One of the most perplexing trends to take a hold of romance is the demonization of the press. Through category and single titles alike, journalists have become the easy go-to villain. In contemporary romance, being part of the media is as telling a character trait as the black hat in westerns of old. The reader need not be given anything beyond that one word: press. Authors who utilize this characterization shorthand might as well substitute Satan for press for all the evilness the press has come to symbolize in romance. What is, perhaps, even more perplexing is why. Really, why? Do the average romance author and the average romance reader really share the common enemy of the media? Since neither readers, nor writers, of romance show up in mainstream media or are the subjects of gonzo paparazzi the common enemy theory seems unlikely.
In 2005 Pamela Clare gave romance a different view of journalists. Extreme Exposure took the reader into a working newsroom and followed a journalist as she pursued the truth at great personal risk. Not only was that a more balanced look, it was more realistic than the vicious out-to-do-the-most-harm members of the press depicted elsewhere. With her newest release, Hard Evidence, Clare returns to the newsroom of the Denver Independent and the universe of Extreme Exposure. She once again rejects the too easy cliché of reporter as devil, but regrettably picks up a few other clichés to replace it.
The journalist in question this time is Tessa Novak, who as the book opens, is witness to a drive by shooting that leaves a teenage girl dead. The shooting opens the door to a world Tessa couldn’t have previously imagined and one that Julian Darcangelo has dedicated his life to eliminating: forcible, underage prostitution and human trafficking. Tessa and Julian have the same goal, to bring down the bad guys, but their divergent methods keep them at cross purposes. Julian, an undercover rogue FBI agent, works under the radar, meticulously planning to bring down Burien (the head bad guy) and Tessa wants to expose the operation by shining the brightest light into every dark corner. They enter into a dance where Tessa relentlessly seeks information and Julian ruthlessly guards what he knows to save both his investigation from Tessa’s prying and Tessa from the danger of his world.
Hard Evidence never finds the all important balance between suspense and romance. The majority of the first hundred pages are devoted to doling out the suspense plot with little page time to bring Tessa and Julian together. With so much focus elsewhere, the necessary baby steps needed to establish attraction and lay the foundation for lasting love are missing and Clare then employs best-left-retired romance constructs to bring Tessa and Julian together. Their first meeting happens after Julian physically hauls Tessa into a linen closet and then kisses her to shut her up. It’s been done, and done, and done. Perhaps it would have worked here if Tessa and Julian had previously met, had there been some build up to the kiss. Without the necessary lead up, the forced intimacy falters badly.
The romance begins with a staggering gait that continues throughout the book forcing odd turning points and misplaced climaxes. Nearly half way through the story, it seems as though Julian and Tessa finally begin to move through the predetermined steps of the genre waltz when a careless comment by Julian about babysitting Tessa is treated with the hopelessness of a black moment. Tessa and Julian eventually find a bit of common ground, just as the noose around Burien’s neck tightens. The books then shifts focus to the romance and Tessa and Julian’s battles to overcome inner demons to the triumph of sexual heat.
The most disappointing aspect of Hard Evidence is that the previous book in this universe worked so well. The things that made Extreme Exposure exceptional: the believability, the pacing, the balance between romance and suspense, are missing from this offering. Too often Hard Evidence resorts to the too easy romance shorthand that plagues the genre: Julian is a collection of standard issue anti-hero traits; Tessa was once wronged by sex never to return for a second try; the traitor in their midst exists for convenience; the suspense plot, while grounded, is too familiar. Had the basic setup of Hard Evidence, the reporter in jeopardy at odds with the world-weary law enforcement agent, been filter through the same fresh perspective Extreme Exposure was, Hard Evidence would have been equally exceptional. But, it wasn’t and it isn’t.
In the past, with other works, Clare has proven to be both a capable and earnest writer. Hard Evidence, though accessible and deft in spots, ultimately underwhelms as it’s not the best of this author or this universe.
You can visit Pamela here and purchase this book here and here.