Monday, February 17, 2020

Sandra Brown - Play Dirty

After five long years in federal prison, Griff Burkett is a free man. But the disgraced quarterback can never return to life as he knew it before he was caught cheating. In a place where football is practically a religion, Griff committed a cardinal sin, and no one is forgiving.
Foster Speakman, owner and CEO of SunSouth Airlines, and his wife, Laura, are a golden couple. Successful and wealthy, they lived a charmed life before fate cruelly intervened and denied them the one thing they wanted most—a child. It’s said that money can’t buy everything. But it can buy a disgraced football player fresh out of prison and out of prospects.
The job Griff agrees to do for the Speakmans demands secrecy. But he soon finds himself once again in the spotlight of suspicion. An unsolved murder comes back to haunt him in the form of his nemesis, Stanley Rodarte, who has made Griff's destruction his life’s mission. While safeguarding his new enterprise, Griff must also protect those around him, especially Laura Speakman, from Rodarte’s ruthlessness. Griff stands to gain the highest payoff he could ever imagine, but cashing in on it will require him to forfeit his only chance for redemption...and love.
Griff is now playing a high-stakes game, and at the final whistle, one player will be dead.

Comment: Another title from Sandra Brown's back list for me to read. I confess this one's blurb never grabbed my attention as others from the past did (this was originally published in 2006 - fourteen years ago - despite this edition being from last year) but after some reviews from people with similar tastes in goodreads and the notion the author always seems to explain her heroes' not so good attitudes, I got the book anyway and now read it.

In this book we meet Griff Burkett, a man who is getting out of prison in the first page of the novel for cheating in football. He was a very good quarterback who was guilty of cheating and gambling and his team at the time lost a championship (if I read that well) because he failed a pass or something. Now his five years in prison are over, he wants to re start his life but all his money was gone to pay his debts and the case. That is why he goes to meet Foster Speakman, a very rich man who contacted him before he left prison, because he had a job offer for him. 
Apparently, the job offer is the works of a nut case because Foster and his wife Laura want him to impregnate Laura since Foster cannot and they want to avoid the media knowing about it from any clinic or professional they might have to be in contact with somehow.
The problem is that the situation is trickier than Griff imagined and there's also the issue of a cop always after him, waiting for him to slip again...

In terms of writing and style, this is yet another book easily fitting the trademarks fans have come to expect from Sandra Brown. The story develops at a steady pace, often with surprising information or little twists coming at the end of a chapter and the next one starting - not all the time - some time after and readers get their explanations as things move along into a different segment.
We also have the expected main characters, often at odds with one another due to personal views but who seem to fall in love in a slow rhythm, letting readers savor the journey.

I was expecting all this and not even the sort of crazy premise deterred me from looking for to see how the author would deal with the romance, after all the heroine was married. I suspected the husband had to be someone we would not like, so the romance between Laura and Griff could be validated but everything seemed unlikely at first. Sandra Brown does this well: slowly giving information, painting things in such a way, readers have to be suspicious of how it can be so, but in the end it is so.

The way the romance is solved is a little crazy but well, fiction and all. I didn't even mind how we are supposed to believe Griff and Laura started to develop feelings for one another in such... odd circumstances but I still accept it for the sake of a good old romance.
Therefore, if the writing and the romance offered me what I already expected somehow, why is my grade lower than in other cases and why didn't I enjoy this more? Easily, because the hero was not redeemed in the glaring or obvious manner that I think he should.

Griff went through a lot, he went to prison for his mistakes but some details are explained in the end which might mitigate the reader's impression. Throughout the novel, here and there, we also get to see how his childhood and life might have turned him into one of those people who fear the good things so much more than the bad ones that they sort of sabotage themselves - psychology explains it too - and how he is actually a good person underneath the labels people gave him when he was caught.
Griff is a sympathetic hero at times but I thought, apart from some spoiler issues about the plot, the other cheating and gambling related situations that put him in prison might have been exaggerated.   Like in other books when we find out some things were not what they seemed or we only had one POV and not the whole explanation. I think I was a little let down because Griff admits he gambled, he cheated in the game, he made bad choices. Of course, everyone does, but some of the ones he did didn't impact only himself and I can rationally understand that but I still hoped the hero of the novel had a little bit more awareness at the end of things.

Griff is redeemed, don't be mistaken, but not in a perfect way, as I would expect from a fictional romance story.
I'd say this is the element I'll remember the most, how Griff did wrong things, how he was punished but how, for me - even if this is not realistic - I would have preferred him to be above all those things and his mistakes to be just a red herring kind of thing. The story is more complex because of this, of course, but the romantic in me would have liked the whole to be just misunderstood.

The bad guy, let's call him that, who keeps following Griff got on my nerves as I suspect the author intended. Not that he added much to the plot except antagonism and some easy way out of a certain issue, but combined with everything else, I did feel bad for Griff, he felt trapped by all sides and I cannot imagine being in such pressure all the time to just breathe.
Some secondary characters were good additions, others not more than a cliché or a prop.

All in all, this was a good enough story, interesting and crazy elements all around, some surprises and strong scenes but other things were not as great and I really would have liked the end to showcase Griff's redemption in a glorified manner, not as quietly as it seemed to me.
Grade: 6/10

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