In her guest blog yesterday, cozy mystery writer Kassandra Lamb introduced her new literary alter ego, Jessica Dale, as “a bit of a slut”. Au contraire! Jessica is just moving away from the cozy genre with its lack of explicit sex and graphic violence to a new genre mashup—romantic paranormal suspense thriller.
Yes, I did say romantic paranormal suspense thriller. So it seems like a good time to review related genres and see just what that might mean. With the assistance of the ever-helpful plot generator, I’ve created a little story blurb with some genre notes that should cover most of the genres listed. (But don’t worry. As promised, my review of her new series, Unintended Consequences, follows.)
The Enchanted Hereditary Seal Of The Cozy Mysteries Society
by Barb Taub
Lower Cows Wallop, the
diabetic coma-inducingsweet little village that time forgot, holds a secret.
Justa Minute-You has the perfect life working as a Royal Wedding Bunting Supplier in the city and baking cupcakes with her equally hyphenated boyfriend, Darngood Abs-Definition. However, when she finds the hereditary seal of the Cozy Mysteries Society in her cellar, she begins to realise that things are not quite as they seem in the Minute-You family.
At first the people of Lower Cows Wallop seem to demonstrate excellent command of diction and syntax, and meticulously clean fingernails. But a hotly contested Spring Fete Bakeoff leaves Justa with some startling questions about her past, and she logs onto Lower Cows-Wallop’s surprisingly good internet connection to find some answers.
Justa is intrigued by the curiously melodic voice of hedgehog herder, Bea Serious. However, after Bea gets an innocent Justa hooked on the compulsive attraction of peeling the labels off beer bottles, Justa slowly finds herself drawn into an addictive web of talking on her phone in theaters, playing the accordion in public, and perhaps, even incorrect use of their/there/they’re.
Can Justa resist the charms of Bea Serious, avoid antisocial crimes, correct her grammar, and uncover the secret of the enchanted hereditary seal of the Cozy Mysteries Society before it’s too late? Or will her demise become yet another Lower Cows Wallop legend?
- If this is a hard-boiled detective story, Justa may start out with a partner. If so, said partner will probably be older, perhaps dishonest, but certainly not long for this world. (Especially if Justa starts delivering a running monologue, at which point the only thing left for her partner to do is make sure the life insurance is paid up and the whiskey polished off.) The high mortality rates must make Detective Partnering one of the most hazardous lines of work ever, second only to those guys who wear the red shirts on Star Trek and get killed between the first and second commercial breaks.
- If the detective is a member of the police force who has an idiosyncratic reputation for ignoring direct orders from his/her superiors, it is a police procedural and the writer will have to drop the “idiosyncratic” bit because that’s way too long a word for police dramas.
- If Justa is a little old lady, speaks with a southern accent, bakes cupcakes, or has a cat, it is a cozy mystery. (Sex and violence are strictly scheduled to occur behind decorously closed doors.)
- If the cat answers back, it is magical realism.
- If Justa is actually an intergalactic were-badger, this might be Science Fantasy.
- If Justa the intergalactic were-badger speaks in iambic pentameter, occasionally eats bits of Darngood, and now and then is inexplicably back on Earth-That-Was, it’s New Weird Fantasy.
- If everything happens too fast for you to keep up with clues but there’s blood everywhere and probably several explosions and chase scenes and Justa has a knife to her throat at least once, it’s a thriller.
FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION:
- If the cover has a half-naked woman and the two (or many) main characters die leaving only one alive, and that one’s got issues and (possibly) a talking cat belonging to a wizard detective, it’s urban fantasy.
- If the cover has a half-naked man and the two (or three) main characters end up mated or in love AND live happily ever after, it’s a paranormal romance.
- If Justa wears goggles and a corset, carries a spyglass, and rides on anything powered by steam, it is steampunk. (Darngood might be a sky pirate if he’s lucky, but either way she will probably shoot him at least once.)
- If Justa and Darngood join the crew of a lovable bunch of misfit space smugglers and often have to shoot their way out of trouble, it’s a Space Opera. If there are horses (even genetically modified talking android horses), it’s a Space Opera Western.
