeling it’s a rich little novel, a smart and entertaining B+ read.