Series: Hotter In Texas, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 464 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Forever publisher Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
Wasn't Totally Sold
She didn't do it. Nikki Hunt didn't kill her ex-husband. Sure she was angry at him. And, okay, she may have been overheard - twice - saying something about killing him. He ditched her during a dinner that he had invited her to and stiffed her on the check! And the only reason she was meeting him to begin with was her wretched financial situation. She couldn't afford a candy bar, let alone a five star meal, so yes, she may have muttered under her breath about offing the jerk and those mutters may have been overheard. It isn't like she would ever actually do it. Hell, she didn't even use kill traps on mice!
Try convincing the cops of that, though.
Okay, the facts that his dead body was crammed into her trunk and she was the listed beneficiary for his life insurance were a mite damning, but she didn't do it!
When Dallas O'Conner was a cop, he was set up and did time in prison before his name was cleared. Now he and his two best friends, also former cops sent to prison along with him, are private investigators. It shouldn't be at all surprising that they specialize in investigating cases for the unjustly accused.
Stumbling onto a murder scene with his homicide detective brother Tony and coming face to face with a shaken Nikki was a coincidence. Being puked all over while he was talking to her was just bad luck...that his partners would be tormenting him over forever. Still, he believes her when she says she didn't kill her ex, and there are too many suspicious things going on around her that have to be connected to his murder. In fact, not only is he positive Nikki Hunt didn't kill her ex-husband, he's pretty sure she's in danger from whomever did.
Speaking of pretty... When she's not projectile vomiting all over him, Nikki is definitely all kinds of that, and soon it becomes more than just a job to keep her fine behind out of prison...it may just be his reason for being.
It didn't take me too long into this latest Craig book to realize I was going to be in the minority with my review. Don't Mess With Texas is certainly classic Craig. It's romantic suspense with plenty of humor and instant, sizzling chemistry between likable characters. It reads easy, with a fast pace and some nice depth of plot provided by a couple of strong ancillary storylines, including a secondary romance thread that had a lot of appeal. Yet despite all that goodness, I had some problems with it.
As much as I enjoyed Nikki and Dallas, they're fairly interchangeable with all the other Craig romantic lead characters I've read: macho manly man gets a rise from weaker female lead who needs a man to help her out/protect her from whatever danger she's gotten herself into. Nothing there to dislike, really, but I prefer a bit more strength and independence in my female lead characters and more equality in the gender roles.
I also wasn't sold on why Dallas' brother Tony was so set on Nikki as the most likely suspect, especially after tallying up the events that occur the night of the murder. Not to mention the doubt caused by sheer logistics and scene evidence. It never seemed feasible, even initially, that the petite Nikki could kill, then physically dump her larger ex into her trunk given her size and without getting any blood on the clothes she was wearing, be cagey enough to ditch the murder weapon, then scream when she "discovered" the body, drawing instant police attention. The ills and imps of that threw off my ability to fully embrace the core of the plot concept.
Beyond that, I struggled with the development of the romance arc throughout the book. Most of the relationship conflict was the result of a lack of communication - not a favorite theme of mine - and there was a lot of waffling from chapter to chapter by both characters regarding the depth of their feelings for each other and the importance of the relationship to each of them. That was especially troublesome in this case, where the characters have known each other for too short a span of time to warrant a relationship longevity issue.
I wish that the secondary plotline between Tony and LeeAnn had been given more room for development. It was one of the high points of the book for me and had a lot of story potential that I would have enjoyed seeing expanded.
Unfortunately, there's something else that's been bothering me about the last few books I've read by Craig, an issue that has had an impact on my rating of this book and my willingness to read others by Craig. This is the sixth romantic suspense I've read by Craig and out of those six books, four of them have included material and/or characters disdaining homosexuality, or using gay stereotypes as punchlines or to infuse humor into various situations. This seeming trend disturbs me on a personal level and fosters an impression of a lack of sensitivity awareness that makes me uncomfortable. In a day and age where children are killing themselves because they're traumatized or hopeless because of their sexuality, macho men threatened by pink couches sort of loses comedic appeal for me. This sort of humor no more appeals to me than racial humor.
I wanted to settle back and enjoy this book for it's lighter-toned suspense and humor, for the hallmark Texas settings and manly men, for the quick and easy read that's pure pleasure. And honestly, even with one or two of the exceptions I mentioned, there were pleasant stretches in which I was able to do so. Craig writes entertaining books. The problems I had with this one may have tarnished the gold for me, but I'm the first one to say that I know I'll be in the vast minority.