We are in an exciting age of publishing. Groups of committed writers can band together and publish books that would probably have otherwise languished on editor desks in the Big Six houses. The good news is that individual writers are empowered in e-publishing to offer more, affordable books to an audience who, in the end, could care less about whose emblem is stamped on the spine. The bad news is that often the quality of the books would have benefited from excellent editing.
I’m not trying to say that excellent editing can only be found in the cubbies of Big Six publishing – far from it. Thankfully there are now outstanding smaller houses producing work that (in my opinion) often surpasses much of the new releases at significantly larger publishing houses (Entangled Publishing is a prime example). But the publisher of this novel, The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House, has the dubious honor of being the organization responsible for Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, the BDSM phenomenon which as galvanized the erotic romance industry.
Since The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House was begun by a group of Australian friends with the express purpose of being a place for writers to post fan fiction and original work, it’s no surprise that much of the brohaha surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey was not that it was BDSM oriented but that it greatly resembled the Twilight series upon which it was originally based.
And here’s where we get to a piece of this particular novel by Sherri Hayes which made me really uncomfortable. The first quarter of this book strongly resembled Hot Target by Lisa Renee Jones – so much so that I checked the publication date on NetGalley because I was so sure I had read this book before (although I remembered it being better written). The plot is as follows. A highly trained female bodyguard is assigned to a professional athlete who initially acts like kind of ass because he doesn’t think that his stalker threat is as serious as his team owner believes. He eventually capitulates because he sees the bodyguard’s hotness under her professional clothes and is intrigued. Female bodyguard wants to keep it professional, plus she has all kinds of heinous family baggage, including non-independent adult siblings who need her, but with all the touching and going out being professional athlete’s faux-girlfriend/secret bodyguard, attraction takes wing and they end up having a serious affair, all while female bodyguard is trying to figure out who the jealous crazy stalker is. There. I just described BOTH books for you.
Fortunately, Red Zone veers off in its own direction. It’s basic premise (see above) is a great plot. Professional football player Gage Daniels is having fun being a successful quarterback and hanging out with his buddies on the team. He keeps relationships with women light to say the least, having no desire to get serious with any one woman. But the one thing throwing him off his game is the fact that he keeps getting weird letters from a stalker. He’s alerted the team owner, who has brought in a couple bodyguards to investigate.
Rebecca Carson was going stir-crazy on administrative leave for the FBI and is more than happy to help her retired FBI partner when he says he has a job. But she takes one good look at the gorgeous football player she’s supposed to guard and knows this job is not going to work out as planned. Rebecca prides herself on only having serious relationships with men and she knows from his file that Gage is anything but serious when it comes to women. Yet their attraction can’t be denied and they begin a passionate affair, one she knows will end as soon as she figures out who is trying to hurt Gage.
The initial part of the book (the part that reminded me too much of Lisa Renee Jones’ work) felt like it was populated with rather choppy, awkward sentences and a lack of description. There were actually a couple typos in the book and the use of a wrong word (“The boss didn’t usually stick around after the games, but Gage figured, given the uniqueness of the situation, he was making an expectation.”) which I found distracting. I was unsurprised to discover this book was the second in a series about a sibling group; once the setting shifted to Gage’s family home for Thanksgiving, the characterization and action picked up, with many of the other fleshed out secondary characters clearly set to star (or having starred) in their own novels. Nevertheless, I felt some of the writing issues and characterization problems would have been fixed with a strong editor who could have gotten the best out of author Sherri Hayes.
The cover was good; a bare-chested athlete holding a football clearly gives an indication of some of the content and the menacing, dark stadium hall behind him with a shadow denotes the suspense genre. I think I would have actually liked a little more about the suspense plot since I had trouble understanding the villain’s motivation. Was the stalker actually jealous of Gage? Why would the stalker put a bomb in the car and risk hurting him? I’ll be honest that I’m still trying to figure out the choice of this football phrase for the title – there are too many books named Red Zone (do an Amazon search and watch how many pages you have to sift through) and there was little emphasis on the football piece of the novel. I don’t think too many romance readers are going to know that “red zone” applies to the space on the field between the 20 yard line and the goal of the defensive team. What exactly is the application of this area to the story?
The final area of concern for me is the price. With an ebook price around $8.50 (for approximately 200 pages) and around $20 for a print book, the price is astronomically imbalanced for what you are getting. Hot Target by Lisa Renee Jones is under $4 for 223 well-written, well-edited pages of solid romantic suspense, so I have trouble believing that Sherri Hayes will be able to compete in this market. Her writing, particularly her love scenes and her family dynamics, hold a great deal of potential, so much so that if Behind Closed Doors was reasonably priced I would have considered buying it, but I’m afraid with all these elements stacked against her, she’s about to get sacked.