is a successful romance novelist with eight romance novels to her credit.
Romance is not my go-to genre, but since Selena Montgomery is the pseudonym of
Stacey Abrams, I had to buy one.
I wanted to buy several, but since I embarked on this endeavor shortly after the election, when Georgia went for Biden (again, and again, and then one more time). I was not alone in this idea and many of them were backordered. I ordered some from Amazon and some from Copperfield’s Books, my local independent chain bookstore chain. The first one to arrive was called Deception.
I need to provide a disclaimer here. Until I read Deception, I hadn’t read a romance novel in thirty years—maybe forty. I had stumbled across a couple of paranormal romances because I confused them with urban fantasy, but the tropes for paranormal R are slightly different. While shelving Romance at Second Chances Used Books, and I’d noticed that Nora Roberts in particular had written several romantic series, but I assumed this was something unique to her.
It isn’t. To my disappointment, Deception is the second book of a trilogy, and I probably will go hunt down the first one. (To clarify, I’m not disappointed about that part. I’m disappointed that I came into the middle of a story.) The trilogy follows three friends who grew up in in a very unusual foster home in a small town in Georgia. Now matured into three beautiful, intelligent, highly successful women, they find their foster mom—and by extension, themselves—in the crosshairs of a highly successful crime ring that calls itself Stark.
Findley Borders, who goes by Fin, was the rebel of the three who fled town under a cloud when she was a few weeks shy of eighteen. She is now a rich and successful professional gambler. Poker is her game. Fin’s multiracial beauty is an investment, a distraction for amateur players at the table. Fin is the risk-taker, the one of the three who, while dancing on the thin line of legal/illegal, has slipped more than once.
Kell is a successful criminal lawyer, who was obviously the MC of Book One, since she defended the foster mom, Mrs. Faraday, against a bogus murder charge, and she’s landed her man, local sheriff Luke. Julia is an emergency room doctor, cool under pressure.
Deception is Fin’s love story, and her antagonist/lover is Caleb Matthews, an FBI agent undercover as an assistant district attorney in the small town’s DA office. You might question why a small town has an office for the DA, unless it’s the county seat (which it might, in fact, be), and this is never explained, and it doesn’t matter. The secrecy of Caleb’s assignment with even the DA left in the dark doesn’t matter either, and the nature of Eliza Faraday’s group home, foster home, or whatever-it-is doesn’t matter either.
Like thrillers, romance novels don’t depend on authenticity of the real world to work. In this book, Montgomery pays attention to her crime-ring part and keeps the action moving, but she knows her genre and never sacrifices the sizzling arousal or dreamy yearning between Caleb and Fin for something like a stake-out or a record-check or any boring thing that would happen in the real world.
I also read thrillers, and while I found Deception implausible in many ways, it was as plausible as about 95% of the thrillers I’ve read.
Fin and Caleb engage in a lot of what the nuns at my high school would have called “heavy petting,” and Montgomery faces the classic romance writer challenge, with certain words denied to the genre, how do you describe steamy, salacious physical contact and growing sexual tension without getting repetitive? In fact, it did get repetitive, but Montgomery managed to change it up enough that it wasn’t unconscious self-parody.
Halfway through Deception, we learn the identity of the secretive crime boss who runs Stark. I was startled. If think if I’d read the first book, I would be outright shocked. I have no way of knowing how well Montgomery nailed the reveal, but it certainly worked for me. That reveal totally worked for me.
I was glad to see some of my assumptions about romance novels corrected. The idea of a group of women friends, a community, at the heart of the story was new to me, and I like it. The idea that in several cases, Fin is the physical aggressor was good to see; she is no helpless shrinking maiden; she owns her sexuality. By extension, Caleb is not a stalker. Three friends who are spiritual sisters creates the space for the inevitable quizzing and teasing about how late Fin was out with Caleb and so on that creates comic relief and just general relief from all the tension both sexual and criminal.
The story, given a focus on a sexual relationship, was engaging and I liked the three women and Mrs. F, their foster mother, very much. Montgomery’s point of view shifts were a distraction for me, and the word choices sometimes made me roll my eyes. I can’t judge if those are idiosyncratic to the writer or part of the genre.
Romance is still not my go-to, but I enjoyed Deception and I learned a lot. Abrams, as Abrams, is publishing a political thriller tentatively scheduled for May, 2021. I will watch for it. And, I’ll track down book one in my spare time.