A Different Kind of Man
by Suzanne Cox
(Harl. Super. #1319, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-71319-3
***
Debut author Suzanne Cox has a lovely, easy writing style and obvious talent. In A Different Kind of Man, she’s crafted a fine hero. Unfortunately, she makes the beginner mistakes of overdoing her heroine and her conflict, with the result that the story feels over-the-top and melodramatic.

Emalea LeBlanc is a psychologist and a member of the local volunteer search and rescue squad in Cypress Landing, Louisiana. Deep in bayou country, Cypress Landing is the sort of small town where crime seems far away. One day Em, an avid motorcyclist, pulls into a local biker bar. Jackson Cooper, the new investigator for the sheriff’s department, is nursing a beer. Em is wearing a heavy leather jacket, which makes good sense for a Harley rider, but has conveniently forgone the rest of the leathers in favor of short-shorts and boots, giving Jackson reason to ogle her legs.

Em notices him watching her and glares at him. Later, when he accidentally bumps into her outside the restroom, she is unsettled and spills her drink. Being a mature woman, and a psychologist, no less, Em deals with her emotions by immediately turning on Jackson and berating him, causing a scene. Em defends her actions with “he’d made her lash at him like a bullwhip”. Unwilling to let matters rest, Em then challenges Jackson to a motorcycle race, not telling him she rides a custom souped-up bike. Jackson refuses politely, Em pushes and pushes until he agrees just to get her to shut up, and when she wins, she takes the keys to his bike and leaves him stranded.

Okay, I was on page 24 and I hated this heroine. A psychologist, who acts like a twelve-year-old in a hissy fit, and blames her rude, reckless behavior on others who “made her do it?” When Jackson is revealed as the new head of the search and rescue squad and effectively Em’s boss, she doesn’t even have the grace to apologize. Instead, readers are treated to some backstory about how Em’s parents died in a tragedy that she won’t talk about (though it’s not hard to figure out what happened) and her father was probably abusive. Guess that gives her free license to act like a snotty bitch.

Jackson is a former Chicago cop whose wife and child died in a Mafia hit. He holds himself responsible and has problems controlling his temper. This job in Louisiana is supposed to give him a fresh start. Soon Em and Jackson are drawn together over a body found in the river. She’s also counseling a teenage boy whose militia-member father might have ties to crime. Em and Jackson start to understand each other, but their attraction is papered over with “I’ll never love again” and “I can’t get close to anyone,” etc.

I’d have had more patience with Emalea if she’d been more introspective. As her best friend says on page 23, “You need to admit yourself for therapy, Em,” and I couldn’t agree more. This is a woman who makes her living counseling others but doesn’t (or won’t) understand herself very well, and this is used as an excuse for all sorts of annoying, prickly behavior on her part. Jackson is tall and muscular, so she immediately decides he must be an overbearing brute, an attitude she hangs onto for many chapters. By the end of the book, I still hadn’t warmed up to her. With the heavy dose of tragedy ladled on for both characters, I think they both needed serious therapy. Does conflict really need to be this extreme to work?

Jackson fares better, mainly because he has some manners and knows how to act like a decent person. His background felt overdone and the “I’ll never love again,” is as tired as it gets, but the author did a good job of making him a person we can care about. The plot moves along briskly, and the secondary character of Kent, the teenage boy, is handled well with a few surprises at the end.

A Different Kind of Man isn’t really a different kind of romance, but it’s entertaining in its own way. Suzanne Cox has a lot of potential, and if she can find her way to writing a more mature, introspective heroine, she may end up on the keeper shelf.

--Cathy Sova


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