After being beaten and left for dead in the New Mexico desert, Smithson Group agent Mick Savin tries to piece together his last few days. He remembers bits and pieces: gathering crucial intel. An ambush by Spectra thugs. And then…nothing, except waking up in some medical center in rural west Texas. His mission was top secret. So how did he end up here?
The answer is Neva Case. If the former big-city attorney hadn’t been out in her pick-up, Mick wouldn’t be alive. Mick’s never met anyone quite like Neva. She’s smart, sexy, and passionate. She also has a secret. Neva runs the Big Brown Barn, an underground shelter for young girls forced into unwanted polygamist marriages. Neva would do anything for these girls—and that’s what worries Mick. Neva may be trusting, but Mick’s instincts tell him that something’s not quite right. He’s not about to let someone get to Neva and the girls on his watch. Especially when one of the girls brings trouble straight to the barn’s front door.
Now, with the shelter in unimaginable danger and time running out, Mick is in for the fight of his life, one that could cost him the woman he’s come to love more than anything…
HelenKay: Larger Than Life is the 6th book to date in Kent’s SG-5 series, and the second single-title romantic suspense. This books opens with a bang – literally. The shooting starts on page 1 and the action doesn’t let up until the very end on page 293. This installment stars Mick Savin on the trail of the elusive and secretive crime syndicate Spectra IT. The suspected crime this time is money laundering and Mick’s on it until he’s dragged through the countryside and left for dead. Neva Case, a semi-retired lawyer, full-time businesswoman and quiet savior to underage girls forced into unwanted and polygamous marriages thanks to a nearby religious cult, happens by and rescues Mick, and his faithful dog, from probable death.
Mick is drawn into Neva’s life, each hiding their secrets and each determined to keep them sacred. Interwoven with Mick and Neva’s growing love story are two other love stories, those of Jeanne and Yancey – a couple married for twenty years with a growing son and all the pressures, plus a little extra, of work and home life – and Spencer and Candy – Jeanne and Yancey’s son and his girlfriend with her own load of baggage, attitude to spare and a heart that shines through it all. The three stories weave in and out of the book, connecting and plowing forward at a pace that never falters and, if anything, moves along at such a clip that you wonder what you’re missing behind the scenes in one romance while Kent is dealing on the pages with another.
Kent’s writing is strong and vibrant. Her strengths are in her ability to set a scene, build sexual tension and create characters who feel as real and true and imperfect as the people you know and deal with everyday. She places the reader in the center of the action, knowing exactly where to start the book and exactly when to move from one scene to another.
The weaknesses in this book do not arise out of the writing or Kent’s style. One issue is the conflict that centers and grounds the book. At the outset, Mick’s assignment appears that it will guide, at least in part, the movement of the book. Instead, the job moves to the back as another operative off-screen takes over Mick’s assignment, likely setting up the next installment in the series. Those who have followed the SG-5 series are familiar with this device. Kent has used it to assist with the flow from one story to another. However, if a reader unfamiliar with Kent’s recent works were to start with Larger Than Life, there may be a confused sense that a major thread of the book is described then dropped before completion. In fact, that is exactly what happens.
The other concern with this book has to do with the unfolding romance between Mick and Neva. Kent is a pro at designing stories with a satisfying ending, recognizing that a walk to the altar does not have to be imminent at the end of the book. While the romance here is very strong and well-done in the sense of entwining the romance and the suspense portions of the book so that one cannot survive without the other, the romance jumps from attraction to forever faster than most of Kent’s works. With everything else going on and the time taken, appropriately so, in fleshing out the subplots, the rush to love hereafter may be too much of a jump for some readers to swallow.
For those following along in the series, Ezra Moore does make an appearance. His time in the spotlight is short but enough to clue the reader in that he will be back. Again. This book doesn’t help to unravel the mystery that is Ezra but his inclusion here suggests an answer could be coming.
Wendy: Alison Kent’s Larger Than Life is a fast paced, addictively slick page turner. It’s summertime entertainment as it’s intended: easily consumable fare that grabs and holds your attention for only as long as it needs to and asks little of the reader.
