Undercover DEA agent, Fallon Hargris' cover has been blown. While trying to make a daring escape from the bad guys at a hotel, she forces one of the hotel guests into his room at gunpoint and insists that he strip and get into bed with her. Fallon hopes that when the men who are pursuing her open the hotel room door with their master key, they'll find her and her hottie pretending to make love and be thrown off the trail. The ruse to save her life works - perhaps a little too well - as she finds herself actually having sex with the guy. Fallon has a good time and it was a great way to relieve her tension, but now she has to be on her way before the bad guys return.
Wade Tanner was at the hotel in Dallas on a vacation from his job as the sheriff of the little town of Two Creeks, Texas. He used to be an undercover cop, but got out of that life and returned to his hometown for the slower pace. He's seen and done a lot of strange things in his life, but none stranger than what just happened with Fallon. When he finds out that she's undercover DEA and that someone in the agency may be a mole, placing her life in danger, he knows she'll need a place to lay low for a while. He takes her back to Two Creeks where they share all kinds of sexy fun until she can sort out who can be trusted. Fallon obviously has a very personal vendetta against the drug kingpin she was trying to bring down, and when they learn that he's holed up in Mexico at a place called The Pit, Wade knows he can't let her go in alone. He's been to The Pit before and nearly lost himself in playing the role of a bad guy. Can the pair locate and finally bring to justice the man who ruined Fallon's family without losing their lives in the process?
Southern Comfort got off to an interesting and rather unique start with the heroine, who was working undercover with the DEA, having her cover blown. She then fights her way out of the situation and runs for her life, but sees no way to get out of the hotel where they are without being found. Instead she corners the hero, has him strip naked at gunpoint, and "accidentally" makes love to him, all in an attempt to elude the bad guys. I wasn't quite sure how I felt about all this. While it was certainly an out of the ordinary beginning to a story, I couldn't help feeling it was also a little far-fetched. I definitely had to suspend disbelief a bit in order to buy into the premise, but I was willing to go with the flow, except that from there, instead of becoming more interesting and exciting, it became rather boring for the remaining first half of the book. Nothing of note really happens besides the hero and heroine engaging in page after page of sex. While I'm sure many readers will find their encounters hot and steamy, they didn't really do much for me, because I felt no emotional connection between them. At about the halfway point, things finally started to pick up a little, when Wade takes Fallon on a shopping trip to the mall, where she meets two of the supporting characters, Audrey, an older woman from Wade's little town, and Callie, the teenage girl who cleans house and cat-sits for him. Audrey is one of those larger than life characters who is good for a few laughs, and Fallon gets to put her DEA agent skills to good use scaring off Callie's sleazy older boyfriend. After returning to Two Creeks, Wade and Fallon finally get a lead on where the bad guy is hiding out and head to Mexico, undercover, to try to take him down. While this part was rather predictable, it still helped to liven up the story a little and keep me from dropping the rating any lower.
Fallon was a heroine to whom it was difficult for me to relate. She reminded me a lot of Shaw from the television show Person of Interest with perhaps just a touch better developed people skills. She's a tough, no-nonsense girl who is devoted to her job and taking down the bad guys. She's also very prickly and rough around the edges, while her thoughts and actions remind me more of a man's. IMHO her rule of never sleeping with a guy more than once was more than a little off-putting. Of course, she finds Wade irresistible and figures if she's stuck with him for a few days, she might as well have some fun. Fallon's family is dead, and she ended up on the streets when she was only a teenager, where she was found by her DEA boss. The author hints at some of her vulnerabilities early on and does build on them somewhat, but still not quite enough to suit me. So, in the end, Fallon was just an OK heroine for me.
Wade is developed even less than Fallon. Initially, I had him pegged as a fun-loving guy who was up for just about anything. The fact that he had sex with a woman who had been holding him at gunpoint mere minutes before certainly suggested that. He used to be an undercover detective, who left that life to move back to his small hometown to become their sheriff. His reasons for doing so had to do with him feeling like he was losing himself in his undercover persona and becoming too much like the bad guys he was hunting. While I am aware of this phenomena occurring among those who work deep undercover like that, I didn't feel like the author developed this part of Wade's background sufficiently for me to understand it. It was almost impossible for me to reconcile the kindhearted, caring, small-town boy Wade was toward everyone in the story with someone who had nearly become one of the monsters he was trying to put away. The Wade I saw was someone who took in an abused, one-eyed, three-legged cat, or who saw Callie as merely a troubled girl who needed a break, or who rushed to the scene of an accident trying to help, or who cared enough about Fallon to walk back into the pit of hell with her just to make sure she was safe and to help her take down the villain. This Wade I liked and admired, so to say that he was, at one time, just as bad as the other criminals didn't only seem out of character for him, it also, somehow tainted him a little and made him seem less heroic to me.
As I mentioned before, I never really felt much of an emotional connection between Wade and Fallon. Their near constant sexcapades during the first half or so of the book were merely that - just sex - and as an aside, I didn't really care much for the lack of condoms or discussion of birth control. Pretty much throughout the whole story, I felt plenty of lust emanating from the pages but no real love or even any actual romance. Both of them are resigned to it being a short-term temporary fling, which is something I'm generally not a fan of in my romances, because IMHO, it stunts the romantic relationship. It didn't help that they don't really do anything of a romantic nature either. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what they saw in each other. Aside from the fact that she presents a challenge to him, Wade's attraction to Fallon seemed pretty arbitrary to me. Fallon, for some inexplicable reason, finds Wade far more irresistible than any other man she's ever been with. Overall, I'd have to say that their mutual attraction appeared to be based more on the fact that they have great sex than any true chemistry, romantic feelings, or compatibility.
In general, I felt the writing itself could have been a bit better too. More details definitely wouldn't have gone amiss. There are a number of weakly explained occurrences that could have been shored up much better, and considering that the book is less than 300 pages long (pretty short for a single-title romance), it seems like the author would have had plenty of room to build her characters and plot more soundly. I have a hard time characterizing this as a romantic suspense story, because the actual suspense only occurs during the second half of the story and despite being a little gritty, it still felt rather light. Perhaps this was because the first half is pure fluffy, quirky contemporary romance. IMO, Ms. Kelley also needed to use the character's names more often, especially in dialogue tags. Sometimes, it could get really confusing as to who was speaking or doing certain things. Lastly, I detected some repetition. There was an overabundance of characters opening their mouths and snapping them shut. Somehow, I don't think people do this all that often.:-)
Overall, Southern Comfort was an OK story for me. It was better than some books, I've read, and once I got past the tedium of the first half, it was a reasonably entertaining, if somewhat predictable, read. This is the first book in Karen Kelley's Southern series. A number of interesting supporting characters were introduced, but only one, Wade's sister, Bailey, appears to have gotten her own story later in the series. She becomes the heroine of the novella, It's a Wonderful Life (from the I'm Your Santa anthology), which falls after book #3 in the series ordering. Since her character wasn't quite as developed as some of the others, I was a little surprised about that. I can't really say anything about the characters in the next book, Southern Exposure, without giving away a significant spoiler, but one of them is definitely related to someone in this book but isn't a character we've gotten to meet yet. Southern Comfort was my first read by Karen Kelley. While this initial foray into her work hasn't left me with a burning need to continue, I will anyway since I have this series on a challenge I'm working on this year. It was admittedly entertaining enough to not be a chore to finish, so who knows, maybe the next book will be better.
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