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I've read several books by Keri Arthur before which have been well written and enjoyable urban fantasies, most notably those in the Riley Jenson series, so I had no qualms about tackling another of her titles. I should have read the small print though because this is a far cry from the quality of her other books and comes dangerously close to being soft porn, though it's masquerading under the sub-genre of paranormal romance.
At the werewolf reservation of Ripple Creek, women are being savagely killed, their bodies left bloody and mutilated. Three women are already dead and a fourth lies close to death in hospital. Neva Grant's twin sister is the latest victim, clinging perilously to life, and all the evidence points to the killer being a member of the Sinclair clan. Neva vows to bring the killer to justice but first she has to infiltrate the Sinclair den and her only hope is to seduce Duncan Sinclair, who's been living away from his family but has returned to help find the killer. Deeply suspicious of each other, Duncan and Neva begin to piece together the evidence they hope will lead them to the killer who is ravaging the female werewolf population of Ripple Creek.
Reading the synopsis, I think I could be forgiven for thinking this may have been more than just a romance, especially when there were quotes from two of my favourite urban fantasy authors, Kim Harrison and Charlaine Harris, seemingly in praise of this book. From the back cover blurb it seemed as though the plot had crime elements and so I hoped that this novel would follow the trend of Keri Arthur's other series and be more of an urban fantasy but I was destined to be disappointed.
Almost from the beginning, I knew this book was going to read more like something from the Black Lace publishing house than a crime story. The prose was, if not quite purple, certainly a delicate shade of mauve with much use of words such as 'throbbing', 'aching', 'thrusting' and 'grinding', all linked to various body parts but mainly the loins, so it came as no surprise that Neva had her first sexual encounter (coyly referred to as 'dancing') with Duncan by page 14 and things went rapidly downhill from there.
Now, I'm no prude, and don't have any objection to scenes of a sexual nature in my reading matter as long as it's relevant to the story and is well written but this book is more or less just one long sex scene with both hero and heroine seemingly in a constant state of arousal. I'm sure they could have solved the crime in seconds flat if they hadn't kept stopping along the way for another bout of thrusting, growling and groaning. Admittedly, the book is set during the phase of the moon which renders all werewolves into rutting beasts but the murderer seems to be able to control their urges long enough to continue attacking people despite the lunar influence so why can't the hero and heroine?
Duncan Sinclair is, at best, a poorly conceived hero who seems to be a slave to his inner wolf. His ravening lust and permanent erection makes me wonder how he managed to walk anywhere let alone set about solving a crime. He's supposed to be a cool, calculating alpha wolf but his hormones (and his creator) just won't let him be that. Neva, too, is a very one dimensional character who wouldn't look out of place in a Mills & Boon romance. Again, she's supposed to have an ulterior motive for connecting with Duncan but all thought of family, morals or solving the crime seem to vanish from her head as soon as she gets within sniffing distance of Duncan. Did I tell you they spend a lot of time smelling each other, something I found particularly off-putting! When not sniffing each other's 'musky scent' or acting on their animal instincts, they communicate by telepathy, a device the author uses to allow them to have conversations in the presence of others, who seem to be blissfully unaware that the long awkward silences and speaking glances are Duncan and Neva conversing.
As for the crime, it's pretty obvious to the reader whodunnit almost from chapter one but Duncan and Neva are so blinded by lust that they fail to pick up on the glaringly obvious. The murderer is another cardboard cut-out character so fits in well with the rest of the cast of stereotypes in this book.
This story fails on just about every level, in my opinion: the characterisation is laughably stereotypical, the plotline is thin to the point of transparency and the romance is simply non-existent. In place of romanticism or even eroticism what you get is soft porn and badly written soft porn at that. As I closed the book, I thanked every deity known to humanity that I wasn't born a werewolf if this is the way they carry on!
This novel was published relatively recently (2003) but I can only assume that it's something the author wrote at the very beginning of her writing career and shoved at the back of her writing desk: if it wasn't, she should be ashamed of herself! There is a second novel in this Ripple Creek series but I for one won't be bothering with it. I suspect it will be just more of the same. This was such a disappointment, especially as I know that Keri Arthur is capable of writing much better stuff than this.
Should my review have tempted you to read this book for yourself, it can be picked up from 1p plus postage and that's for new copies!