Behind Closed Doors by Shannon McKenna
(Kensington, $14.00, NC-17) ISBN 0-7582-0318-7
Seth Mackey is a surveillance expert looking to settle a score in McKenna’s erotically charged debut. Victor Lazar is an unscrupulous, import/export tycoon responsible for the death of FBI agent, Jesse Cahill - Seth’s half-brother. Needless to say, revenge is afoot.

To set his plan in motion, Seth has been spending a lot of time spying on Victor. One of his carefully hidden cameras detects a new resident in the house where Victor had been keeping a mistress. This new woman is more beautiful than the last - haunted and vulnerable, yet with a steely reserve. Seth is immediately obsessed.

Raine Cameron is the mysterious new woman, but little does Seth know, she isn’t Victor’s new plaything. She too is looking to settle a score - and to do so she must learn the truth. Haunted by painful nightmares and specters of the past, Raine hires on with Victor’s company, hoping to get close to the man who she believes is responsible for her father’s death.

Raine and Seth quickly cross paths and there are plenty of fireworks. Both are playing their secrets close to their vests, and neither of them can afford to make one false move. Their respective plans soon take a dangerous turn though, and both are in the direct line of fire. Add to this, their explosive, sexual relationship and things really begin to cook. p> McKenna’s debut novel for the Brava line shows a lot of promise, but also has its fair share of problems. Most notably, the pacing is a real issue. Normally a decently choreographed suspense thread and oodles of steamy sex is more than enough to keep the pages turning. Unfortunately, the characters spend more time on their own inner, angst-ridden musings than they do on dialogue. There are also several editorial errors in my advanced copy that I hope were caught before the finished product went to press.

Raine is a likable sort of heroine, even if she does start out as the dreaded “clueless and nearly a virgin” type. She set my teeth on edge quite a bit during the first half, but she had enough flashes of brilliance to keep me from loathing her outright. Thankfully, her character continues to progress nicely over the course of the story, and outside of a nearly too-stupid-to-live moment during the climax, she grew on me.

Seth is normally the sort of hero I want to run over with a truck, as I have a distaste for mega-alpha-jerks. Well never say never, because (shudder), I liked the guy. While he lacks basic social skills, he exudes sex - and his chest-thumping obsessive act around Raine did hold some appeal.

There is quite a bit of techno talk throughout the book, but for someone who goes to James Bond movies for the gadgets as much as for Pierce Brosnan, it’s not too terribly confusing. The high-tech stuff is pretty darn cool, and the author must have spent a fair amount of time of research.

As for the sex? Mark my words; this is an author to watch. McKenna has a way of writing the hot stuff without sounding silly - and she isn’t afraid to write these scenes emotionally messy. With Seth’s lack of social skills, plus the secrets both he and Raine are keeping from each other, it isn’t always pretty - but it is mesmerizing.

I also handily applaud McKenna for trying something different. While the suspense angle is more cat-and-mouse than mystery, it’s a refreshing departure from other erotic romances that feature either silly, clichéd contemporary plots or period costume dramas.

While not enough for me to give it a solid recommendation, Behind Closed Doors is a promising start to what could be a flourishing career. With her knack for writing steam, coupled with interesting, yet flawed characters, McKenna could easily become a staple among romance-erotica fans.

--Wendy Crutcher

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