The romantic genre poses real challenges to the worthy author. When every romantic idea has been flogged to death by the surfeit of romantic fiction, how can an author who aspires to rise above the mass of mediocre writing please the discerning reader while staying within the strict constraints of the genre? Anne Stuart shows how with Rafe's Revenge : strong and believable characters engage in a sharp battle of wit and will from the first page to the last, and no glaring holes in the plot mar the reading pleasure. This short book has it all, the dark powerful man, the vulnerable but clever heroine, the satisfyingly romantic encounters, the sexual tension and the ubiquitous happy ending. As the protagonists reveal their true characters through the ordeal of conflict, I feel I am getting to know them well, and it is entirely believable to me that their mutual antagonism grows from resentment to grudging admiration and mutual esteem, and finally, you-know-what. Ms Stuart scores with this one.
Unfortunately, the second offering, Hand In Glove, shows how even a master of the genre can miss the mark. I get no good feel as to what it is about the man and woman which attracts them to each other, apart from brute physical attraction. The plot has holes you could drive a horse and carriage through - a factory-full of curious employees don't realise where their charismatic boss really lives; and in a night of intimacy spent (part of the time) in conversation she fails to tell him about the recent attempt on her life? Too much rests on the tightening sense of peril, and since I spotted the (albeit unbelievable) villain miles away, this just didn't work for me.
I would consider Partners in Crime a near miss. There is some character development, and some rather satisfying romantic situations. But somehow this offering fails to convince me. Nonetheless, a pleasurable read. And I'll say this for all three books; Ms Stuart is right at the top of her league. If you must indulge in romantic fiction, you could do a lot worse then reading her offerings. Her writing is competent, full of fun and wit, and she doesn't stretch her readers' credulity too much. All this in the course pushing the right romantic buttons.