Review: Lovely Dark and Deep by Susannah Sandlin

lovely dark and deep by susannah sandlinFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: The Collectors #1
Length: 200 pages
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Date Released: December 30, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon

When biologist Gillian Campbell makes an offhand comment about a family curse during a TV interview, she has no idea what her words will set in motion. Within days, Gillian finds herself at the mercy of a member of the C7, a secretive international group of power brokers with a dangerous game: competing to find the world’s most elusive treasures, no matter the cost, in money or in lives. To save her family, Gillian teams up with Shane Burke, a former elite diver who’s lost his way, navigating the brutal “death coast” of the North Atlantic to find what the collector seeks: the legendary Ruby Cross of the Knights Templar, stolen by Gillian’s ancestor and lost at sea four hundred years ago.

My Review:

Usually a series is named for the hero, or the heroine. Or maybe a place. Something positive, at least.

The Collectors series by Susannah Sandlin is named after the villains. Those collectors are a group of rich and ruthless men who are playing a high-stakes game together, in secret. They chase after rare, or possibly unique, prizes of great value and significance. They race each other to win.

But there seem to be rules, and while those rules make the game more interested for these competitive, overachieving power-brokers, they are deadly for anyone who is unwittingly involved.

That’s what happens to Gillian Campbell, Shane Burke, and every single one of their friends. The “C7” have set their sights on a Ruby Templar Cross that was stolen by one of Gillian’s ancestors, and they’ve figured out that Gillian and Shane can be manipulated into helping them find it.

One of the rules of the “game” seems to be that the C7 members can’t act directly, the contest is more entertaining for them if innocent bystanders can be forced into doing their dirty work.

In the case of Gillian Campbell, the collector who is after that old Templar Cross starts out by sending her creepy pictures that make it clear they are stalking her pre-school-aged niece, and can snatch the little girl at any time if Gillian doesn’t do what they want.

They also temporarily cut off all of Gillian’s bank and credit card access until she agrees to their terms. Which are: figure out where her many times great-grandfather’s ship, with the cross on board, sank. It’s not just that the location of his shipwreck is unknown, but that she needs to find a qualified cold-water diver and get the cross, in 30 days. In September. In Nova Scotia. Where it is not only damn cold, but where she’ll be breaking the law to get the salvage back to the U.S.

The C7 already has a diver for her. Shane Burke needs the money that she is offering in order to keep his beloved boat from foreclosure. A foreclosure that is, of course, being partially created by the C7. Not that Shane isn’t overdue on the bank note, but he’s always managed to squeak by until now. The manipulators behind the C7 won’t allow any squeaking, or squawking. by anyone.

Shane might be initially intrigued by the money, but when Gillian tells him the whole truth, he’s forced into the fold by a firebombing at his favorite watering hole. If he doesn’t get on board, people near him will start dying.

As much of a burn-out case as Shane is at the beginning of the story, he just can’t let anyone else die if he can prevent it.

Which has nothing to do with how very much he’s attracted to Gillian. Because he’s not ready to let anyone into his life, and these are the worst of circumstances.

Gillian doesn’t want anyone in her life, either. She’s every bit as wary of relationships as Shane, but for different, and equally tragic, reasons of her own.

But as they get caught up in the chase for the missing cross, the threats to their lives, and the lives of everyone they bring into this crazy quest, create a bond that is impossible to ignore.

Only if they can figure out who their mysterious manipulator is will any of the people who helped them have a chance to survive. And only by exposing “Mr. Big” will they have any hope of a future.

Escape Rating B+: Lovely, Dark and Deep is what you get if you mix something like National Treasure with Titanic. You have all the elements of an opposites attract romance mixed with the treasure hunt and the conspiracy-theory plot twists.

Or maybe a better example would be Romancing the Stone, with an underwater treasure hunt instead of searching through jungles.

This is romantic suspense of the “breakneck pace” school of suspense–there’s a plot twist and a new nefarious scheme around every corner. No matter how much progress Gillian and Shane make in the quest for the Cross, the faceless evil collectors seem to be always a step ahead; with another plot up the sleeves for making our heroes stick with the plan and not think too much about how they can possibly get out of this alive.

Even as they fall in love with each other, Gillian and Shane think of their relationship as “foxhole love” and wonder if the bond they’ve forged has a chance of surviving when they are not running for their lives every second. But of course it does.

This is also a type of “road story” as they enlist friends and allies on the trip that takes them from Cedar Key, Florida to Scatarie Island in Nova Scotia. The danger ramps up with each day that passes, because each person they recruit is just one more hostage to fortune.

They recruit a terrific, and quite colorful, bunch of helpers. Each new character adds to the danger without distracting a beat away from the romance.

Their nameless and faceless enemy is a pitiless taskmaster, eliminating all loose ends as collateral damage. The author has done a terrific job of conveying the breathlessness of fear that the protagonists face, so when they finally manage to turn the tables, cheering them on is a treat.

Once you’ve gotten your heart out of your throat.

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