The opening had me a little off balance. I was afraid that our heroine, Phoebe Pace, was going to be a TSTL* naive Mary Sunshine type. (At one point I was deeply concerned for her mental stability.) Without giving everything away, I was wrong. So wrong. If Phoebe starts to worry you, give her time. She’s worth waiting for. Phoebe’s doing the whole “anything for my family” bit but not in a “I’m trading myself for my brother’s debts” kind of way. She’s more of a bill juggler. You know, like when you accidentally send the power company the phone company’s check? (I think they got wise to that one.) Phoebe’s family owes Andreas Merrick quite a bit of cash, but she’s thinking they can pay it back if a few events go her way.
Andreas Merrick is the potential controversy. The brother of One Night Is Never Enough’s hero, Andreas gives new meaning to dangerous-to-know. (He’s a crime lord, it makes sense.) Taking the realistic outcome of the Merrick brothers background to the next level, Mallory makes it clear that Andreas isn’t secretly a super nice and harmless guy. He kills people on at least a weekly basis. While it startled me, it works. We have so many dark, angsty, self made men in Romance Land that claw their way up, run gangs, control vast sections of London, and manage to do it all without hurting anyone. If you’re a universally feared ruler of the streets, it’s likely more than just talk. I can see some readers having difficulty accepting that Andreas isn’t a nice guy. It’s not a nice world he lives in. In his world, nice means dead.
So Phoebe wants to save her family business and Andreas wants to destroy it as a step on his path to revenge. (Those dark and angsty guys always have the revenge thing going on.) Poor Phoebe is caught in the middle with her company on one side and Andreas’s enemy on the other. I loved the power struggle between these two equally determined characters so much. I read a Lorraine Heath novel directly after In Total Surrender and I still say Anne Mallory has turned in one of the best books of the year. It’s so good I even forgive her giving our super dreamy Andreas a definitely not dreamy family member. (We’ll just pretend we’ve never seen that guy’s picture, ok?)
In Total Surrender works on it’s own terms but I think my emotional connection to the characters was aided by having read One Night Is Never Enough. Both Andreas’s social awkwardness and Roman Merrick’s flippant attitude are well established in the prior book. While In Total Surrender certainly explains both, I would read the two together if possible. I hope this book puts Anne Mallory where she belongs. She is on my short list of favorite historical authors. This has been an interesting series from Mallory, asking us as readers to accept that the dangerous hero is often a murderous one. It would be easy for her to spin a series off from the other side of the coin, people who have suffered as the unseen collateral damage of the brothers. I can’t explain why women are attracted to men like these in life, but in fiction the Merrick brothers are certainly worth the trouble.
*Too Stupid To Live