I have written before about how stressful I find December. I had my last class yesterday, and our department office is decorated for Christmas. But I am so not done with the term–still lots of grading, an exam to give, other work, Christmas shopping, etc. etc. etc. I am not in the Christmas, or even Advent, spirit, and I don’t want to think about it yet, because when I do panic sets in.
So while many people I know are tweeting about the Christmas romances they’re reading, I’ve been in the mood for mystery and romantic suspense. Perhaps I should binge on the Christmas novellas languishing in my TBR come June? Otherwise, they may stay there forever.
After reading actor David Sutcliffe’s comments on loneliness (linked in my last post), in the intervals of grading I binge-watched the 13 episodes of Cracked available on Netflix. (It’s a Canadian show, so I suspect for once geo-restrictions worked in my favor). It’s a fairly conventional cop show in which Sutcliffe plays Aidan Black, a troubled detective with PTSD who is assigned to the “Psych Crimes” unit and partnered with a forensic psychologist. Thinking about Sutcliffe’s words about his own loneliness added depth and poignancy to his portrayal of a lonely character, and was part of what kept me watching. [Also, to be honest, it’s the kind of show designed to hook female viewers into thinking, “Let me help with your loneliness, handsome sad character. I can fix you!” I’m not immune to this sort of thing. At all. If I wrote fanfic it would be about Mary Sue Me and dudes like this.]
I had mixed feelings about the portrayal of mental illness on the show: on the one hand, it’s sometimes sensitive; on the other, they’re the Psych Crimes unit, so, you know, there are a lot of violent mentally ill characters featured. The two main characters may be attractive white people, but the core cast is really diverse, and I also liked the color blind casting of minor characters (like a veteran named Kovacs played by a black actor). I wanted more.
This week, I read Laura K. Curtis‘ romantic suspense novel Twisted. This was one of those times when the author’s social media presence helped sell me the book. I’ve enjoyed interacting with Curtis on Twitter and reading some of her blog posts–her perspectives made me think I’d likely enjoy her book–plus her Lego book trailer was fun.
In Twisted, true crime writer Lucy Sadler Caldwell comes home to the small town of Dobbs Hollow to investigate her mother’s murder, which happened when Lucy was a teen. Her reappearance stirs up trouble, other murders happen, and eventually the cops get the villains and Lucy gets police chief Ethan Donovan (come on, it’s romantic suspense–that’s not a spoiler, is it?). I found Twisted required some suspension of disbelief: could so much criminal behavior really go unremarked in a small town for so many years? But I suspended mine willingly, because the suspense was page-turning and I really liked the characters.
Lucy isn’t “feisty” or “kick-ass,” but believably a smart, skilled survivor. She’s taken self-defense lessons and owns guns that she knows how to use, and her career has made her a good investigator. Her foster father and a number of friends are law enforcement officers, and she understands their world. Ethan has come to a small town because injury (and other things we don’t learn about right away) left him feeling he is unsuited for his job on the Houston force. He’s protective and a good cop, but not a bossy alpha. He doesn’t know how to stop being a detective, but he’s not sure he’s up to the job anymore. Ethan and Lucy have good reason not to trust each other, but slowly they learn to do so, and to work together. They need each other. This respectful partnership is my favorite kind of romance. I liked many of the secondary characters, too. The investigation had the ensemble feel of a good police procedural.
There were elements of this book that I often dislike. There are a handful of scenes in the villain’s point of view, but not too many, and they’re brief. I don’t think I’m giving too much away in saying there are serial murders and rapes. But for the most part, the violence is off screen and I didn’t get the torture porn, victimization of women feeling that I get from some romantic suspense. I thought Curtis showed enough to make the crimes feel serious, but the focus is on the investigation.
At the end, Lucy does something some readers might call TSTL. I would not. She has a plan and backup, and she’s not helpless. Her actions set up the kind of confrontation scene I expect in a book like this. She takes the kind of risks we expect from male heroes and tend to belittle in female ones. It worked for me.
One of my favorite secondary characters was TJ, finding a role for herself as a cop in the small town where her father is mayor. As soon as she was introduced, I thought, “I’d like to read her story.” And I will get the chance in Curtis’ next book. Female law enforcement characters are so rare in romantic suspense. I’d like it even better if she were going to be paired with a civilian instead of an FBI guy, but I suspect that’s regarded as Too Emasculating in the genre (if anyone knows of such a book, please tell me). Twisted was a win for me: the gripping, slightly creepy pleasures of romantic suspense without the gender politics I dislike.
In a change of mood, but sticking with mystery, I’m now reading Catherine Lloyd’s Death Comes to the Village, a Regency-set cozy mystery with a Rear Window vibe, pairing the injured Napoleonic war veteran Major Kurland with rector’s daughter Lucy Harrington. I learned about it from this post by Victoria Janssen. I’m really enjoying it so far. (This author also writes historical erotic romance as Kate Pearce).
What’s your pre-holiday (or Thanksgiving holiday) reading?