Standing in the Shadows, by Shannon McKenna

>> Tuesday, December 27, 2005

My first Shannon McKenna, Behind Closed Doors, blew me away. I just couldn't believe I'd enjoyed it so much, mainly because the hero was of the alpha caveman variety. Standing in the Shadows (excerpt) seemed to be more of the same (and a friend assured me it was), so I simply couldn't resist.

Ex-FBI agent Connor McCloud can never forget the day he was set up to die at the hands of trusted friend and fellow agent Ed Riggs. Hard justice and loyalty to his badge have cost Connor what he wants most--Ed's shy, studious daughter, Erin. He can never have her now, but her beauty still haunts and torments his every waking hour and his most fevered erotic dreeams. But now that his old enemy, Kurt Novak has returned, Connor is prepared to do anything to protect the vulnerable young woman from a killer who has vowed a brutal payback . . . a killer with a predator's lethal patience.

Erin has been harboring secret fantasies about Connor McCloud since she first laid eyes on him--but that was before his testimony sent her father to jail. Her world is falling apart and it's all she can do to hold her family together. But now Connor is knocking on her door, telling her she needs his protection, whether she wants it or not. He won't give up and he won't stay away. He's sworn to guard her life with his own and his fierce protectiveness awakens long-buried feelings--and a fiery sexuality deep within her soul . . .
It definitely was more of the same, and I enjoyed it just as much as I did BCD. A B+.

I just love how absorbing, how intense McKenna's books are. They're usually pretty long, way over 400 pages (at a time when books seem to be getting shorter and shorter), and I think I must have read both in pretty much one sitting. Once I started SITS, it sucked me in. That's probably because the whole book was fairly vibrating with passion. Not just the love scenes (which were steamy, long and plentiful... more about that later), everything. What I mean is, McKenna obviously enjoyed writing every minute of this story: the romance, the suspense, the McCloud family scenes, every single part of the book, and as a result, it feels alive and fresh. I never, ever felt the need to skim even one paragraph, and that is rare.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I realize it's definitely not for everyone. Take Connor, the hero. Like Seth in BCD, there's a bit of the caveman in him. Professionally, he's great, even subtle in his thinking, but that very definitely does not cross over to his personal life. And guess what? I still found him an appealing character. I think it must have been because the way he cares about Erin (is crazy about her, actually, from the very beginning) just shows through everything he does. Even when he's lusting after her (heavy-duty, big-time, obsessive lusting), there's an undertone of tenderness there.

Erin was the weakest part of the plot. While she is stronger than I expected after reading BCD, she does have some episodes of stupidity. Typical stuff, refusing to be careful and take care when it's possible that she is under threat. I mean, even if there was only a small, tiny chance that there might be an animal like Novak after me, I'd probably be camping out at the police station! I don't expect such extremes, but I do want the heroine (and the hero, for that matter, but it's usually the heroine), to be a bit more vigilant, just in case. Other than that, she was ok. And when she was with Connor, she was definitely not a weak, powerless idiot. She has such power over the man, because of how he feels about her, and she does use it.

And this brings us to the sex. Now, this is exactly what I want from a hot book. I don't need gimmicks or exotic positions or anything like that. All I need is two characters who obviously turn each other on, as Connor and Erin do. And McKenna definitely has a way with love scenes. The first one is, IIRC, over 50 pages long (it's a couple of times in a row, actually), and I didn't feel tempted to skip one word.

Actually, McKenna writes this area dangerously close to the limits of my comfort zone. Most of the time she stays just a hair within it, which makes her scenes exciting, but I do have to say she loses me in the few instances in which she steps over the line. The scene in which Connor gets so angry at Erin for consenting to wear that dress when she visits her suspicious client was one of them, for example. It made me more uncomfortable than excited.

The suspense subplot is good, taut and suspenseful. I actually see quite a few things in common between McKenna and one of my new favourites, Lisa Marie Rice, and this is one of the areas in which they're similar. Both have got the hot-tender mix pitch-perfect and both create better-than-usual suspense subplots.

The only thing I'm not to happy about in this case is that the mystery was a bit too closely related to the one in BCD. Even having read that book not all that long ago, I didn't remember every detail, and I was a bit lost at the beginning. Still, it was a good one. I especially liked the way she had her villains play with Connor's head, making him feel a degree of helplessness and vulnerability that really enhanced his humanity and made him a bit less larger than life. And the conclusion was just amazing!

I really, really can't wait to read Out of Control now. Unfortunately, McKenna seems to be one of those authors which people tend to keep, so there just aren't that many used copies of it floating around, so I don't know when I'll be able to get to it :-(

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