When Miss Bates returned to reading romance oh-around-’07, her choices were either historical romance, or romantic suspense. Of the latter, she vividly remembers reading Cherry Adair’s Kiss and Tell, pulling an all-nighter to finish the story of operative Jake, heroine Marnie, a snow storm, bad guys, and Marnie’s need for life-saving coumadin. Maybe because it was a first, maybe because it’s good, the book stayed with her. She went on to Brockmann’s Troubleshooters (yet to be completed) and fell in love with Pamela Clare’s and Lisa Marie Rice’s romantic suspense novels. Since then, Miss Bates hasn’t really found a romantic suspense writer to keep her up tense for the end, and cheering for a sympathetic hero and heroine – until Laura K. Curtis’s Mind Games! Heroine Dr. Jane Evans works for Clive Handler’s Applied Human Intelligence agency, developing psychiatric medications. Jane is a workaholic, living without partner or friends, research her sole focus. Walking to her lab from a NYC subway one morning, thugs attempt to abduct her, but a blond giant rescues her – a blond hunk of giant who looks awfully familiar. He’s Eric Sorensen, the fellow student she tutored in university. Eric is not there by accident. He’s been hired by AHI’s head to protect Jane. *Someone* wants Jane for her Mensa-mind and the life-changing drugs she can create. Despite Eric and Harp Security’s best efforts, Jane is kidnapped and brought to a Mexican secret-laboratory location. She and her lab partner, Daniela, are forced to work on developing a drug that will create conscienceless super-soldiers. Eric and his team follow the cartel’s trail and stage a daring rescue – but Eric and Jane’s HEA-road remains danger-riddled.
Curtis’s romantic suspense novel is a perfectly balanced package of all the elements a reader desires from the sub-genre: great pacing, edge-of-your-seat chases (Miss Bates’ favourite), lovable protagonists, a fine balance of droll and serious, told in smooth, adept prose. And something more, something quirky and different (as well as the ills the subgenre’s subject to). Above all, Miss Bates loved Curtis’s protagonists, Jane and Eric. Jane’s first glimpse of Eric tells the reader what he’s like and gives a hint of Curtis’s fine prose:
A huge, blond figure dressed all in black had him [one of the attempted kidnapping’s thugs] in a choke hold. Her savior sported aviator-style sunglasses that hid his eyes, and wild, long hair coming loose from a ponytail. Enough scruff to qualify as a beard and mustache hid his chin and lips, but she could see his snarl nonetheless.
Curtis’s Eric has the makings of an alpha-hero, but enough of the atypical to render him more lovable and memorable. Eric has the super-abilities of a Special Forces hero and yet, when he was in the Army, refused a chance to join Special Forces because he would never see his family. Eric can rappel, shoot, outrun, outsmart, and knock out any villain but, most importantly, has what Jane calls a “moral compass”. He’s tired of one-night stands and holds out for a woman he will love. He knows he can easily love Jane, but never believes he deserves her. She’s way above him in education, yes, but the true reason is the shame he feels for the “blood on his hands”. He’s also often humorously rueful about his own “alpha-ness”. Curtis wrote her alpha-hero with plenty beta and devoid of arrogance. On the contrary, Eric exhibits that rare quality in an alpha-hero: humility; it suits him and the sub-genre well.
Jane is as likable as Eric. She’s brainiac with a heart of gold to his brawn with a heart of gold: what’s not to love?! Jane’s humor, however, is a nice foil to Eric’s mission-focus and sense of guilt. We catch a glimpse of it when we consider her response to his protectiveness:
Eric grunted. He was going to be a pain in the ass, she could already tell. Hot as hell, but a pain in the ass nonetheless. He’d been her best student in college, her favorite because he was so eager to learn, willing to do whatever it took to internalize the concepts. That stubborn determination lost a good deal of its appeal when turned on her.
Jane is a delightful counterpoint to Eric: treading where angels fear. Nevertheless, unlike many a supposed brainiac heroine, Jane never turns TSTL. She’s a geek heroine who actually uses her brain and listens to Eric, takes what he advises into consideration, so they form a true team. He respects her expertise and she respects his. Doubt not, however, dear reader, that these two have the hots for each other. Their exchanges are sexy, but they also get to know each other. Here’s a snippet from Eric’s reaction to the now-all-grown-up Jane:
He hadn’t paid attention to her looks in school. Not only was she far too young, but also he’d been too focused on what she could do for him, how much he needed her help to maintain his GPA and thus his athletic scholarship. But she’d grown into a gorgeous woman. Petite, with perfect curves and that wavy flame-coloured hair he would bet fell almost to her waist when not wrapped into a complicated knot on top of her head.
“Do I have something in my hair? A dust bunny?” She touched the knot.
Oops. “No, not at all. I was just thinking.”
Jane’s kidnapping and subsequent Jane-and-Eric-on-the-run-from-the-bad-guys are delayed until the second third of the novel; this serves Curtis well, allowing her to build her characters and make them a great combination of serious and humorous. It gives them time to get to know one another and stoke the fire of their attraction. Learning about Eric’s childhood poverty with his single mum and sister, as well as Jane’s childhood with a mum suffering a mental illness, gives them layers and depth, renders them even more sympathetic.
Curtis’s novel has its weakness, but they are minor when contrasted with the sheer page-turning fun of it. Frankly, the kidnapping mastermind is predictable. Miss Bates figured it out before the first half. The villains are cardboard. And, like most romantic suspense novels, the hero and heroine have sex “on the run” under implausible circumstances. The love scenes themselves, however, are quite nicely depicted. With her reviewing assistant, Miss Austen, Miss Bates says Laura K. Curtis’s Mind Games is indicative of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Laura K. Curtis’s Mind Games is published by Intermix (Penguin Random House). It was released on November 17th, 2015, and is available in e-book format from your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Intermix, via Netgalley.