Heat Factor: They almost bang on a piano.
Character Chemistry: She brings out his long-suppressed inner alpha – and they both like it. Too bad they are soooooo terrrrrrible at communicating.
Plot: An outrageous caper.
Overall: I enjoyed myself immensely, with one small caveat.
The advance praise for Bad Keys likened the work to a Carl Hiaasen novel. I would say this is mostly accurate. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Hiaasen’s work, there are a couple of key elements:
- Takes place in Florida. Check!
- Slightly unhinged environmentalist protagonist. Check! She’s a bathing suit model who wants to be a zookeeper.
- Illegal shenanigans. Check!
- Smarmy guy who you meet in a strip club. Check!
- Crooked real estate developer and/or politician. No. Unless we count the Colombian real estate developer turned drug runner who is definitely modeled on Trump, complete with rapey tendencies and gravity-defying hair.
- Plot that you think can’t possibly get any crazier and then you realize you’ve only read 20% of the book. Not really. It’s a caper, but there’s no guy with a weed whacker prosthetic, so…
While Bad Keys fails to really ratchet up the nonsense to absurd extremes, it is a pretty good romance. And since this is The Smut Report, not The Florida Man Report, let’s talk about that part of the story.
Luke is a nice boy from Minnesota who comes to Florida to reclaim the Piano Tuner’s Guild Seal from a sleazeball. In Miami, he meets Esmerelda (the bathing suit model slash zookeeper-in-training), and they set off on an adventure to figure out what’s going on with some sketchy pianos. (The short version: they were both patsies. Sorry Luke and Esmerelda.) On the way, it becomes clear that they really get each other on a deep level. However, because this is a romance, and not just an adventure story, there has to be a lot of waffling and misunderstanding on that front. You know, “She’s out of my league!” / “Why is he so closed off, doesn’t he want me?” Mildly frustrating, but not unreasonable. And since the angsting is interspersed with high speed car chases and alligator catchers and a not-at-all-mysterious mystery, it doesn’t weigh the story down.
Luke’s alpha tendencies are a definite bonus on the romance side of things. I’ve been pretty open about my dislike of super-alpha heroes, but Curry plays around with the trope. First off, Luke is enormous.
He is of good Viking stock, this nice Minnesotan, so he can do things like move a piano by himself. Because he is so enormous, he takes great pains to avoid physically intimidating others. Until Esmerelda, that is – when she’s in danger, his protective instincts kick in and out comes the alpha. Sounds cheesy and cliché, right? Fine, it might be. But after danger has passed, Luke is so embarrassed by his actions. He can’t believe he was so violent and/or overbearing. His development as a character is frankly fun to read, because it’s a reversal of the standard romantic arc where the alpha learns to submit; instead, it’s the story of a man coming to terms with the potential positives of alpha behavior.
Now it’s time for the caveat.
When Luke and Esmerelda finally get it on, the writing makes it feel kind of…porny. The scene is entirely from Luke’s perspective (3rd person limited), and we get passages like this:
True to her word, her legs were twisting around his hips, her inner muscles clamping around his cock and she was gasping out an involuntary noise, an unmistakable sound of helpless, mindless pleasure.
Usually, when I read sex scenes in a romance novel, it’s about what the characters are feeling, physically or emotionally. But this passage made me feel like I was watching Esmerelda and it was jarring. (There is a later sex scene solely from Esmerelda’s perspective, but we don’t watch Luke get off in quite the same way.) Not a deal breaker by any means, but it was a small hitch in an otherwise pleasurable reading experience.
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