I like romantic suspense. I like to read the way a fish likes water. So when I have read all the books I already have, and all that are new by authors I like, I have to get new books by new-to-me authors, right? Except reading a book by a new author always makes me feel what can only be described as trepidation because I have such a low threshold for bad writing that it can slide under a dollar bill and give Washington a juicy kiss.
Nevertheless, I do break down and buy new novels. It happens. But when it's not one of my auto-buys, what I want is a cheap book to try on for size. So when a friend of mine sent me an email linking to HATCHET JOB by Tamsin Everly suggesting I might like it, I thought I'd give it a look. It cost a whopping $3.99 so it fit my criteria. Plus, the tagline of "Lizzie Borden took an ex …" amused me and the blurb made it seem interesting:
"Lizzie left her cheating husband and her Gold Coast life behind after taking a hatchet to his political dreams. But a successful divorce in a world where women are traded in like used cars is the Holy Grail, and when her friend Samantha asks for her help she digs out her camera and prepares to solve the mystery of Mike Riley–a successful plastic surgeon whose behavior has changed so drastically that his wife just can't deal with it any longer.
Spying on Mike leads to nothing but trouble, though. He's not into drugs, or women… he's dead. In over her head Lizzie turns to her mobbed up landlord and his dangerously sexy nephew Nick, a man who could easily do more damage to her heart than her ex-husband ever had. As the body count rises Lizzie finds herself trapped between a man who makes her feel alive, and someone who seriously wants her dead…"
I read it, and lo, a miracle occurred for me--it was worth reading!
Now, here is where the gravy thickens. It turns out the friend who sent it to me had also written it. She wanted me to give her an honest opinion, not the kindly friend version. I knew she was working on a book, but I thought it was in the Steampunk genre so I suspected nothing. She was worried she had laden it with clues that would give it away. That's great, except I have Asperger's and wasn't looking for clues. I was just reading. This wouldn't have been a big deal, except I liked what I read so much I cluelessly decided to review it for my blog.
Imagine the shock "Tamsin" felt when she read my blog a few days later and there is her book, without my usual disclaimer that I knew the author. She emailed me immediately to let me know she was the wordsmith behind the novel. What to do?
I decided to just leave it be. I had written my honest opinion and nothing had changed. Plus, even when I am friends with the author I am honest in my reviews. I have had way too much academic training to accept bad writing.
However, since I am now a reviewer here, I decided to take the opportunity to go on record with the fact that I am good friends with the woman who wrote this book. Nevertheless, the review reflects my opinion of the writing, not the friend.
Anyway, back to the book --
It's told in the first person by the heroine, Lizzie Borden. No, her parents weren't sadistic; her ex-husband was a hotshot lawyer named Stephen Borden. She only got saddled with that name when she said "I do". She also got treated like crap after the troth had been plighted. Unlike the good little heroines of yesteryear, she did not take it meekly and then let some Big Strong Man find her and love her after her jerk of a husband abandoned her. Nope. She saw the women around her in her ritzy neighborhood either lose their humanity by staying with their self-involved husbands or lose their shirts when they got swapped out for a younger woman. Worse, if the wife was the one who asked for a divorce, she was run through the wringer before being hung out to dry in court by her well-connected spouse.
Thus, Lizzie made a plan
That plan involved taking color photos of her politically ambitious husband's naked butt in flagrante delicto with another woman and then releasing the aforementioned pictures to the media. Needless to say, she walked out of her divorce in much
better financial and emotional shape than most women. Honestly, the flashback of her sneaking into the suite and taking the pictures was worth buying the book for me. I love a protagonist who takes the bull by the horns, so to speak:
The media had a field day with the photos (of course), and Lizzie's very-headline-play-on-words-worthy-name made it all the juicer. Stephen's political career was toast. The only consequence she "suffered" was to be cast out of their social group, but she was more relieved than sad about that.
When her best friend from college, Samantha Riley, needed help leaving her marriage she knew to come strait to Lizzie Borden, "the Queen of Vindictive Divorce". Lizzie agrees to do her buddy a solid and stake out Sam's house to take pictures of whatever it was that the husband was up to.
Enter (well, re-enter but this is where it gets rolling) the hero stage left. Lizzie needed an unobtrusive ride to the snazzy neighborhood Sam lived in, by someone who would drop her off and then come back to get her without quibbling about irrelevant stuff like "legality". Thinking he is shady, she asks her landlord's nephew, Nick Staczak, for a favor. It's a little contrived, but not completely implausible by any means. Since she is friends with her elderly Polish landlord, Wally Kovacs, she has known Nick for a while. Furthermore, she assumes Nick was connected to organized crime like his uncle Wally, and would therefore be less upset about a covert op than most people.
I wasn't crazy about the hero at first, because Nick initially came across as a "bad boy"--whom Lizzie has been steering clear of to protect her already broken heart, of course--and that trope had gotten old for me by 1986. Happily, there was much more to Nick than just "bad boy", and by the end of the book I was rooting for him to win Lizzie's heart.
Mystery happens. I don't want to go into detail because it is too easy to drop accidental spoilers, but the mystery is a fairly good one. It's not an easy-peasy one, but it isn't ridiculously complex just to make it harder to figure out. It's difficult only in a rational, non-the-butler-hid-in-the-elephant kind of way.
Romance also happens. Like the mystery, it's also a good one. It even had the refreshing change (nowadays) of having the couple make out a couple of times instead of cutting straight to the rumpy-pumpy. (Seriously, we used to kiss on dates and make out with people even when we weren't ready to make the beast with two backs. Do they not do that anymore?)
Secrets are revealed! Danger is survived! Understandings are come to! HEA is achieved!
The thing I liked best about this book is it didn't stint on either the "romantic" OR the "suspense" aspect of the story. Sadly, too many books in this genre will have a smoking hot romance but a mystery that a toddler could solve if it weren't for the unlikelihood (physics much?) of the "crime" OR they have a great mystery with the lamest excuse for romance ever in the history of the world. A middle ground where both are good is nice to find.
The second thing I liked best about this book was the heroine's snarky internal monologue. She could turn a phrase, y'all. To be honest, the book needed it. The mystery could have gotten way too "dark" for a romance in a hurry if Lizzie's witticisms didn't keep bringing the "light" back. Here's an example of one that tickled me:
"I couldn't remember the last time I'd been this close to a man. Well, I could, but I didn't think that holding a letter opener to someone's zipper would be in the same category."
In short, I give the book a hardy B+ (or the equivalent of 5 stars at TRR) because it had a romantic romance, a rational mystery, and lots of smarty-pants comments, with only a few rough spots.