It’s sad but true that so often a romantic suspense novel contains a highly contrived plot with a resolution and villain unveiling a five year old could point out if they didn’t wander away in boredom first. You can imagine my elation then when I realized about 20 pages into The Accused that Jana DeLeon is a writer who takes her mystery elements seriously, combining a rich setting and several gothic qualities to spin a taught suspense tale fraught with imminent danger to the heroine. I do have a few criticisms of the book (some of which were beyond DeLeon’s control) but the strengths of this novel were such that I’ll be reaching for the next book in the series, for sure!
Alaina LeBeau has just found out that she’s been passed over for partner in her Baton Rouge law firm for a man whose political connections seem to outweigh his incompetence as an attorney. She knows that the case that haunts her – one in which a little girl died because Alaina didn’t see the danger signs – is a big reason for the firm’s decision, but she also knows when she’s getting thrown under the bus and she quits. In a bizarre coincidence, she receives a missive from a lawyer indicating that according to her stepfather’s will, if Alaina and her two sisters can stay in the family mansion for two weeks without interruption, they can inherit his estate which is worth millions.
The reason it’s worth that much is because the money was originally Alaina’s mother and father’s. She and her two sisters were separated and sent away as children to family and boarding schools with no contact with their mother and stepfather. Their mother died, presumably of a broken heart and with no provisions for her daughters, and the man she married became a bizarre recluse. Alaina doesn’t know where her sisters are although she’s tried to find them, but the kind lawyer from her hometown of Mystere Parish says they can each tackle their two weeks separately. Although she knows it’s a long shot and will probably dredge up painful childhood memories, Alaina is so eager to get away from her shambles of a career that she packs up her car and heads to Mystere.
Carter Trahan might have left New Orleans with all it’s corruption and crime, but he can’t think of a more onerous duty than playing babysitter to some cold attorney bent on inheriting money. But his lovely mother asks him to do it and he can’t deny her. He’s more than a little shocked when he catches a glimpse of the sexy brunette attempting to tackle the decrepit mansion which has moldered at the edge of the swamp for years. When strange things begin happening to the mansion and she is attacked, Carter finds himself not only wrestling with his attraction to her but also with a multi-layered mystery that is going to take all his cop instincts to solve.
If you like Gothic stories (and I do) you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this tautly written suspense novel. A dark, abandoned mansion, mysterious swamp, frequent storms and brooding hero certainly fit the bill in terms of the elements that make up this genre. DeLeon pens a mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat as there were so many possibilities for the perpetrator that I could not guess who actually was trying to hurt her. I loved that Alaina was no wilting flower – she was a tough lawyer with a gun who combined brave with practical – and that Carter saw and appreciated that quality in her was attractive to me.
However, the romance plot was the weaker piece of this novel. Carter is pretty brusque and doesn’t do much actual talking, so why Alaina is interested in him beyond the chemical attraction was a little unclear to me. His job dedication, maybe? That’s he’s great with his mom? Between the two of them, however, he could have done a little more communicating.
But it was the sex scene (yes, that’s a single number I’m referring to) that would have had me drowning myself in the swamp afterward, and the point where I was just in the book for the terrific suspense plot. The couple – at an appropriate time in the book for them to step things up a notch – has a hot kiss, he touches her nipple once, and then he puts a condom on and is shoving himself inside her. And she thinks it’s awesome! I would have rather that bedroom door have been kept firmly shut (and I don’t think I’ve ever said that before) so I could have at least imagined actual foreplay between these two characters. Why the heroine wasn’t inventing a Peace Corps obligation in order to wiggle her way out of a future with Mr. “One Nipple Touch and I’m Ready to Go”, I’ll never know. Carter’s “technique” reminded me of the old Irish definition of foreplay – pulling back the covers.
It’s a shame such a dark and suspenseful book got saddled with such a cheap looking cover. Doesn’t the man look like he’s a sci fi warrior in armor? That’s supposed to be a spiral staircase from the old mansion, but it doesn’t work and the female model she looks sleepy (maybe this after the heroine hit her head?). Alaina is way more badass than this cover suggests so that’s a major disservice to her. The print version of The Accused is out on the 23rd while the Kindle version isn’t due out until August 1st.
Considering that the book is the first of a new trilogy, you have to ask the question – why is the “series” not clearly linked on Goodreads? DeLeon has a large body of work for the Intrigue line and it would take a reader with a lot of time on their hands to figure out which were the next books in the series and mark them “to-read.” Authors, this is important since Goodreads added the feature were it alerts you when books you’ve marked as to-read were just published! The Betrayed will be a future book on Danae, one of the missing sisters, due out on August 20th with final book, The Reunion, covering Joelle’s story and will be published in late September. I’ll definitely be picking those up, although I’ll be praying that their heroes are a little more skilled in the bedroom department! Nevertheless, for a truly well-written suspense novel, particularly with a strong Southern setting, DeLeon cannot be beat.