The sixth installment in the Smithson series finds SG-5 operative, Mick Savin, left for dead by Spectra IT goons. He’s brought back to physical and emotional life by lawyer- turned-advocate-turned-operator of an underground shelter for runaway girls, Neva Case. Bandaged, but with no time to heal, Mick teams up with Neva to face a cult-like religious sect, a hot shot attorney set to take Neva down, charges of kidnapping, Neva’s angry ex-lover, and, most frightening of all, their personal fears of emotional intimacy.
The fast pace of the work is a double edged sword. It keeps the story flying at a speed for which examining the details is impossible—but then again perhaps that’s a good thing: Neva’s work with teenage girls seeking escape from religiously sanctioned polygamous marriages is a conceit best ignored and a premise that unravels under too close an inspection. While sects of polygamists are no stretch, the legality of binding teenage girls to men already in lawful unions through another marriage is.
Though Mick is in the New Mexico desert on an assignment having to do with, well, something involving Spectra IT, as a character he lacks a greater purpose; he’s there to fall in love with Neva, to help and protect her, which he does in compelling fashion, but he reads as though he doesn’t have an arc of his own. His non-Neva life is given the broadest of brush strokes, roughly sketched and then ignored.
The timeline of the action is very short, which calls into question the depth of trust that springs between Neva and Mick, as well as her quick “I love you.” This hero and heroine, unlike other Kent characters, simmer before boiling. Yet there is a depth and maturity to the heat they generate and an emotional profundity that resonates despite its swiftness.
Neva and Mick are one of three tales of love in this work. Candy (Neva’s partner in business and crime) and Spencer battle Candy’s past, Spencer’s future, and their present. Jeanne and Yancey (together they are Spencer’s parents and Yancey is Sheriff) offer a look at what it means to stay in love as apposed to fall in love. The three stories are united not only by the twists and turns of the plot but by the stumbling blocks each couple faces. Issues of trust, where each partner has been, and where they will go together are recurrent themes in all story lines; each resolves, but without all the threads neatly tied up in a manner consistent with the story.
Kent’s strength here, as elsewhere, is the persuasive main and secondary characters she draws; they are damaged, more rough around the edges than the preternatural smoothness and polish often found in romances. Their cogency lies in their vulnerabilities; above all else Kent’s characters simply want to be loved. However the work falters and stumbles on one character’s hollow and unbelievable end story turn. While the unveiling of a bad guy is stock and trade for suspense, this work’s reveal calls out for a more deft and grounded handling.
Overall the characters and pacing are far more compelling than what quibbles and niggling doubts can be found with the plot. In a novel like this, suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite; either you give into the story’s world—which isn’t quiet the world we live in—or you don’t. Set time aside because once you begin Larger Than Life it’s difficult, if not impossible, to put down.
Wendy’s response to HelenKay: In many ways Larger Than Life is a departure from the five previous books in the Smithson series. There are several points of view, three love stories, the Spectra IT crime syndicate—though the mysterious Ezra puts in an appearance early on—is largely in the background, the love story is less sexually driven than the preceding books and lastly while the other books belonged to the heroes, this story is clearly Neva’s. How do you see this work fitting in the series?
HelenKay’s response to Wendy: I’d say it’s the difference between Kent’s novellas and her single titles. While Larger Than life and the Bane Affair were the only longer books in the series, this one is a rounder and fuller book than Bane. This is much more along the lines of a true single-title romantic suspense with slightly less of an erotic feel than with the other books in the series. The novellas were shorter and more character based than plot based, focusing on strong sexual tension and sexual heat over deep external conflict. Despite these differences in style, each installment builds on the one before it, not only in the introduction of new operatives, but also on the carrying forward of Spectra IT and Ezra Moore. While each piece stands alone, I would suggest a reader consider reading the books in the order published to have a better understanding of the growing plot, which really carries over and develops over the span of all 6 books so far.
Wendy’s grade: Loved the fast pacing and was swept along by the hero and heroine but the faulty legality and the ungrounded character switch at the end brought me back down to earth. B
HelenKay’s grade: Larger Than Life is an enjoyable and fast-paced read with strong and interesting characters of different ages, races and backgrounds. Somehow, Kent manages it all and presents it in a believable and easy-to-read style. I give it a strong B+.