Oh man, I think my office became noticeable gloomier overnight. It's just so overcast today and it's doom and gloom in the office. It could be because I was listening to the EAR/ONS/GSK case episodes on Casefile (and before that the Moors Murders). Just gloomy.
I also somehow didn't photograph this book. I don't know how that happened to be honest. I don't think I have it anymore either, perhaps I sent it off in a book/spa pick-up package to a friend. Somehow this is a mess. I need to get it together.
I picked this up because Kat Martin is one of the author's listed in the results if you search for "author's like..." I had put in Anne Stuart (since she was in between publications) and I had stopped reading Janet Evanovich (that's another story, but basically the books were getting ridiculous. Well, more ridiculous than I could handle. It was the giraffe running loose in Trenton that finally did me in). I've been looking for new authors to add. So Martin came up in the search, and this is the first book in her series.
Title: The Conspiracy
Author: Kat Martin
Page Number: 507 pages (paperback with bonus story included titled "Wait Until Dark")
Genre: romance, romantic suspense, fiction, suspense, mystery
Publisher: HQN, an imprint of Harlequin
Harper Winston’s brother has disappeared. Pursuing his dream of sailing the Caribbean, Michael hasn’t responded to texts or emails in days. When even the Coast Guard can’t find him, Harper is forced to take desperate measures. Which means going to Chase Garrett, once her brother’s best friend, now the only man she can trust…or so she hopes.
As the successful owner of Maximum Security, Chase has learned to trust his gut. He knows Harper’s father is mixed up in a deadly business, and suspects there’s more to Michael’s disappearance than meets the eye. Getting involved again with the Winstons goes against everything he stands for, yet old loyalties die hard. As the case draws him closer to Harper and deeper into the Winstons’ snarled crime family, he is forced to put everything on the line to keep Harper safe…and both of them alive.
This is the first book in a series called "Maximum Security", which at time of posting has four main books and four novellas interspersed in the timeline.
I believe the connection between Martin and Stuart comes from the sub-genre of assassin/contractor + lady who needs to be rescued/needs mission completed. I fully understand why it was recommended in the algorithm to Stuart's Ice/Fire series. There are quite a lot more similarities than you'd first expect: Most of the action takes place in a foreign-to-America (or first setting) country, extraction, drugs as a commodity, romance between the "good" girl and the "dangerous" boy, and action-packed. The book I picked up has a different cover than the main ones and comes with one of the novellas, titled "Wait Until Dark."
The two main characters are Harper Winston and Chance Garrett. Garrett is part owner of Maximum Security, which is a security consulting company in Texas. Winston is co-owner of a boutique (who also designs some of the leisure wear they sell? At least that's what I got from the plot. She and her business partner seem to make small run designs instead of buying from other companies and stocking).
Harper Winston seeks out Chase Garrett because her brother (who is his former best friend) has gone missing whilst he was sailing the Caribbean. Winston hopes to hire Garrett to find her brother. Both travel to where the boat that Winston's brother was using is moored. They discover that her brother, Michael Winston, has disappeared along with a woman named Pia. I can't for the life of me remember Pia's last name but I had two notes for her. "What a dumbass" and "Who the fuck goes off with a strange man they just met to his boat, watch the murder channel you moron." So...I don't think I had a good impression of poor Pia. She should seriously watch the murder channel more. We all learn not go off with strange men because 99.9% of the time they're serial killers. It's a fact.
Actually, I had lots of notes on Pia and Michael...and none of them are pleasant. I had emotions about them. We'll get to it. I'm sure. I love a good bitch sesh.
Anyways, Harper and Chase follow the kidnappers into the South America jungle. They kidnappers are part of an international drug ring. They've targeted Michael Winston because [SPOILER] his (and Harper Winston's) father is the American contact for the drug smuggling empire. There is a power struggle within the crime syndicate basically. Eventually, through extraction, gun fights, and intrigue, Chase and Harper save Michael and Pia. They end up back in America.
Other characters are introduced, mostly from Chase's company Maximum Security. I assume these characters are going to have their own stories in the future. Quite frankly, I would have preferred just one or two in this book with the other characters introduced down the line. I wrote down that too many people were introduced who had no impact on the story making it convoluted and messy. I like a tight plot, tight writing, and a tight cast of characters. If I have to start writing down the random people who show up just once than we're in a pickle.
This is a romance, between Chase and Harper (and a subplot between Michael and Pia). Chase and Harper are instantly attracted to one another because they're both hotties. It's insta-lust of course. This doesn't really bug me but I know it's a trope that can set some people off. They obstacle they must overcome, besides the kidnapping and drug runners, etc. is that Harper's dad and Chase don't get along (see spoiler above if you need the main gist of it). I find this mostly juvenile but I think it's because I'm a snobby snob. Texas society is it's own unique beast but I don't think Houston society is going to stick their noses up at Harper because of her dad and if he goes to jail. They haven't as of yet. In real life, the Bush family isn't ostracized anywhere in Texas, no one's throwing tomatoes at 'em. Aunt Becky's daughters aren't slumming it in Hollywood. Even the Theranos chick isn't in jail...
My point is that Harper and Chase have no actual obstacle. They'll be fine. It's a tiny bit overwrought. Now, Michael and Pia. While being held by the kidnappers, they spend a lot of time together. At one very odd point, the leaders of the kidnapping group go up to Michael and Pia and tell them that if Michael and Pia won't have sex with each other, than the kidnappers will have sex with Pia. So they're going to make a deal that if they get to watch Michael and Pia, then they'll leave Pia alone. Um...this makes no sense. Like, you're the bad guy. You don't make deals with your kidnap victims for pay-per-view porn. You have the guns. You're in charge! Again...you're the bad guys! I was mostly left really confused by all this. At the end of the story, Michael shows up in Miami to visit Pia after she's asked him to leave her alone because she needs time to get over what all happened in the jungle. Of course, once he shows up, Pia is overjoyed. I was not. I had more notes. In reference to Michael I wrote "BOUNDARIES!!!" and for Pia, I wrote a mini-rant about how this stupid type of boundary-stomping romance is considered normal in Hollywood romance movies/older romance books and I really don't like it. I had watched a bunch of movies and I think my feelings seeped over.
I'll be honest. I was not keen on the romance between either couple (especially Michael and Pia. Y'all need therapy, not more of this damaged nonsense) but the action was there.
This book was almost there for me. Just close enough. It's interesting and overall it was a decent enough distraction. The weakness came from weak plotting (including weak reasoning for the character's motivations) and weak character development. I feel like this series might get stronger as it goes (especially from this review) but I haven't quite picked up an additional book for it. I'm trying to get through my hoard before I start looking for the next book. This is one of the books that I'd bump up to a 3ish star but with the caveats. I'm really persnickety about character development so I feel my harshness comes from that. I also think we could have even edited down the book by about one hundred pages and tightened up the plot. Again, that's all personal. If you like action and romance this might work out just fine for you.
On Kat Martin's webpage, there are extracts from the book so you can get a feel for the writing.