The Challenge

The Quest

Kiss Me Deadly
by Susan Kearney
(Tor, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-765-35667-8
The title Kiss Me Deadly must have been chosen to convey the message that this is a romantic suspense novel. Suspenseful? Sometimes. Romantic? Not so much ... unless you consider varying degrees of kinky sex romantic. When the most romantic couple in a book is not that of the supposed hero and heroine but the middle-aged, long-married-with-grown-children couple, the husband a paraplegic in a wheelchair, you know things have gone a bit awry.

Also gone awry is the all-over-the-map plot. Kiss Me Deadly purports to tell the story of the multiple members of an all-female law firm specializing in family law and how someone is out to kill them all. That sounds fairly complicated, right? But wait: there’s more. The women have just won the Powerball lottery, but the ticket goes missing during a botched robbery attack on two of the lawyers. But wait: there’s still more. There’s a secret baby! It’s all too much for a 316-page book.

When the story begins, lawyer Mandy Newman is driving home across the Harbour Island Bridge in Tampa after a busy day in court. A pickup truck has been tailgating her for some time. Once on the bridge the driver rams Mandy’s car off the bridge and into the water below. Mandy barely survives death by drowning. Is the attempt on her life related to one of the acrimonious divorce or custody cases she’s handled?

Mandy and her best friend Dana, another lawyer in the firm, are taking depositions in California when Sylvia, the receptionist/secretary phones. (She’s the one with the husband in a wheelchair.) Each week the women buy one Powerball lottery ticket, the same numbers every time. They’ve won! They’re rich!

Dana calls her brother Zachary Taylor (presumably no relation to the President). Zack is a DEA agent temporarily on administrative leave after an undercover operation resulted in the death of a small boy. Zack is committed to his work because his brother died after becoming involved in drugs. Zack reluctantly agrees to arrange protection for the women.

Mandy is worried when she learns that Zack is to be her bodyguard. She and Zack had shared a passionate weekend that had resulted in the birth of her year-old daughter Gabrielle. Zack had disappeared on an undercover assignment immediately after their time together. She never told Zack she was pregnant and never revealed to anyone else including Catherine, the senior attorney in the firm who’s also Zack’s and Dana’s mother, the identity of the father. How will she conceal her daughter’s existence until the time is right?

The situation gets even more dire when Lisa, the firm’s paralegal, is attacked and killed. Could it be that one of their group is trying to eliminate other lottery winners?

That’s a synopsis of the main plot of Kiss Me Deadly, but there are several subplot further littering the landscape. Dana and her husband Sam, a criminal lawyer, are having fertility problems. Dana wants to adopt but Sam isn’t willing. Lisa is a former foster child, and she’s trying to mentor other foster children and work to improve the system. Maria, another lawyer, is involved with a mysterious man named Ray. These two are into some seriously kinky stuff. Sylvia is worried that her husband Ben is going off and not telling her what’s going on. And one of the mayor’s advisors is missing.

The various story lines provide a wealth of possible suspects. Unfortunately, some of the story lines get lost in the confusion and just fizzle out. Red herrings are a time-honored way to keep the reader guessing, but the surplus of detail interrupts the story’s pacing. Nearly everyone’s got some secret family problem to work out. An active sex life seems to be the norm at the firm, but the multiple S&M encounters between Maria and Ray, merely secondary characters, become excessive. Furthermore, I couldn’t help but notice that Sylvia and Lisa must be terribly overworked. Four attorneys but only two support staff? Romance can’t help but get lost in the shuffle.

What saves Kiss Me Deadly from a two-heart rating is that it begins and ends with some very suspenseful scenes. Mandy’s close escapes test a willing suspension of disbelief, but they make for some gripping reading.

Readers who can navigate their way through the convoluted minefield of plots and subplots may find Kiss Me Deadly worth their time. Read it for the action scenes. The romance is MIA.

--Lesley Dunlap

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