- If Justa is a teenager and Darngood is the new, stunningly brooding and gorgeous student with a devastating secret (hint: he’s a vampire), and Bea is her best friend, a generally sunny (except when she goes bat-shit crazy during full moons or her period) were-badger called Honey, and there’s ANOTHER boy with a devastating secret that Justa’s kinda sorta also attracted to, then this is… well, frankly it’s total crap that will probably become a bestseller and spawn a movie franchise and a hit TV Show.
- If Justa and Darngood have a meet cute, followed by a misunderstanding about Darnwood’s true relationship with Bea, followed by a Happy Ever After, it’s a romance. (If not, the reader is obligated to demand a refund and troll-post one-star reviews all over the web. Duh.)
- If Justa wears a bustle, crinoline, or shift and talks to actual historical figures, it’s a historical novel. If she goes to bed with them and neither of them gets beheaded and/or castrated, it’s a historical romance. (If the beheading and/or castration does occur, it’s a History Channel documentary which will involve sketchy historical details and an emotional re-enactment.)
- If Justa is a wacky, sexy professional woman with extremely high stilettos who is fighting for her big break in the City, Darngood is a smoking hot iBanker, and one of them has a gay friend with a small dog who gives good advice on clothes and relationships while the other one has a sister who just wants them to find The One and move to Brooklyn and make babies, but there are multiple triangles involving Bea the Heartless Bitch and the Deceptively Perfect Potential Love Interest (whew!), then it’s Chick Lit. (If one or both have chucked their meaningless City life, gay friend, and stilettos for post-recession life in the country because they’ve discovered What Really Matters, it’s Farm Lit. Brace yourself: there will be overalls.)
- if Justa is an orphan and Bea is her wicked stepmother whose evil plan is to steal Justa’s inheritance, the solid gold family heirloom bridle (which, face it, is pretty useless otherwise because the gold is pretty soft), if her house in Lower Cows Wallop is huge and reasonably spooky, and if the butler is a vampire, it’s a gothic novel.
- If the butler speaks with a southern accent and bites Justa when she’s dying in order to turn her into his eternal mate, it’s Gothic Paranormal
- If she’s into the biting and it’s consensual, and they live Happily (for)Ever After, it’s Gothic Paranormal Romance.
- If she’s into the biting, but kinda misses Darngood too, so she bites him and the three of them live Happily Ever After with lots more biting and maybe some tying-up stuff…it’s Gothic Paranormal Romance Erotica. Congratulations to the writer! You’ll probably make more than the rest of the genre writers put together.
- If Bea Serious—or anyone at any point—is wearing a clown costume, this is horror. And I SO don’t review horror, so this is the end of my genre overview. You’re welcome.
Got all that? Okay, let’s see how Jessica Dale has applied it to her new Unintended Consequences series.
Blurbs: Unintended Consequences series by Jessica Dale
With strange fainting spells rattling James Fitzgerald’s sense of identity and complicating his acting career, he seeks solace at his country home in Virginia, once owned by his parents. But instead of a relaxing getaway with his closest friends, he walks into a bloodbath. And a cryptic message on a shower curtain points to him as the killer.
Carrie Johnson has hidden herself away in northern Virginia’s woods to escape an abusive husband. But her attempts to stay isolated from society are confounded by her attraction to her only neighbor, part-time resident James Fitzgerald.
Virtually under house arrest and struggling to resist his growing attraction to Carrie, James distracts himself by investigating his parents’ backgrounds, seeking an explanation for the fainting spells. Instead, he discovers some shocking truths about his family and himself, and ends up wondering if he should have let sleeping ghosts lie.
Taking it slow is no longer an option for James Fitzgerald and his new love when Carrie’s teenaged son appears at her door, leading her abusive estranged husband right to her. But the batterer brings more baggage to the Virginia woods than just his rage at the wife who ran away.
An already complicated custody battle devolves into a struggle for hidden stakes, and the challenges thrown at the couple threaten to tear them apart and destroy Carrie’s hopes for a normal, happy life.
