Conclusive proof that Anne Stuart is just not for me, though the force of her obsessions do make her books compelling reading even if you hate every character in them and want to lock up the heroes and give the heroines feminist consciousness-raising, anti-domestic violence training, and self-defense lessons. But though I love many fictional dangerous men, including the occasional former mass murderer (if he had a good reason for it) and would not be able to resist Daniel Craig's James Bond despite the knowledge that women who have sex with Bond have a higher mortality rate than deep sea wreck divers, Stuart's heroes strike me as creepy and unsexy-- not so much the fantasy of the hot dangerous man, but the reality of pathetic women writing love letters to Ted Bundy.

That being said, when I discovered that I had another Stuart novel on my bookcase and started flipping through it late last night, I was unable to turn off the lights until I was done, several hours later. But that is the last one. No, not even the tempting prospect of the one where the hero is a secret agent who sleeps with other men if his job requires it. (Does anyone know of any other book that has that as a plot point but isn't written by Stuart? Because I would be all over it.)

Richard Tiernan, the tall, dark, handsome, and totally bugfuck insane hero, is out on million dollar bail (!) after having been convicted of the murder (!!) of his pregnant wife (!!!) He was also widely suspected of having murdered his two children and mistress (!!!!) but not charged with that, because they disappeared without a trace (!!!!!)

(You'll have to take the exclamation points as read after this, because I think I just wore out the key.)

Richard has been bailed out by sinister writer (OK, just one more-- !) Sean O'Rourke, who wants to write a book about him and so is keeping him in his house (can't resist-- !!) Sean invites his daughter Cassidy over to stay, as, it turns out, the deal Richard and Sean made was that Richard would tell him about the murders if Sean pimped out Cassidy to him (sorry-- !!!)

Believe it or not, it gets even more improbable later. (Although, weirdly enough, all this cracktasticness turns out to be thematically self-consistent within its own insane parameters.)

My big problem with this book was not so much the totally unbelievable plot, which was not merely preposterous in whole but absurd at every turn, but that I detested every single character in it. Richard is a charm-deficient asshole, Cassidy has the sense of self-preservation of a lemming, and don't get me started on the supporting characters. Consequently, I neither believed in nor cared about the romance.

And the revelations at the end, though, as I mentioned, were thematically consistent, made no logical sense whatsoever.

What, you ask, could be worse than having everyone think you murdered your mistress, your children, and your pregnant wife? )
This is possibly the strangest romance novel I've ever read, and I've read some real

I picked it up because I had heard that it pushed the fantasy of being romanced by a dangerous man to the max. This is true. It pushes that fantasy so far that it would become a deconstruction of it if Stuart had the slightest sense of irony, humor, or deconstructive intent. Instead, as [ profile] oyceter put it, the book appears to the Creature From Anne Stuart's Id. And her id is a scary, scary place.

Annie (please God no don't let the similarity of names indicate a Mary Sue) is the daughter of a CIA agent-- something which she has no idea of until her father dies mysteriously after telling her to look up his CIA protegee James should anything ever happen to him.

James is not merely a CIA agent, but an assassin in the secret sub-group Annie's father had been running on the side. He is tall, dark, handsome, and Irish. He is also completely bugfuck insane. And a sociopath. And a semi-licensed serial killer. While many novels have assassin-heroes, they generally are able to partition off the part of them that kills into their job persona, while leaving them able to relate to other people, such as women they're romancing, without constantly thinking of killing them. Not so James! He cannot look at anyone, especially Annie, without thinking about how he could kill her and that maybe he ought to do so. For the entire book!

This is the romantic lead.

There is a flashback scene in which Annie is ineptly cooking a turkey and James helps out. He only gets so far as picking up the turkey before thinking, "Sex and death, sex and death... No! Must not think of sex and death!" I swear I don't think this is supposed to be funny. Or at least, I don't think the sex and death part is supposed to be funny.

Annie is boring. James is fucking creepy. Again, if there was any irony at all in the tone, it would have been a brilliant and disturbing look at the dodgy nature of some very common fantasies and romance tropes. But there is no irony that I can detect. So it is disturbing without being brilliant, though it's certainly bizarrely compelling.

The sex scenes play more like rapes and less like rape fantasies than the rape fantasy sex scenes in any romance I've ever read. Let me put it this way: rough sex is one thing, "Stop, stop, oh I can't help myself from responding" is another thing, but when the hero is considering snapping the heroine's neck while he's having sex with her, the book has gone beyond the realm of romance and into some other place entirely-- a place I hope not to ever visit again.

The appeal of the "dangerous man" fantasy, in my mind, rests entirely on the premise that he isn't dangerous to you. (Except to your heart.) You can get into a gray area (often featured in Gothics) where he might or might not be dangerous to you, and then the frisson is not knowing whether or not to trust him-- "My head says no, but my clitoris heart says yes, oh yes!" But when the reader knows for certain that the romantic lead is a freaking nutcase, it kills the romance deader than everyone who crosses James' path.

I borrowed this from [ profile] oyceter after she heard about it from [ profile] coffeeandink. Thanks, you two! I think.

ETA: I don't own the book, so cannot quote it, but if anyone who has it would care to quote the relevant section of the turkey scene (or any other bit, really) in comments, that would be great.


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