Tour’s Books Blog

October 11, 2009

Book Review: Caught by Jami Alden

  • Title: Caught
  • Author: Jami Alden
  • Type: Romantic Suspense
  • Genre: Ugly duckling and handsome prince; competitors to lovers
  • Sub-genre: Two competing investigators look for a missing teen become involved; series
  • My Grade: C+ to B- (3.5*)
  • Rating: PG-13 to NC-17
  • Where Available: Online and in bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure: This book was acquired through an online book swapping site

Jami Alden writes steamy romantic suspense with an noir edge.  Caught is my first full novel by her and it was a good experience in most ways.

Jerry and Marcy Kramer are the poster children for the tech-rich, morally bankrupt class of California’s newest too-rich-for-their-own-good.  Marcy drinks like a fish, Jerry cheats and ignores his wife and family.  Then their teenage daughter disappears.  She had moved in with Jerry, taking his indifference as a better than her mom’s drinking.  Now no one knows where she is, not even the few ‘friends’ she had.  There is a Kramer son, but he’s never seen, a very strange ‘missing person’ in the story.

Ethan Taggert is GQ cover model handsome and smart to boot.  He, his fraternal twin Derek and their alpha older brother, Danny, formed Gemini Security, after their military service was over, Ethan as a fighter pilot and Derek as a sniper and older brother Danny in spec ops  Jerry Kramer is their most high profile client and his unqualified support is getting them known in the tech rich bay area.  When Jerry calls, they jump.  Danny ends up traveling to Bali with their father, chasing yet another fruitless lead in their father’s quest to find the wife that left him and their sons without any warning or subsequent contact 18 years ago.  The eldest Taggert made a fortune in investments and has left substantial sums to all three sons, but not till they reach 50, assuring they’ll work for a living.

Toni Crawford has been going it alone in California after learning her boyfriend was cheating on her.  The Bay Area is a damn expensive place to live and try to start a business on your own.  You take what you can get to pay the bills, including following cheating husbands at 3 AM.  Marcy Kramer had hired her to gets the goods on her slimy, cheating husband Jerry.  His hidden assets and lots of other stuff couldn’t hide deep enough that she couldn’t find them.  Years of internet security work and a natural talent for hacking are viable job skills for investigators in the electronic age, especially when tracing money.

Toni and Ethan end up at Jerry’s house when Marcy insists that something be done about finding their missing daughter.  The two investigators must find a way to work together to locate Kara, not an easy task given Toni’s brash, combative, in-your-face style and Ethan’s charm that just rubs her the wrong way.  What they find isn’t what they expect.  Kara was on the virgins website having signed a pledge to keep herself for marriage.  Virgin just means no vaginal penetration, not no sex and Kara has gotten involved with a college age wannabe porn king, Toby, who published nude photos of her.  While Toni and Ethan chase after Toby, Jerry takes a phone call from the kidnapper – an underworld figure he’s crossed.  Jerry was angry when the company he built, Gen-Cor, went public and he got sidelined and essentially told he could just leave.  Not content with the hundreds of million he made, he wanted to get even for the shabby treatment and made a deal with the devil for technology, biowarfare technology.  Now he has to deliver or his 17 year old daughter will get sold to some rich pervert who likes raping virgins and video-taping it for sale.  He’s told to get Toni and Ethan off the case – NOW! – or his daughter pays the price.  Now he can save his daughter at the expense of millions of lives, or let her pay for his stupidity and hubris.

In Vegas, Toni and Ethan find the idiot Toby and learn about a side of Kara even Toni never knew.  A rich girl with an expensive convertible and a sleazy boyfriend lashing out at her emotionally absent parents.  Toni beats herself up over not realizing what was going on in Kara’s life.  She still suffers from guilt over her sister’s death, a death she unjustly feels somewhat responsible for thanks to her mother’s behavior.  It didn’t help when she found out her boyfriend, the man she left Seattle to be with, was cheating on her.  Ethan has his mother’s abandonment issues and a dedication to a love ’em and leave ’em style.  But the sparks between them aren’t just annoyance with a competitor, it’s not all together wanted attraction.  When Toni changes out of her ratty jeans and aging tee shirt and into a barely there silver dress that shows off the mile long legs and nearly 6 foot height and leaves Ethan wondering if she has ANYTHING on underneath it.  Toni doesn’t feel entirely comfortable all dressed up and wearing makeup, but this is Vegas and she wants to make Ethan’s jaw drop.  She succeeds.  Maybe a little well because after the ‘discussion’ with Toby, because Ethan, who flew them to Vegas in the company jet, says they’ll have to stay the night because he’s too tired to fly.  Not too tired to fool around though.  He and Toni have a really hot night together, but it’s the morning after has him at odds with himself.  He’s reluctant to let go, despite his ‘thanks for the good time’ facade.

When they get back to Palo Alto, Jerry’s had a text message from Kara saying she was a friend’s beach house and would be back in a few days.  Toni doesn’t believe, but Ethan and his brother Derrek seem to and she takes off angry, convinced Jerry is lying and the brothers are allowing it to happen.  Throughout this, Kara’s story with the kidnappers is going on as well, but now she’s not alone, two other girls are there and for some reason they look familiar to Kara.  Then she realizes she knows them from the V website where the virgins who signed the pledge chat.  The bad guys are using it to find likely kidnap victims.

Toni learns more about Jerry’s financial arrangements, money moving to off-shore accounts, making it look all the world like he’s going to run, but from what?  The problem is, that money has no traceable origin.  It’s not money from any part of his business, it just – appeared.  Derrek and Ethan don’t believe Jerry, but are a little reluctant to go after him, especially knowing about her guilt over her sister’s death.  Ethan can’t seem to deny his wanting to be with Toni

The best part of the book is not the apparent ending where the bad guys get theirs, mostly, but the second ending surprise ending.  Well written, plenty of action, but there are some curious technical errors and several story issues, especially the absent brother, rather ‘plastic’ characters for Kara’s parents, inadequate detail for the action sequences and technical detail for the computer hacking scenes, the not very believable ‘sniper’ brother – especially how he’s portrayed in the excerpt from the next book at the back, and several other issues.  As a reader of action thrillers by writers with extensive experience and research, these errors kind of jump out, but most readers would be undisturbed.  Ms Alden doesn’t develop her characters as completely as many writers.  There lives are defined by a single emotional event.  Not to reduce the importance of such things, but adults are simply more complex than that.  In fact, it was so over-used it felt like their whole lives were about a single experience, making them rather one dimensional.  The tension between the hero and heroine is good, but shallow and lacks emotional depth.

Caught was a very readable book.  It felt to me like Shannon McKenna Lite.  Yes, McKenna can get intense, but Caught needed more intensity to rise above average.  The double ending was a saving grace of the story, but just couldn’t elevate it beyond being pretty good.  Caught is worth a read, but since it’s a trade size paperback, I’d suggest buying it used.

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