Book Review: Midnight Pursuits
By Elle Kennedy
Signet Eclipse, 2014
One of the drawbacks of novels-in-series is also one of their strengths: the further along a writer goes, the more certain she can be of that most demmed elusive thing for any book: a guaranteed audience. This has an allure that will be equally obvious to both an author’s publisher and her accountant, and you have to wonder how strong a gravitational pull it exerts on the finished product.
The delightful Elle Kennedy’s latest book, Midnight Pursuits, is a perfect case-in-point: it’s billed as the fourth in her “Killer Instincts” series, but it depends so little on any kind of shared setting with its predecessors that roughly 15 minutes at the computer could have rendered it a completely stand-alone novel. Which makes at least one reviewer curious as to whether or not roughly 15 minutes at the computer is what made a completely stand-alone novel into a “Killer Instincts” book in the first place.
The story of this latest novel concerns 25-year-old marine Ethan Hayes, an attractive and happy-go-lucky member of an elite mercenary team whose older members (even sometimes including the team’s leathery and appealingly multi-dimensional leader) reflexively refer to him as “rookie.” As Midnight Pursuits opens, young Ethan has survived a rough mission and is presented with the very attractive thought of a few weeks of relaxation in a secluded cabin in the woods:
With its high ceilings, wood-paneled walls, and big leather couches, the living room was the very definition of cozy. He was looking forward to lazing around in here, maybe grabbing a few books from the tall oak shelves lining the walls and spending the next couple of weeks doing nothing but reading, eating, and sleeping. And maybe hot-tubbing, he had to amend.
(That last amendment is hardly necessary; Kennedy might frequently allude to books in her novels, but we never have even the slightest impression that any of her characters actually know how to read)(Hot-tubbing, however, they can do like it was an Olympic event)
Ethan’s plans for relaxation are doomed, of course: in this case by his simmering meeting with Juliet Mason, a thief and covert ops specialist who’s attracted to Ethan but likewise determined to protect him from her dangerous and uncommitted lifestyle:
God, why had she ever allowed herself to get involved with him?
She’d messed up. Started something she couldn’t finish, and that wasn’t fair to Ethan.
Juliet blew out a breath, a white cloud that floated away in the cold night air. She needed to remind him that she would be walking away when this job ended.
She had to make sure he understood it, really understood it, before she allowed anything physical to happen between them again.
If you read a fair amount of romance novels, you’ll be blinking a bit at that passage (and there are many such passages in this fast-paced book), and rightfully so: these kind of thoughts are usually thought by the man in the story, not the woman. And that’s what you’d be expecting going into this novel, since its cover boasts a leather-clad, gun-toting man with nary a woman in sight. The dislocation that comes from the fact that Juliet is the emotionally complex one in the relationship that inevitably developes between her and Ethan is the most rewarding of the many pleasures this book offers.
But it could have offered one more! There’s no binding reason why Ethan has to be a member of that elite mercenary team – there’s no reason the whole adventure of this novel couldn’t have happened to him (and to Juliet) while he was a daring Marine or a small-town cop or a shoe salesman. Elle Kennedy is talented enough to make her readers root for that heroic shoe salesman – all her readers, “Killer Instincts” or not.