3 out of 4 stars
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As a nineteenth-century literature fan, I'd be impressed if a mechanic made a reference to Coleridge. So, like Emma, the heroine of the romance novel Double Redemption by Francis Gene Collins, I was hooked on hero Mike right away. He assures her he's read the complete works of Charles Dickens and the other classics adorning his apartment.
This story is as much about the past as it is about the present. It's told in the first person from either Mike's point of view or Emma's, and the action switches between their backstories and their evolving relationship now. Emma's experiences have left her afraid to trust again. Mike's childhood was suitably Dickensian. As a hungry and unwanted orphan, he got into trouble on Skid Row. His refusal to cry out during a severe assault revealed a character trait that is crucial to the story.
A tall, muscular US Marine, he's quite a stereotypical heartthrob. He and Emma meet in a parking lot when her car won't start, and Mike helps her. This conforms to the trope of a knight rescuing a damsel in distress. Mike's dark past and tragic flaw represent other romance staples. I had a strong initial impression that the story was built upon a formula. Don't get me wrong - there's nothing negative about that per se. Even as I was conscious of the skeleton, the flesh the writer put on the bones was what mattered. Collins did a great job of adding original ingredients, and he created engaging characters. I thought the tension between Mike and Emma was building up to steamy scenes, but I was wrong.
In that regard, this would not be the book of choice for those in search of erotica. The storylines unfolded with complexity and variety, and the tropes were left behind. The characters' past traumas were explored alongside their opportunities for healing. I could recommend this to lovers of romance and most kinds of fiction. The style is transparent and lively. There are mysteries at the novel's core. It might not be suitable for very young or sensitive readers as it includes references to sexual assault, graphic violence, and profanity. Indeed, profanity is one of the central themes.
Another is literature, which was one of the aspects I liked best. Entire poems are featured. It is fascinating to see the characters gaining self-knowledge through fiction. A huge strength of this book is the final denouement, and I recommend reading it for that alone. It's even preceded by a scene that will make you smile if you know your nineteenth-century romances. The mysteries are neatly cleared up by the end.
Amazing as its plot, characters, and ending are, my rating for the book overall is three out of four stars. I deducted a star owing to some shortcomings, mainly in the area of editing. There were missing words and other errors that a spellchecker would not find. Some editing or beta reading of the content would also be helpful. Sometimes near-identical sentences were repeated within a few lines of each other, or a scene already familiar to the reader was retold by a character without seeming to add anything.
One of these chapters went into excessive detail about football, though sports fans might enjoy it. Alongside sporting prowess, military know-how is another theme. I understand that parts of Mike's knowledge would be obscure to outsiders. However, the author took Emma's ignorance of the subject too far, and the implausibility was jarring. It is easy to guess what is meant by the "burst radius" of a grenade, and who hasn't heard of an AK-47 rifle?
This aside, Emma was a strong and believable heroine. At his best, Collins had a way of depicting the characters from different angles that any great nineteenth-century writer would have been proud of. This novel has earned its place on a shelf beside the classics.
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