I’m a big fan of Cara McKenna’s books and I’ve been following her on twitter for a couple of years. I first heard of Lay it Down after she signed the contract Signet Eclipse for the series and announced that she was going to be writing a biker book series. At the time I had just started reading Joanne Wylde’s Reapers MC series and had just finished Kristen Ashley’s Chaos books but was struggling to finding any other biker/Motorcycle Club books I could stomach. The idea that McKenna was going to tackle this niche really excited me. She writes great gritty men, who are more than they seem, so it went on my auto-buy list. Then in May Cara McKenna received a box of paper ARCs from her publisher and gave some away on twitter. I was thrilled to get one. I loved After Hours, Unbound and Hard Time so much that I put down my kindle long enough to read Lay in Down the old-fashioned way.
It really wasn’t what I expected. I expected Cara McKenna twisting up Motorcycle Club conventions, while delivering a hard-edged gritty hero with a sweet core. But that not what this book is. It is not a Motorcycle Club romance. Instead it is a gritty, small-town mystery/romance, that centers on a group of friends who are seeing their dusty small-town be taken over by a huge casino. When one of their best buddies dies, Vince Grossier, McKenna’s tattooed, motorcycle riding ex-con hero suspects that he has been killed because of something he saw. Vince becomes obsessed with figuring it out what really happened, and ends up enlisting a motley crew of allies, who rightly question Vince’s certainty that Alex has been killed.
One of the unlikely allies (but not the unlikeliest) is Kim Padget. Kim is a freelance photographer working for the Eclipse Casino corporation. She has come to town to take publicity shots but really is looking to get away from home. Kim’s boyfriend has just proposed to her and it only made her realize that she doesn’t want to be with him, and how much she wants to experience life out of the safe bubble she has always lived in. When she looks at Vince she sees a rough and ready man, perfect for wild-side rebound fling. In Kim, Vince sees convenient ally and a good-girl to dirty up to their mutual enjoyment. Of course both of them will come to realize that they can mean much more to each other.
“ Unbidden, his fingers twined with Kim’s, a little taste of what it might feel to get wrapped up with a woman out of desire, not obligation. Out of pleasure and affection. He could sample that with her. This was was safe. She had a life to return to, once this mystery was settled, once the danger was snuffed, and a man like him didn’t stand a chance at changing that. There would be no for-keeps with Kim, only for-now. Because why would a woman like her want a man like him long-term?”
The book took an unexpected turn for me with the introduction of Vince’s prophetic mother, whose visions in too many ways killed one of the major conflicts in the plot up to that point and I wasn’t thrilled by this paranormal twist. A new conflict arises, but I felt we lost valuable tension. However some of the other supporting characters stole and saved the book for me. Vince’s old friend Raina, the jaded barkeep who broke their mutual friend Miah’s heart, and Duncan the Casino corporation’s corporate fixer, who is also pill-addict and is in over his head with Raina were fascinating and I can’t wait to read their book.
This is a very hard book to pin down, at points it pops with zany energy, at others it smolders but the central mystery is not nearly as interesting as it could have been and it takes a back seat to developing and exploring the town. Still I will come back to read the next of the Desert Dogs books for Raina, Duncan and Miah. If you like small-town contemporaries, and want one with with a gritty mystery twist, Lay it Down is for you.