1 out of 4 stars
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Holding Fast is an interracial romance between Eli, a black New York City police detective from the Major Crimes unit in Hell’s Kitchen, and Ainsley, a white romance novelist. The pair meet when Eli stops a mugger attacking Ainsley while she is helping out in her father’s deli. Eli isn’t looking for a serious relationship, but there is something about Ainsley he can’t quite resist, and he soon finds himself head over heels in love with her. Ainsley’s abusive ex-boyfriend entering the picture adds drama and suspense to the story.
Racially diverse protagonists are few and far between in romance novels, so I was delighted to pick this one up for review. Unfortunately, Holding Fast is the kind of book that makes me understand just why people of colour often take offence to white people trying to write about people of colour. Trying to write an interracial relationship is admirable, but the implications in this one are incredibly racist. The narrative informs us early in the book that Eli is a serial dater, that he prefers one night stands and does not ‘do’ serious relationships. Almost immediately after meeting Ainsley, he thinks how attractive she is, but then notes that “Something else I don’t do is date white women, no matter how prejudiced that sounds.”
Well, yes, that did sound pretty prejudiced, but Eli almost immediately breaks his own rule by asking Ainsley for a date. Of course the relationship progresses and turns serious, and the narrative tells us repeatedly how Eli has never felt like this before, how Ainsley is ‘special’.
I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt in that perhaps she hadn’t thought the implications through, but they were quite obvious to me. The implication is that black women are only good enough for one night stands, and white women are the ones you get serious about.
I am white and I found that offensive. I can only imagine how offensive I’d find it if I happened to be black. It’s a disaster that could easily have been averted by removing Eli’s line about not dating white women, and any competent editor should have picked it up.
However, I can tell that this book was not edited by a competent editor; not only for the above reason, but for the constant changes of tense, sometimes even within the same sentence. While the majority of the book is written in the standard past perfect, there are regular switches into present tense, sometimes even mixing the two within sentences, such as the following example:
“I grabbed my backpack and a twelve-pack of beer from the trunk and hurry my way to the front door.”
While the tense changes got on my nerves very quickly, they weren’t as bad as some of the issues in the book. Things like research errors where the author refers repeatedly to New York’s Rikers Island prison as “Ryker’s”. Or a police detective in 2016 not knowing what Google Maps is (that one had me blinking in disbelief). Or inconsistencies such as police having to use a battering ram to break into a property which had already been identified as a crime scene when paramedics found Ainsley badly injured there. The assault on Ainsley itself was so sudden and graphic that I had to put the book down for a few minutes, stunned that such a shocking scene would be written in a romance novel. It was just too much.
Holding Fast has its good moments; Ainsley’s life as a romance novelist felt completely plausible and genuine, as did Eli’s genuine horror on finding a psychopath’s lair at the conclusion of one of his major cases. Even experienced detectives can still be shocked, and Eli’s reactions were perfectly captured.
With some major content and line editing, this could be a good book. At the moment, however, it’s really not. I cannot recommend it to anyone, and I cannot award it any more than one out of four stars.
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