Compared to its series predecessor, Off the Edge didn’t work quite as well for me. But I still enjoyed the story and overall continue to appreciate Carolyn Crane’s obvious talent for interweaving romance and suspense. In a genre that can seem a hackneyed (to me, at least) The Associates series so far stands out by distinguishing its operatives as pretty genuine nerds — shockingly handsome ones, of course — but real egghead types, with particular specialties that make them well-suited for investigative work.
Macmillan, in this story, is a linguist. (Insert jokes here.) He excels at picking up regional accents and idiomatic tics that identify people by their speaking patterns. He’s hunting Jazzman, an as-of-yet unidentified bad guy who is auctioning off a crazy superweapon at something of a convention for high-level criminals in a Bangkok hotel. While there, his attention is piqued by Laney Lancaster, who is a lounge singer at the hotel. She’s beautiful and, more relevantly, her lyrics are multi-layered poetry that give him the chance to exercise his linguistic analysis. Macmillan sees the chance to get closer to her upon finding that she records her performances, because he’d love to use her recordings to listen to voices in the area of the microphone, hoping to identify Jazzman.
For her part, Laney is on the run from a horrifically abusive ex-husband, and has been taken under the wing of the major Bangkok crime family that runs the hotel. She’s under no illusions as to their nature, but as one of them helped her escape the States, she at least feels they have her best interests at heart and would throw their weight behind protecting her. When she meets Macmillan, it’s her birthday, so as a gift to herself she allows herself the excitement of a hot date with him. Unfortunately, the night ends early when she catches him downloading the recording of her performance, and she assumes he’s a lackey reporting back on her to her ex.
After resolving the mistaken identity problem and enduring a few changes of loyalty, Laney and Macmillan end up on the run together through Bangkok. It’s suspenseful and only occasionally predictable. Where the story fell short for me was in Laney’s utter lack of self-preservation. In fiction, when an average civilian is in life-threatening danger, characters tend to go in either of two directions: they can be either somehow magically well-suited to action, fighting, and survival, or they fall to pieces in critical moments. Though it is distinctly possible that, in real life, people tend more toward the latter, it’s a lot less fun to read about (or to watch.) Laney isn’t completely useless — she wields a gun reasonably well and gets herself out of a tight spot or two — but she also creates the whole “chase through Bangkok” mess, and allows herself to be captured not once, but twice, because she wouldn’t just listen to Macmillan’s instructions and grow a sense of urgency. This is a heroine who is supposed to be good enough at reading people that she can tell something is wrong with her brother from almost invisible changes in his writing, and who is herself so adept with words and hidden meanings that she has an instant repartee with the genius linguist, but she has zero spidey sense about when something just isn’t right. Or, worse, her meager spidey sense are tingling, but she doesn’t do anything about it. It was just inconsistent and frustrating to read.
Still, this was a good book in a very fun series, and in addition to a good story, Crane builds steamy, believably chemistry between her leads. Macmillan and Laney are immediately and obviously good together. Hopefully his better-tuned fight-or-flight instinct will rub off on her.