by Julie Cohen, contemporary (2008)
Little Black Dress Books, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-7553-4137-5
Honey Trap, like most romance novels featuring the glitz of the entertainment industry, serves to remind readers that fame sucks. Everyone in it is either dead, drunk, diseased, or depressed. We should be thankful for our mundane lives, that kind of thing. While this may be a book by Julie Cohen, be warned that the people here are so miserable that it would often seem like an act of mercy to put them down.
Honey Trap refers to the method of entrapment used by private investigators to obtain evidence of the unfaithful nature of a client's lover. In this story, our heroine Sophie Tennant would approach the target and flirt with that man, using a recording device discreetly hidden on her self to tape the man's response. Most of the time, she doesn't even have to try hard - the man in question pretty much does her work for her by propositioning her for sex. When the story opens, Sophie has concluded a successful honey trap, but it's not a happy one. The man almost raped her, her client's daughter (this man's girlfriend) blames Sophie for leading her boyfriend on, and Sophie doesn't feel good about herself.
Eventually, she shuts down her PI practice and becomes an aromatherapist. When her services impress the lead singer of a reformed band, the Venusians which was big in the 1980s, and she ends up hitting the road as their resident aromatherapist, Sophie may just be ready to put the blues behind her. That is, until she discovers that the bassist, Dominick Steele, was the victim of her first successful honey trap. When someone starts trying to kill Sophie, things get even more complicated.
Dom, an ex-lead vocalist of a band that was torn apart by his out-of-control self-destructive habits back in the heydays, is hoping that the Venusians will allow him a fresh start as well as a way to pay the rent. Sophie isn't even high on his list of issues: he is trying very hard to stay sober and he is also plagued by guilt and what not stemming from his antics in the past. What I like about him is that Dom takes responsibility for his actions here. He owns up to his sins - he admits to himself as well as to Sophie that her honey trap on him was successful because he was a cheating SOB back in those days. He may be yet another Remorseful Sanitized Pop Star trope in romance novels, but Dom is an attractive version of the cliché. I always have a weakness for heroes who own up to his mistakes and take the repercussions like a man.
Sophie, on the other hand, is a very problematic character. She is very nasty in the first third of this story. I try to be sympathetic, since she's clearly burned out by her PI job, but it's not easy when she starts tearing apart a nice guy who tries to help her just because she can do so. I don't know why she takes up aromatherapy when she doesn't believe in its effectiveness. When she sets up shop and starts having clients, she thinks very little of her clients, mocking them in her mind and talking to them in barely-veiled contempt. She does get more tolerable when she starts treating Dom like a human being, but then the author decides to drop the romantic suspense subplot into the story and lets Sophie become too stupid for words. You see, Sophie investigates things on her own while keeping Dom and the band in the dark about the threats she has been receiving, even if it means putting them in danger. She also starts treating Dom like crap. Girlfriend here doesn't do well under stress, let's just say, and when she's stressed, she doesn't care who she cuts down with her abrasive attitude.
The author is aware of how stupid Sophie is being when Sophie begins putting everyone else in danger, but it's not enough to placate me, especially when Sophie's reaction to her epiphany is to offer a glib apology to Dom, who proceeds to wave aside her past antics as trivial. The mystery aspect of the story isn't well done as well. The identity of the villain is obvious to me from the get go and this villain's antics are more like something out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon than anything else. Perhaps the villain's goofy attempt at being sinister is a good thing, come to think of it, because if the threat feels real, Sophie's stupidity will be even more painful to read.
Honey Trap has an unusual setting - on the road with a rock band - and the author succeeds in making the setting feel real and credible. Dom is a very appealing hero. When the author wants to make me laugh, she can do so very well via the lines spoken by adorable secondary characters like Mad Dog. Unfortunately, the heroine is an abrasive creature who comes to her senses way too late in the story and the mystery plot sees her behaving like a dumb twit who doesn't care about any collateral damage that may result from her attempts to play Nancy Drew. All things considered, this is the most readable of the stories by this author that I have read so far, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.
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