Double Down
by Katie Porter, contemporary (2012)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-61921-085-1


Katie Porter is actually the pseudonym for the writing team of Carrie Lofty and Lorelie Brown. Is anyone keeping score of how many writing teams Carrie Lofty has been involved in by now? Maybe there's a contest out there for authors with the most fabulous collaborative efforts and Ms Lofty wants to win the shiny first place medal.

Now, I have no idea what I am in for when I turn to the first page of Double Down. In fact, the marketing of this title is all about throwing everything into the kitchen sink. The cover art shows a guy in rugged civilian clothes and a fighter plane, suggesting that this may be one of those civilian-turned-hero Die Hard-style stories. But this story is the first in a series called Vegas Top Guns, and the title describes taking a risky move in Blackjack. Is this story about military drama in a casino? Okay, things make sense a little bit more after I read the back cover blurb - the hero is a major in the 64th Aggressor Squadron who, along with his gang, head over to Las Vegas for a "wild weekend".

And it is only after I've read this book that I can tell you that, where Double Deal is concerned at least, the whole "rugged hero in military action" thing is nonexistent and the hero's job is window dressing, in the way "billionaire businessman" is often the short hand for "loaded arrogant twatwaffle who doesn't seem to have an actual job" or "alpha male" is short hand for "generic fellow stuck with a marketing catchphrase to make him memorable". The hero being what he is is just a gimmick to get me thinking that this is Top Gun in Vegas when I pick up the story, but in truth, the hero could have been an Elvis impersonator and the story will still go on fine.

Major Ryan Haverty's nickname is Fang. Since he is addressed as Ryan in this story, I don't know why the author wants to embarrass him by giving him that silly nickname. Oh well. Like I've said, he flies a fighter plane, but that's just window dressing, as this story is all about him boinking our heroine, Cassandra Whitman, a waitress. Like Ryan, Cass's job is window dressing - she spends all her time either on her back with Ryan or putting on a sad face as she tries to analyze his behavior. Both characters here show two prominent personalities: naked or emo. The sad songs come from Ryan, who had a sad childhood and spends his life chasing after normalcy, but he fears that his horrible, horrible fetish - that makes him feel like a dirty old pervert, one that apparently drove all the hot chicks away from his milkshake - will tear them apart. Oh, he must drive her away before he drives her away with his fetish! Okay, that makes no sense on paper, but that's the way romance novel dudes roll sometimes.

What's this horrible kink, you ask? Is it an irrepressible desire to copulate with goats? Maybe he can't attain orgasm unless someone shoves the business end of a vacuum cleaner up his rear end? Or maybe he needs his partner to wear a Freddy Krueger mask before he can get a chubby?

No, his greatest shame is that he likes to role play in the bedroom. And it's not even embarrassing role-playing, like requiring Cass to dress up as Ronald McDonald and serve him hamburgers. And his angst makes even less sense when Cass shows no shame in participating - in fact, she seems to revel in it. On their first "date" (if I can call the "tab A, meet slot B" thing a date), she is the one who drags them into a sex store to get some sexy props for their games. So for Ryan to constantly go, oh, just you wait, one day she will wake up and realize that he's a disgusting pervert, wah wah wah - this nonsense is so silly and pointless, causing Ryan to come off as smart as that drooling orange relative that the Teletubbies keep locked in the basement out of shame.

As for Cass, she's quite bland, as she's written to be a reactive character once she starts slotting Ryan's tab on a regular basis - she has the thankless task of figuring him out and trying to give him the sexual healing he needs, so she doesn't have much opportunity to develop a distinct personality of her own. She's just that sexy woman who will make Ryan happy - that's her entire character in a nutshell.

So no, Double Down is not what happens when Suzanne Brockmann had a fabulous weekend in Las Vegas and received inspiration for a new series. This one is about sex topped with a dose of angst that makes no sense. Perhaps I would have enjoyed this one better if I had been warned beforehand to skip the emo parts and just go for the sex scenes. Even so, the sex scenes are quite vanilla. It would have been more fun to just watch Top Gun again instead.

Rating: 54


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