Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tell Me Lies by Jessica Shin

TITLE: Tell Me Lies
AUTHOR: Jessica Shin
PUBLISHER: Cerridwen Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 64k)
GENRE: Suspense romance
COST: $5.95

As a mob assassin, Adrian Ennis is unparalleled. After all, she’s been trained for her current role in Ezra Drake’s organization since she was eight years old. But when she gets the command to kill her lover, the tight order of her world starts to unravel. Suddenly, the man she always viewed as more of a father than a boss is a stranger, and strangers – especially when they come in the form of Detective Damon Wyatt, Atlanta PD – are the only people she can trust…

For a long time, I didn’t even think this was a romance. I had to doublecheck more than once that it was published by Cerridwen, and even then I thought I’d managed to buy a book that fell into the suspense genre rather than the romance. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I read a lot of mystery/suspense as well as romance. But the tone of this was far darker than the vast majority of romances out there, and the hero not even introduced until almost halfway through the story. Between that and the neverending action, it kept me on my toes.

The book starts out with Adrian in the middle of a job in Boston that’s gotten messy. She does what needs to be done, hops on a plane back home, and returns to her rather sterile existence. She doesn’t do much more than work for Ezra, because once you’re a part of the organization, there’s no getting out of it. She finds release with a casual affair with Tony, who works in Miami, but on this latest visit, he tells her things aren’t looking good for him. It’s even worse when she gets the order from Ezra to kill Tony. She doesn’t want to do it, but really, she has no other options, and keeps the date they had arranged.

From there, the story continues on a brutal, no holds barred track. The author makes no easy choices in this, which means it’s violent and intense, both physically and emotionally. It’s told in 1st person from Adrian’s POV, which means spending a lot of time in the head of a woman who has killed a lot of people and, until now, felt no remorse. Worse, she’s been in denial of everything that happened to her before she came to live with Ezra when she was eight, and now, it’s all starting to crack through her brittle, icy fa├žade. Not everybody is going to like her. To be fair, she doesn’t really like herself for much of the book. But I found her fascinating, and as each new development happened in her life, and another layer of her was stripped away, I came to care about her more and more, until her ultimate survival was as important to me as it was to her.

The gradual deconstruction of this woman into someone more human really intrigued me. I was constantly surprised by the choices she made, but in a good way, not in a “Well, she wouldn’t do that” kind of way. The continuous action rarely gave me a chance to breathe, too, and even after she meets Wyatt, the cop who’s been trying to bring Ezra down for three years, it doesn’t slow. If I have any complaints about this at all, it’s that the romance feels rushed. Damon is never as fully explored as the rest of the story, and while I liked him, I never felt like I really knew him. In some ways, he was far too perfect for what Adrian needed at that moment in time. However, he does provide a good counterpoint to the chaos of the rest of her life, and I was fully invested in seeing things work out.

This book won’t be for everyone. It’s very violent (including near rape and violence toward women, so be warned), its heroine is more an anti-heroine than the norm, and the romantic arc is severely truncated in favor of the personal exploration and action happening around Adrian. All that being said, though, I loved it. I got thoroughly swept into the action. Plus, it’s a real treat to find something so unapologetically brutal in a genre known for its feel-good factor.

Readability

9/10 – Violent, intense, and brutal

Hero

5/10 – Not nearly as important or developed as the heroine

Heroine

9/10 – With each new layer exposed on her, I needed her success even more

Entertainment value

9/10 – Constant forward momentum kept the focus on the action and the heroine rather than the romance

World building

7/10 – The mob world and action crackled; everything else required a leap of faith to believe

TOTAL:

39/50

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