by Rachel Gibson, contemporary (2006)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-077291-3
I believe Sex, Lies, And Online Dating is Rachel Gibson's second romantic suspense after the sort-of suspenseful It Must Be Love but this book is excellent in how Ms Gibson manages to get a grasp of what so many romantic suspense authors fail to do with apparent ease: balancing suspense elements with romance so that both elements in the story blend together seamlessly. The characters are fun and likable, the sexual tension is well done, and the romance is pretty credible.
Our heroine Lucy Rothschild is a writer of crime stories. She gets inspirations for methods of murder and personalities of her victims from real life folks, and her latest work in progress - a story involving a female serial killer picking up guys via the Web and killing them during their erotic asphyxiation sessions - sees her meeting guys that she finds via online date sites. However, at the same there is someone killing guys that advertise themselves on these sites. For undercover cop Quinn McIntyre who is playing the bait by being one of these guys that use those sites, Lucy quickly becomes a prime suspect due to her intelligence, her vast knowledge of police procedural matters, CSI stuff, and serial killer psyche. Poor Lucy has no idea that the man she is falling for thinks that she is a serial killer while Quinn becomes increasingly torn about what he is doing to the woman he is falling for too. This is what happens when people don't date the conventional way anymore, I tell you.
While this is a story involving deception and Lucy does come off as quite dim at times for not getting more suspicious about Quinn's blatant interrogations about her hobby and what-not while Quinn can be really cringe-inducingly inept at times in his undercover stint (he can be really transparent, I tell you), I like how Ms Gibson nonetheless succeeds in giving me both sides of the story. Quinn doesn't really want to lie to Lucy but he has to also do his job. He cannot let his little head get in the way of his responsibilities and duties as a cop to stop a serial killer. Lucy has the right to feel betrayed by Quinn and violated by the way the cops bug her house and even record their heavy petting sessions on film, but at the same time she doesn't overreact - Quinn is, after all, doing his job, although of course he doesn't have to do those things and make her believe that their relationship is more intimate to him than it actually is. The last is what makes her angry and I think she has the right to feel that way. Both characters' points of view are portrayed well enough for me to get both sides of the story and I can emphatize with both characters and see where they are coming from.
Quinn is a very attractive hero in that he is undeniably male in the sense that while some romance heroes are clearly written by women, Quinn here is most amusingly male in his way of thinking and all. That's not to say that he's a terrible beer-guzzling master-of-the-remote stereotype, of course, he's still a romance hero through and through at the end of the day. He has some betrayal issues that he doesn't dwell on day and night just as he has some issues about failing to protect some people in his past, and these issues are touched on just enough to give him some past history. This is good though because Quinn has to catch a serial killer and his character, therefore, has no time to indulge in long self-absorbed pity-parties if Ms Gibson wants Quinn to come off as a responsible cop. I find Quinn very likable because he comes off as a cop rather than a stereotype of a cop. Apart from his name which is straight out of the overused contemporary hero names handbook, he is just a cop who actually has to do real undercover cop work like spending hours on unglamarous stake-outs and dealing with relationships that inevitable crumble when his job takes up too much of his time and the other person does not appreciate his long absences. He is not some superhuman action hero as well. On the other hand, he is still a romance hero in that sense that he exudes red-hot sexuality in his scenes with Lucy and he is also mischievous in the way a man who is aware of his appeal to women making the moves on the woman he has an eye for.
Lucy is a refreshingly sane and normal heroine despite her job and the story she is starring in. She has a normal sexual history and her views on sex are very sane indeed - she doesn't do that promiscuous one-night stand thing but that doesn't mean she is a complete kook or a neurotic weirdo, she just believes that one-night stands or meaningless sex with strangers aren't her usual style. She's had boyfriends in the past that she has slept with before and later broken up with for various reasons but her views on men aren't extremely narrow as a result. When confronted with the revelations that Quinn is a cop and she is his prime suspect, she gets rightfully angry but she doesn't go completely hysterical or go totally deaf and blind to reason. When she becomes the target of the serial killer, she listens to Quinn since he is the cop and he knows more about safety precautions in this situation. Lucy, therefore, is a smart heroine with a sense of humor that doesn't involve self-depreciation. She doesn't play the martyr or act stupidly in defiance to the hero out of petty spite. The fact that she comes off as a likable and sane heroine only makes her chemistry with Quinn all the more enjoyable to follow.
The suspense arc isn't too new or original, to be honest, from the timing of the revelation of Quinn's actual motive for getting close to Lucy to the inevitable denouement involving the villain and the heroine, but the story allows the main characters to get close and interact while at the same time allowing the suspense arc to progress to its eventual climax and conclusion. Most romantic suspense novels suffer from a suspense arc that dissipates to the background but here the suspense and the romance coexist and develop at the same time. Therefore the romance is developed enough to be convincing while the suspense doesn't feel half-baked and tacked on to the story. I like that. The pacing also never falters.
I do have some complains though. There are some jarring moments of discontinuity, such as when Quinn tells Lucy that he won't tell anyone where she is hiding from the serial killer only to have him telling his partner where Lucy is in the next scene. Or that Lucy tells Quinn that they shouldn't fool around while the whole "there's a serial killer after me!" thing is going on but she is then happily doing you-know-what with Quinn in the next scene. Quinn is either 36 or 37, depending on which part of the story I am reading. Also, Quinn tries to make it up to Lucy for her privacy being violated by the hidden cameras and bugs in her house in a manner that is way too over-the-top in my opinion. Maybe she can knock him in the head for fooling around with her while he believes that she is a serial killer but Quinn doing what he does to make things up with her is really too much.
I am amused by some obvious self-insertions on the author's part in Lucy's attitude towards fan mails. I suspect that some readers will not appreciate knowing that a favorite author can be so fatigued by responses and criticisms from readers that the author only checks her fan emails or letters only once a month, but that's the way some authors work or they will either never find time work on their books or they will end up being derailed from their original ideas by worrying too much about how fans may react to their works in progress. They may not also appreciate knowing that authors tend to roll up their eyes whenever these readers write in to point out unspecified spelling or grammar mistakes other than the page number where this mistakes are located in although, again, this is how life works if you ask me. If you send stupid emails or letters to an author, don't expect the author to bend over backwards to accommodate you, that's what I always believe. Oh, and feel free to substitute "an author" with "Mrs Giggles" in the previous sentence if you wish, heh. And should I be happy or worried that I can actually name all the songs that Ms Gibson alludes to in this story?
Sex, Lies, And Online Dating is an very entertainment read to me. Sure, there are some rough edges here and there that some tighter editing on both the parts of the author and the editor that could have improved matters, but the main characters are lots of fun from start to finish in a plot that complements their relationship all too well indeed.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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