While his rodeo days have come and gone, cowboy Jack Drummond is in for the ride of a lifetime…with life itself hanging in the balance. An unexpected encounter with his old flame, Mara Jennings, triggers a series of events that Jack never could have predicted. There’s just one problem: Mara isn’t the same woman Jack remembers. She looks like Mara. And sounds like Mara. But reignited passions aren’t enough to hide the fact that she’s harboring a big secret—and hiding out from an even bigger enemy. Now, learning the truth might be the only way to stay alive. Or it could tear them apart—permanently.
I have been a big fan of Paula Graves’ Harlequin Intrigue series for a while. I say singular “series” because even though they technically have different series titles (Cooper, Cooper Security, Bitterwood P.D., etc) they loosely connect and read like one long, meandering chain of stories. (You don’t *have* to read them all in order though–there are connections but you can easily follow each book alone.) I was excited to review Deception Lake because while I’ve been reading these books for a while, I haven’t reviewed any here, and I figured this was a great time to share my love for Graves and these books. While I still think suspense fans should try Graves, I regrettably didn’t enjoy this book much.
I’m actually going to keep the summary to a minimum because it’s tough to say much without spoiling. Basically, the hero, Jack Drummond, is an newly sober ex rodeo cowboy who bumps into an old girlfriend he misused, Mara Jennings. He wants to make things right with her now, but she dismisses him. When he follows her to try and make amends, he interrupts some people trying to hurt her, and they both end up on the run trying to figure out who is after her and why.
I honestly didn’t much like either Jack or Mara. Jack is trying to do the right thing and atone for his past sins, but he doesn’t have much depth to him, and he basically stalks Mara and forces himself into her situation. It was hard to determine his motivation, other than perhaps guilt at his past behavior. Plus he has no business going on the run with Mara–he’s a cowboy and knows nothing about cloak and dagger stuff. I found Mara downright unlikable, too. She’s mean and dishonest, and she has an immature “I’ll do it myself” attitude in the face of forces clearly more powerful than herself.
I didn’t get any chemistry between Jack and Mara, either. They argue, but it didn’t feel like witty banter to me, just tense disagreement. There’s no sex and little sizzle. In fact, there’s not been any sex in the few recent books I’ve read in the series (there were in earlier ones!), but until this book I’ve never felt like the sex was missing because the suspense aspect makes sexy opportunities scarce. But here, it seemed like a gap. Mara tries to seduce Jack several times, and the two are stuck alone in a hotel room for much of the book with nothing to do. It seemed out of character for both of them NOT to have sex. I never really bought into them as a couple. Add in a plot that seemed kind of far-fetched, and this one mostly lost me.
Don’t let this book dissuade you, though! I actually started reading the series sort of in the middle, with the Cooper Security books. I haven’t yet gone back to read everything that came before that or all of the new Gates spin off, but I can say that the Security books were awesome, and I enjoyed most of the Bitterwood P.D. that came after, too. There are plenty of strong heroines with cool jobs like CIA and FBI agents, police detectives, etc. They’re set in the south, and Graves clearly knows and loves the land because the books have a strong sense of place. If you like romantic suspense, especially the style of short action-packed stories Intrigue is good at, go check out the earlier Graves titles. Just don’t start with Deception Lake.
Grade: 2.75 out of 5