In Jami Alden's new romantic suspense Beg for Mercy, heroine Megan Flynn is racing against the ticking clock of her imprisoned brother’s execution date. Will she be able to convince Detective Cole Williams to reopen the case of a man he believes is guilty of a heinous crime?
Whitney: This is my favorite romantic suspense to come along in a while. The romantic relationship is so tortured, the killer is so evil, this was literally a story I did not want to put down.
Morgan: Agreed. Right now I am riding high on the whole resurgence great romantic suspense out there (waving at Maya Banks, Marie Force and Jayne Ann Krentz). And this has got to be, hands down, the best I’ve read in a long time. It was intensely thrilling, but the romance was still there — lurking behind every piece of dialogue, every action.
Whitney: Beg for Mercy really did read like a return to the early days of romantic suspense. Fans of classic Kay Hooper, Linda Howard and Catherine Coulter novels will devour this tale.
Morgan: So the book starts with Megan Flynn and Detective Cole Williams getting all cozy on a couch. They have been dating for a while and both are looking for more.
Whitney: And when you say cozy, you mean cue some sexy-time music, this couple is minutes away from consummating their feelings when — coitus interruptus — the phone rings.
Morgan: The call sends Cole to the scene of a crime where he ends up arresting Megan’s brother Sean for murder. And of course Megan shows up on the scene. But even though it is breaking Megan’s heart, Cole doesn’t really have a choice about making the arrest. The evidence against Sean is damning and the murder he is accused of is so grizzly that Sean is quickly convicted and sentenced to death.
Whitney: Getting to see those two scenes, first with Megan and Cole together, and then as Cole carts Sean off to jail, it’s so visceral. What a great way to meet these three major characters.
Morgan: We not only meet the characters, but this sets up their relationships for the rest of the novel. Sean, an innocent man, is arrested for murder by his sister’s boyfriend, so he is understandably pissed. Megan begs for Cole’s help in proving that it was not Sean who committed the crime, and when Cole stops speaking to her all together, she is so hurt that she emotionally shuts down. And there is Cole caught between his love life and career. Thinking he is doing the right thing for everyone in the situation, he forces himself to let Megan go and do his job the best way he knows how.
Whitney: Poor Cole, but even poorer Sean. The guy can’t remember anything from the night, but he’s condemned by his circumstances. While on the other hand, Cole and Megan remember everything and that dooms them (in a very different way, of course).
Morgan: I think doomed is apropos. It is like all of the characters are in a state of emotional suspended animation. They go about their daily lives, but really they can’t forget or forgive. Two years have passed and Megan still uses every free hour, every dollar, every bit of energy she has to prove her brother’s innocence. Which is why her heart breaks when Sean decides to stop the appeals process, which means his execution will be scheduled.
Whitney: Agree with the death penalty or not, having Sean getting ready to walk the "green mile" really worked for the story. The ticking clock definitely upped the ante — the real killer needs to be found now or else Sean will die.
Morgan: And right as this is happening, there is finally a break in the case. Megan’s friend, troubled teen Devany, witnesses a similar murder, which also throws Megan and Cole back together.
Whitney: But this is not some kind of joyful reunion. There is too much bad blood between these almost lovers. At this point they have both done things that are heartbreaking: Megan spilling details of the case to the press, Cole distancing himself from her, which started on the night of Sean’s arrest. It’s an impossible situation.
Morgan: You want to talk about impossible situations? How about Megan setting herself up against insurmountable odds? For the past two years she has been trying to prove that her brother was framed for murder:
“She’d taken her story to anyone who would listen, until almost everyone outside of Sean’s attorneys had written her off as delusional, unwilling to face the truth.”
Whitney: I loved that Alden mentioned this several times, really illustrating what Megan has done in the face of Sean’s conviction. Megan lost her reputation, she alienated her friends and spent her life savings trying to help Sean. And this devotion is by no means a one-way street; Sean would do the same thing for her. Part of the reason that Sean has decided not to keep fighting his sentence is because he hates seeing the huge toll that his incarceration has taken on her.
Morgan: The book begs the question, “What would you do to protect your sibling?” I have got to answer with a big fat ANYTHING. Much like Megan does.
Whitney: You know, when I started the story I wasn’t sure that I would connect with Megan. There’s a line on the first page that really rubbed me the wrong way right off the bat.
“... Megan felt a ridiculous spurt of feminine pride in having provided a meal he’d so obviously enjoyed.”
No matter how I tried to justify this, I had a hard time with the sentence for two reasons. First that Megan’s cooking skills were equated with feminine pride, and secondly that she thought the feminine pride was ridiculous.
Morgan: Oh, I completely connected with Megan on this. I really like cooking for my family. (I am pretty domestic.) While I’ve never called it ‘feminine pride’ (because when I was growing up it was actually my dad that did the cooking around our house) its nice to take care of your family. I think that’s all she meant by this.
Whitney: Regardless, this whole thing really bothered me, until I got to know Megan better. As I learned about her campaign for her brother’s freedom and her work with troubled teens, she quickly won back my esteem. She’s ready to help everyone, even if it puts her in danger. When Devany sees that dead body, Megan rushes to Devany’s house, no questions asked. And then, when she is thrown out of a nightclub looking for clues about the dead girl, she won’t stay away. Even after the bouncer specifically order her to stay out, she still gets dressed up and goes back to the nightclub looking for answers.
Morgan: Her attitude is so different from Cole’s. He’s so by the book! Not one of those cops who gets yelled at by his commanding officer. No rogue stunts or crazy adventures. He works to uphold the law, using the law.
Whitney: Cole does follow the rules, except when it comes to Megan. And I really liked that she brought out a very different side of him.
Morgan: You know what I liked, that you actually saw him get in trouble. After years of staying away from Megan and her seemingly crazy conspiracy theories, Cole is finally able to break free from his hardline stance and help her investigate the possibility that Sean is innocent. And when he goes AWOL there is a price to be paid.
Whitney: Speaking of prices to be paid, the characters in Beg for Mercy pay in blood and guts! This story is violent with a capital V! I was reading through the scenes with the killer and I was actually getting sick to my stomach.
Morgan: Very, very realistic. Alden really goes above and beyond even the most gritty scenes in other romantic suspense novels.
Whitney: I wonder if we are getting more inured to violence, so that this is what it takes to shock us now, or if that amount of violence is just what goes along with suspense stories these days? Either way, those were some upsetting scenes to read.
Morgan: But not gratuitous. These parts were used very effectively to show inside the mind of the monster. We get the scenes where he murders women and find out why he does it. Alden provides real insight into what turned him into a killer. In fact, he is so well drawn that at times I felt myself feeling sympathetic toward him! Which was definitely disturbing since he is so clearly in the wrong.
Whitney: You know what was NOT in the wrong, the way that Alden set up so many possible suspects. From her brother’s ex-best friend who is still suffering from PTSD to the seriously intense bouncer at Club One, there were possible murderers every which way I turned.
Morgan: I don’t mean to be Miss Know-It-All, but despite the red-herrings, I was able to figure out whodunit. No that it diminished the read, but I didn’t feel like it was that well disguised.
Whitney: But even toward the end, even if you know who the killer is, the story isn’t over. But so we don’t spoil any of the details of this excellent read, we should probably wrap up here.
You can pick up your own copy of Beg for Mercy by Jami Alden in stores now. Next week we will be at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Annual Conference but will be back to Dish more during the second week of July!