Being Stone Barrington's Girlfriend: The Most Dangerous Job in the World.
Over the years I've reviewed quite a few of Stuart Woods' novels, in particular the Stone Barrington series. I believe there are around 17 in the series, though I haven't counted them recently. Barrington is a cop-turned-lawyer who works for a high-class law firm doing investigative legal chores and handling the firm's rougher-edged, more troublesome clients. He has a fabulous house, spends his evenings dining and drinking (Knob Creek bourbon) at Elaine's, has terrific sex with fabulous women, (some of the best sex scenes in the business) hangs with his partner from the old days, Dino Bacchetti, jets around the world on assignment and vacations in exotic ports of call. It's a good life. Sometimes Woods turns in the direction of darker material, but, in general, the women are beautiful, the clients are interesting in a dangerous sort of way, and the banter is always amusing. Dino pretty much sums up the series when he says of his friend, “Wherever you go, people drop dead, and women take off their underwear.”
Unfortunately for Stone's girlfriends, they're the ones who often end up dead. But only after they've taken off their underwear.
Reviewing this series is pretty much the writing equivalent of a romp in the park. The books are around 300 pages and in this business you get paid the same as when you have to slog through a dense, 550 pager. All in all, it's an enjoyable process, and I give him good reviews. So why do I sometimes have this nagging sense of guilt when I hit the send button and the review is on its way? Here's why. And it's certainly not Stuart Woods' fault.
I'm getting really sick of Female in Peril plots. Serial killers who take fiendish delight in their young victims. Wives and girlfriends of spies and action adventure heroes who, and I know this as soon as I read how much in love they are, are doomed. Maybe they won't actually die, but they'll probably be shot, tortured, blown up, run off the road, maimed in some way and left to linger in a coma for the rest of the book while the hero races to avenge his love. Yes, sometimes, they're rescued in the nick of time, but not until blood has been shed and pain, oh, exquisite pain, has been inflicted. It's a terribly unoriginal scenario. And every once in awhile I'll be pleasantly surprised by a new twist on this tired theme.
But there's more. Here's when I really become disturbed. Sometimes, not very often, and I couldn't tell you what the cues and clues are, but sometimes I feel as if the author is having just a little too much fun writing these scenes of violence and degradation. That somehow, deep down in his dirty little soul, he's enjoying it.
Strangely, it's not even the most horrific novels that give me these particular creeps. While Thomas Harris can be among the most gruesome, I never get the feeling that Harris is that way. Woods is certainly never guilty of looking like he's enjoying the mayhem, but there are others who go too far, who dip into titillation, who just seem to enjoy the blood. And the pain.
I consider myself a scrupulously fair reviewer. I try to open every book without preconception. And yes, I understand, we're talking about fiction. But beware, you who would write such works, I do not let them pass unscathed. My pen, as well as yours, is just as capable of drawing blood.
So OK, Mr. Woods, lighten up on Stone's girlfriends. Let's not have every kiss be the kiss of death.