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The first two chapters

Captain’s Log, Stardate 09.06.2005

I’m reading romantic suspense books (mostly secular) for market research and also to learn craft.

I started a secular romantic suspense today and didn’t last three chapters. It started off with an exciting prologue, followed by two more action-packed chapters (I personally think the prologue should have been a chapter or cut altogether since it didn’t add much to the storyline and it wasn’t separated from the main story by a significant amount of time).

The hero seemed mildly interesting. His struggle as an undercover agent had good emotional angst, although I don’t know if the author should have unloaded ALL of it upfront to the reader in a single chapter. His strength and lack of emotions seemed a bit corny and cliché.

What annoyed me was the logic of the story premise. There were just numerous “Why?”s all through chapter two.

The heroine comes from money but she has a mysterious estrangement from her rich relatives (mildly interesting), but if her background has been wealthy, what is she doing as an FBI undercover agent? Okay, maybe personal preference, a desire to serve her country, yada yada.

She’s chased by two men in suits. They finally ID themselves as the good guys, who couldn’t approach her through normal channels because of some secrecy thing. If that’s true, wouldn’t it be smarter to approach her through her agency, since she is undercover FBI, rather than alarming her out on a public street?

She’s the only one who can help them find this artifact, which had been stolen by a Big Bad Guy. She has the necessary college degree to pose as a professor. So why would paranoid Big Bad Guy hire her to price the artifact, when she hasn’t made a respected name for herself in the field, when she just has a degree but is posing as a professor? He wouldn’t do a background check? Why her over any other professors? And if it’s deliberate, then I wouldn’t particularly want to be stuck undercover in a situation where the Big Bad Guy has already made her as an agent.

They weren’t huge logical glitches, but the combination of several in the same chapter made me reach my “suspension of reality” limit. I want a premise that I can live with. So I stopped the book after chapter two.

I picked up another secular romantic suspense. This one did not have plot holes, but I didn’t care for the heroine at all. I think I was supposed to feel sorry for her because she was stuck in a bad situation with her sleazy boyfriend who threatened her parents’ lives if she didn’t cooperate with his nefarious plans. She held to the hope that she would soon find some evidence against him and thus free herself and her parents.

She came across as hopelessly naïve and spineless to boot. I could also guess she’d get herself and the hero into bad situations through her TSTL actions later in the book. She knew what her boyfriend was doing—I didn’t understand how she couldn’t contact the proper authorities. So she already tried the local police, who didn’t believe her or were on the boyfriend’s payroll—why didn’t she try again, especially since she suspected her boyfriend’s plans extended internationally? The FBI or CIA might already know about him, and they might find a way to save her parents. What’s the alternative—her parents die and/or she gets jailed for accessory to murder?

And once she stole this evidence from her boyfriend, then what? What’s to prevent him from threatening her parents if she didn’t return it?

Again, I dumped the book in the middle of chapter two. I’ve stopped reading some books half-way, some even 3/4 of the way through. I’m glad I buy most of my books used, although I do feel gypped when I can’t finish a book that had looked promising enough that I bought it at full price.

Although I had two disappointing books, I managed to figure out why they were dissatisfying, and hopefully I’ll be able to use the information in my own writing. I did discover that I enjoy books with more mystery in them—who’s the bad guy, what’s he doing, etc. Both of these books had the antagonist and the conflict for the entire book spelled out in the first two chapters. There weren’t many questions about the plot development except what complications would pop up to make it harder for the good guys to win.

Even in books with the conflict clearly stated, like Brandilyn Collins’ Hidden Faces series, the goal is obvious—find the killer—but the antagonist’s identity is still shrouded in mystery. I’ve discovered that it interests me more as a reader to figure out the plot or the villain as the story progresses, more like a mystery (“Who did it?”) than a true suspense (“When’s he going to do it (again)?”). I guess that’s the direction I should go when I write.


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