My Review: 4 stars out of 5 for Payback and Backlash by Jessica Dale
Where do villains come from? In a cozy mystery series, the motivations are familiar emotions such as greed, jealousy, anger, resentment. The detectives—amateurs surrounded by family, friends, a posse of support—universally triumph over these familiar antagonists.
But in Jessica Dale’s new romantic suspense series, the villains come from a darker place. Her villains are the result of her protagonists’ own backgrounds—their genetics combined with failures on the part of those who were either unwilling or incapable of coping with or even complicit in contributing to their developing flaws.
In book one, Payback, James doesn’t understand why he’s unable to allow romantic desire to develop into the intimacy of a real relationship. “Herein lay the path to heartbreak. Let a lover know your secrets and she’d use them against you—once the lust faded—to rip at your soul.” Although he’s loved his best friend Annaleise for twenty years, he never allowed himself to think of her as anything but a sister. His disapproving parents kept him at an emotional distance before their deaths. But despite that, he’d slowly come far enough to develop a small circle of friendships, and of course there was always Annaleise and her husband to provide emotional support. Until, that is, the day he walked into his house expecting to find his friends waiting, and found a bloodbath.
With nobody left, gaps in his own memory making him doubt even himself, James unwillingly turns to his new neighbor Carrie. But as we see in Backlash, she clearly has secrets of her own, and a deadly threat she’s hiding from. Despite her growing feelings for James, Carrie knows she will always put her love for her son above her new feelings for James. But her fear is that she’ll never get beyond the mistrust of her own feelings and reactions. “It’s not that I don’t trust you. I don’t trust myself to know who to trust.” Both of them are walking wounded, shattered by a lifetime of hurt. As they slowly reveal the source of their pain, they also come together to save each other from the evil that stalks each of them.
While I was reading James’ story in Payback, I admired the way his broken character unfolded and—with Carrie’s help—slowly began to open to the possibility of healing. But at the same time, I was frustrated by the opaque nature of the evil that was clearly threatening him. Even when revealed, the villain’s character remains flat and two-dimensional. Against the fragile, developing relationship between James and Carrie, and with the way James’ character in particular unfolds and becomes ever more three-dimensional, this seemed a surprising disappointment. And, given that the particular expertise this author brings to her stories is the insight of a trained psychotherapist, the lack of focus on the villain’s character was doubly unexpected.
It wasn’t until I was well into Carrie’s story in the second book, Backlash, that I started to understand. The evil that overwhelms both James and Carrie is not really the actual villain they each must ultimately face off against. The true horrors are reserved for their pasts, which have conspired to create the forces dominating their present and threatening their future. James discovers that almost every single thing he thought he knew about his past was a lie. Carrie faces physical and emotional violence from the husband she loved, loathing the damage it causes to her son until she decides the only thing she can give him is her absence. The actual villains, when they appear, are in each case two-dimensional reflections of the damage the past has done to both James and Carrie.
As each of them hides from the monster that is their past, the beauty of these short books is the way James and Carrie offer their damage to each other, forging fragile emotional bonds and frankly physical relationships that become their weapons and their potential freedom. Indeed, their physical relationship is the first step of their investment in their much more terrifying emotional relationship.
Another thing I just realized is that while there are ghosts, these aren’t ghost stories, at least in the traditional sense. Instead, just as the actual villains are flat reflections of the real monsters in James and Carrie’s pasts, the ghosts are reflections of the good things that the past held. And their role is to provide the protection—even if weak and transparent—that should have been the rightful love and warmth and protection each of them deserved.
I’m not a huge fan of reading author’s notes, especially those at the end of a book. But in the case of each of these novelas, the end notes contain enlightening information about the issues faced by James and by Carrie. It’s an unusual epilogue, but one I’ll look forward to in the next book of this new series.
**I received this book from the publisher or author to expedite an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
Book Titles: Payback (Book 1) and Backlash (Book 2) of Unintended Consequences series
Author: Jessica Dale
Genre: Romantic Suspense/Mystery
Publisher: Amazon (Payback: January 16, 2018 & Backlash: February 5, 2018)
Length: Payback, 113 pages & Backlash, 169 pages