This week my guest is Susannah Sandlin, author of the romantic thriller, Lovely, Dark, and Deep
Today my guest is Susannah Sandlin, author of Lovely, Dark, and Deep, Book 1 of the new series, The Collectors. Please read on for my review and an excerpt of the action.
Susannah writes paranormal romance and romantic thrillers from Auburn, Alabama, on top of a career in educational publishing that has thus far spanned five states and six universities—including both Alabama and Auburn, which makes her bilingual. She grew up in Winfield, Alabama, but was also a longtime resident of New Orleans, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football, cheap Mardi Gras trinkets, and fried gator on a stick.
She’s the author of the award-winning Penton Legacy paranormal romance series, a spinoff novel, Storm Force, a standalone novelette, Chenoire, and a new romantic thriller series, The Collectors, beginning this month with Lovely, Dark, and Deep. Writing as Suzanne Johnson, she also is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series. Her Penton novel, Omega, is currently nominated for a 2013 Reviewer’s Choice Award in Paranormal Romance from RT Book Reviews magazine.
SUMMARYFrom award-winning author Susannah Sandlin comes a heart-pounding romantic thriller that pits a quick-witted scientist and a scarred ex–combat diver against a ruthless billionaire treasure hunter with ties to the White House. When biologist Gillian Campbell makes an offhand comment about a family curse during a TV interview, she has no idea what her words will set in motion. Within days, Gillian finds herself at the mercy of a member of the C7, a secretive international group of power brokers with a dangerous game: competing to find the world’s most elusive treasures, no matter the cost, in money or in lives. To save her family, Gillian teams up with Shane Burke, a former elite diver who’s lost his way, navigating the brutal “death coast” of the North Atlantic to find what the collector seeks: the legendary Ruby Cross of the Knights Templars, stolen by Gillian’s ancestor and lost at sea four hundred years ago.
- Genre: Romantic Thriller
- Publisher: Montlake Romance
- Number of pages: appr. 320
- Formats available: ebook
“Don’t write prologues,” they tell you. “Publishers hate them, readers skip them, and reviewers break bad all over your… assets.” Prologues never work. Except when they do. Certainly, Susannah Sandlin’s new romantic thriller, “Lovely, Dark, and Deep”, Book 1 of her series The Collectors, is the exception that proves that rule.
In her wonderful prologue, we are introduced to Weston Flynn, member of the C7, a shadowy group of seven ultra-competitive collectors who bet massive sums against each other in their race to acquire the latest treasure. We know he’s a Bad Guy because his very first action is to frighten one of his admins who dares to open his office door without permission. We know he’s powerful because he is about to brief the President. We know he’s rich because he is about to risk thirty million dollars to get hold of an item he doesn’t know even exists. And we know he’s ruthless enough to risk innocent lives in the process, because he offhandedly builds that into his calculations. “Although if no one died in the quest, the winner collected an extra bonus from the others. West would forego the bonus if he had to, as long as he ended up with the Templars’ cross.”
In an absolutely brilliant piece of minimalist show, the prologue also lets us meet our heroine, Gillian Campbell, via the video clip that introduces the prize—an ancient ruby cross once property of the legendary Knights Templar of Crusades fame but long since stolen and lost by Gillian’s ancestor. We’re told that Gillian is a beautiful young biologist who also sidelines as her rural Florida county’s resident nuisance gator trapper. So, she’s smart, stunning, and spunky. She also must have a tragic past because although she is only in her late twenties, she’s already been widowed for five years.
Within a day, Gillian’s entire life comes crashing down. Her best friend is hospitalized following a mysterious accident. She receives a call threatening more violence, specifically aimed at her little niece. And the web widens. Shane Burke, a diver with a tragic past, is similarly blackmailed into partnering with Gillian when his friends are systematically targeted. Together, they must race against a thirty-day deadline to do the impossible—find and acquire the Cross.
When I found out that Lovely, Dark, and Deep was originally released in serial form, the structure of the succeeding chapters made much more sense. Each section features acts of aggressive violence targeting people close to Shane and Gillian, ostensibly to make sure the pair take their threats seriously. That’s partnered with superhuman resources that make little details like international permits and outfitting an expedition evaporate.
