I have always loved Lisa Marie Rice’s bio on Amazon. Who wouldn’t want to be eternally thirty, tall, willowy, and win a Nobel Prize? Not to mention have the skills of an archaeologist, physicist, and concert pianist? But that is one of the great joys of being a writer – on paper (and social media) we can be whoever we want to be.
Lisa Marie Rice writes hot, hot romantic suspense where the men are lusty and the women in peril. She also writes closely tied together series, and that is why I decided to review her books today. I too am writing a series, and it is not easy. You want the books to interrelate, but you also want a reader to be able to pick up any book in any order and enjoy it.
So let’s see how Lisa Marie Rice does it.
The book I am going to focus on is Midnight Angel. I choose this book because it is the third book in the Midnight Trilogy, and I wanted to see how the book tied into the two previous ones. I also was curious to discover how back story from those books was woven into the plot.
The main characters of Midnight Angel are a battle-scarred, retired Navy Seal and a blind songwriter/singer. A beauty and a beast. The setting is Seattle and the link between the characters is that the hero works for the security company owned by the hero of book 1. Setting and common interest are one way to link series books together. Characters are another.
The story opens with the hero, Douglas Kowalski, talking to the hero from book one in the series – John Huntington (Midnight Man). The first paragraph is Douglas’s inner thoughts and reviews how these two men met, served together. Written in close point of view, this information conveys the tight bond they share.
The next character on the scene is the heroine from book one, John’s wife Suzanne. The second page continues to develop the relationship between the two men, and Douglas muses on how John’s married life has changed him. We also learn what Douglas looks like – real rough.
So far, it’s all back story and description – no action. However, Rice has carefully layered in tension showing their unease. Both the men are unarmed by Suzanne’s request at an exhibition of millions of dollars of diamonds. Something is going to happen. You just know it!
But wait, Lisa Marie Rice isn’t done tying her books together. The reader may be feeling nervous. The characters may be feeling antsy. But she still takes time mid-chapter to give almost a page summary of the plot of book one.
Putting pure back story this close to the front of a novel, can slow the story. It’s what I always worry about in my own writing. In contests I have entered, I have received feedback saying –too much backstory, and that was referring to a few lines of back story in chapter 2.
If you have read the first book in the series, as I have it, all the plot comes tumbling back when I read the summary . I know these characters. I have spent 200 some odd pages with each pair. I have to admit it didn’t slow my reading because I skimmed it.
I wonder though if I hadn’t read the two previous books, if that lump of back story would have been a bit confusing and annoying. After all it really isn’t needed. John and Suzanne’s story doesn’t have anything to do with the plot in this book. If I were her editor I would have said, take it out.
One saving grace is that she has tried hard to keep the summary in Douglas’s voice. Although there is a distancing tone. For example: “The next day, John married Suzanne. Kowalski still found it so weird that his friend was married.” In this line, we get Douglas’s emotional reaction, but using his name instantly makes the tone distant. Characters, uh people, don’t think of themselves by name.
In the next pages, we are introduced to the heroine from book 2 (Midnight Run). That meeting ups the tension because Claire can’t look Douglas in the face. This establishes again that Douglas is more than ugly. But there is still no action.
It isn’t until the very last page of Chapter 1, in the very last line, that the heroine, Allegra, is introduced through Douglas’s ears. “It was then he heard The Voice. An angel’s voice, beamed straight down from heaven.” Chapter 2 is told from the villain’s point of view and opens with more back story. We learn what he is planning to do to Allegra. To be honest, maybe because I had read her other books I was willing to wade through the slow build up, the layering in of back story, the focus on character development, and the detailing of villainous intentions to get to the bang – the explosion at the end of chapter 3. It is the kind of beginning we’d accept in a literary novel. Why not a hot romantic suspense?
One of Annie Dillard’s well-known quotes is “Put all deaths, accidents, and diseases up front.” But does a series work better when the ties to the previous books are detailed at the start? When time is taken to build the protagonist’s relationships with characters and events from previous stories? That’s Lisa Marie Rice’s approach. What do you think?