I have to admit that I went back and forth on how to rate Lovely, Dark, and Deep. On the one hand, for me there are problems with this book. From the first scene where the US Secretary of State has his office in the West Wing (instead of the Truman Building over on C St.), to the instant assumption that an offhand remark about a family curse makes someone willing to risk thirty million dollars—not to mention blithely decide that murder, arson, assault, and threatening the life of a child is reasonable—is a lot to swallow. Heck, the fact that Gillian’s initial reaction to learning that her friend’s injuries are no accident was not to immediately contact the police but instead to “…not let a crackpot phone call ruin her day” doesn’t make sense here on Planet Reality. Add to that the absolute impossibility of having an item which has been lost for centuries still exist and be relatively easy and obvious to find within a month (and not require any provenance or validation of its authenticity), calls for a very hefty suspension of anything remotely resembling judgement.
Another problem is that the villains are two-dimensional. We never really have any understanding of what motivates them. This is especially true in the case of Weston Flynn, the Collector who sets the events into motion, apparently for no other reason than he has the money and influence to do so. If there was even a hint of additional forces compelling him to make such distasteful choices, it would have brought depth to what is essentially supposed to be the motivation of the entire series of events. And the ending? Without (hopefully) including spoilers, I have to say that it fell into place with an ease that required the biggest, most amnesia-inducing, judgment-reservation of all.
On the other hand, if you can suspend judgement as the bullets fly, the injuries mount up, and the body count rises, Sandlin treats readers to a nonstop ride. This is a character-driven story, and Sandlin is a master of creating characters whose attractiveness is nicely balanced by their inner demons and shortcomings. For example, we’re told right from that prologue that Gillian is a klutz. Chekhov’s gun** would tell us that should provide an integral plot pivot, which would precipitate or resolve some major part of the action. (**”Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”–Anton Chekhov ) But in this case, it’s pretty much just an adorable feature of Gillian’s character. With the exception of her villains, Sandlin has a genius for creating quirky, loveable support characters whose idiosyncrasies keep the quips and the entertainment coming. Often those actions actually make little sense, as their main effect is to slow down or even cripple the two searchers even as their allotted time runs out. But their toll on the already emotionally damaged Shane and Gillian is obvious. In addition, the building romance between the two is nicely done. Both realize that it’s a bad idea. Neither of them has any way to stop it. Both of them need it to heal their deep emotional scars.
Overall, I struggled with the number of stars to give. But ultimately, the plotting flaws are outweighed by the terrific character-driven story and the excitement of the writing. I would give four stars for the writing. And I’ll look forward to more books in this exciting series.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
He wasn’t sure what woke him, but the first thing Shane Burke saw when he cracked open his eyelids was the bottle of Jack Daniel’s, tipped over and resting on its side. He could’ve sworn he finished it off last night but there was at least an inch of rich amber liquid still resting inside.
Good. Now he didn’t have to wonder what he’d have for breakfast.
The second thing he saw was a great pair of legs. Well, technically, a great pair of ankles above a pair of leather sandals, and then the legs.
Obviously, he was starting his Saturday morning with hallucinations.
Only one good solution for that. He dangled an arm off the side of his bed and almost had his fingers wrapped around the neck of the bottle when one of the leather sandals kicked his buddy Jack Daniel’s under the bed, clipping his hand in the process.
“Ow.” Hallucinations didn’t take his booze and kick him in the knuckles.
Ignoring the throbbing in his hand and the stabs of hangover agony behind his eyeballs, Shane rolled onto his back and squinted at the rest of his non-hallucination.
Shoulder-length hair that fell in a sheen of dark chestnut brown, fair skin, fierce brown eyes, red lips compressed in a tight line, black skirt and white blouse, big briefcase-style purse. Had he picked her up at Harley’s last night? If so, he had to cut back on the sauce.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. “I forgot your name.” Pity, ’cause she was a hot little number, way classier than the regulars at Harley’s. It’s not like he got laid so often that he could afford to forget it when he did.
“We haven’t met.” She propped her hands on her hips and muttered something that sounded like, “And you’re supposed to help me?”
Help her with what? Wait, maybe she was a charter. Had he chartered The Evangeline out to a tour group or fishing party today? Surely he’d remember if there was money coming in.
Color him officially confused. He struggled to a seated position and gave her another look. “What am I supposed to help you with?”
She crossed her arms and raked a ball-shriveling gaze the length of his body. “I came here to offer you a job, but I don’t think you’re up to it.”
He tugged the sheet up in self-defense. “I’m not at my best. Ever consider making an appointment? Not dropping in at the crack of dawn?” He had no idea what time it was but it couldn’t be that late.
“It’s past noon. And I didn’t figure, given your financial situation, that you’d be so picky about what time of day someone offered you money.” She shook her head. “Never mind. This was a mistake.”
She banged her head on the low doorway out of the master cabin, which served her right, the sanctimonious shrew.
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