Saint’s Gate is the first installment in Carla Neggers’s Sharpe & Donovan series. I won Saint’s Gate as a bundle with the second book, Heron’s Cove, from a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

 

I loved the bits of information about Vikings, painting, and visual vocabulary. It reminded me of Ideas and Values in the Humanities (HUM 250 & 251). I don’t give a fuck about “saints” but I find them interesting historically in a detached way.

 

The insider’s peek into their nunnery is well done and the nuns aren’t stereotypes. The small town living experience is there in spades and it’s interesting how its subcommunities intertwine.

 

These lifelike neighborhoods coupled with mood-matching environment descriptions created a moving atmosphere. This along with an interesting buildup whodunit made me continue reading.

 

I do think the blurb’s misleading though, I’d call it a mounting mystery rather than countdown thriller. But that’s only a negative expectation-wise for me. It was enjoyable nonetheless minus the romance and until the climax.

Cover with a woman walking through a gate on an overgrown garden path, Saint's Gate covers the path in capitalized white letters and Carla Neggers in yellow text on top portion
Genre: Romance, Suspense, Age: Adult Format: Hardcover, 331 pgs. Source: Won, Goodreads First Reads Rating: 2.5 Stars Series Rating: 2.5 stars Recommendable? Conditionally CW: Sex, Violence, Kidnapping, Torture
When Emma Sharpe is summoned to a convent on the Maine coast, it's partly for her art crimes work with the FBI, partly because of her past with the religious order. At issue is a mysterious painting depicting scenes of Irish lore and Viking legends, and her family's connection to the work. But when the nun who contacted her is murdered, it seems legend is becoming deadly reality. Colin Donovan is one of the FBI's most valuable assets -- a deep-cover agent who prefers to go it alone. He's back home in Maine after wrapping up his latest mission, but his friend Father Bracken presents him with an intrigue of murder, international art heists and a convent's long-held secrets that is too tempting to resist. As the danger spirals ever closer, Colin is certain of only one thing—the very intriguing Emma Sharp is at the center of it all. A ruthless killer has Emma and Colin in the crosshairs, plunging them into a race against time and drawing them deeper into a twisted legacy of betrayal and deceit.
Adult Icon Romance Icon  Suspense/Thriller Icon Insta-Love Icon Mixed Bag Icon Sexy Icon
Pros Cons
Well-researched, interesting topics Forced, disconnected romance
Solid mystery I didn’t figure out early Villain was fine until sudden pathological change (aka bullshit) made them a monster
Decent, likable cast of characters Failed climax with anticlimactic ending (because of villain)
  Couldn’t connect with characters emotionally

 

Characters start strong and coast along

 

Emma’s history is different than anything else I’ve read while Colin’s standard FBI hero material. Her specialty meshes with his action-oriented style, creating a perfect crime-fighting duo for this case.

 

Their team leader, their families, and Father Braken round out the supporting cast. They’re likable with one exception. Boy, did that fucker make it hard to reader xe’s appearances. It’s a good start for a series but you’ll have to wait for character progression.

 

However, I did have difficulty connecting with them. Our dynamic duo’s most common emotes are staring and deadpan. They’re introspective, communicating only about the case while sizing each other up like spitting cats. I found Father Braken and his whiskey talk more interesting.

 

I’ve read and watched tons of crime dramas yet these partners didn’t do anything for me. Maybe because they felt like pawns instead of people or maybe there was too much suspicion and emotional isolation. I don’t know. The next book will hopefully expand upon the good beginning and I can groove with them.

 

The Hot Pocket Romance

 

I know insta-love is a cornerstone of romantic suspense but this was so horrendous, I don’t even give a fuck about that part. It doesn’t make any sense for these characters. It felt like watching your drunken friend cook after driving them home—without the funny. Stick figure person with creepy expression making two dolls with distressed faces kiss Emma was almost a nun and didn’t quit for sex. Yet she goes from “OMG, look at his hips” to saying she’s in love and jumping his bones 100 pages later. Really? Saying she “tripped and fell on” would be more believable.

 

It’s not like she was dying to lose her virginity and didn't have the opportunity to bone an attractive man before. She’s calculating and removed emotionally, not prone to rash decisions. Yet an empty house is all she needs to become an insta-fuck seductress apparently.

 

Then there’s Colin. He plainly wanted sex and was checking out Emma from get-go. He flipped from aloof and cold to hot and tempting like he was trying to neg her. Obviously, not surprising he gets his freak on. However, I do have problems believing he'd commit this quickly with all of his trust issues and career. It’s beyond “I don’t get the connection”, their romance flies in the face of their characterization. It felt forced to make it a romantic suspense.

 

Suddenly: Sadistic Killer! *jazz hands*

 

I was enjoying the building suspense and mystery until the end. Then the villain got amped up to make it a “thrill ride showdown” because Murderer + Torturer= Monster. But there were no prior signs or reasons for the shift.

 

It’s easy to see what it was supposed to accomplish but did the opposite. Confusion rather than shock or awe disrupted my focus. It killed progress from other solid pieces of last-minute information making it anti-climactic.

 

Skipping the transforming bite is a misstep. And falls in line with my other problem with Saint’s Gate, the sudden vaulting characters. Instead of feeling natural, it’s like they’re forced along with a cattle prod.

 

Imagine people going about their lives then randomly pulling this stunt.

 

Conclusion

 

Interesting tidbits and atmosphere but it’s not my kind of romance and even the best part, the case, ends on a sour note.

 
Recommended for:

fans of Carla Neggers or those not picking about fluff. If you want a mystery or case procedural, I’d recommend previewing it. If your suspension of disbelief is stronger than mine, you’ll hopefully have a better time.

 

Note: Originally posted on 11/28/2012, updated on 9/19. All ratings, pros, cons, and sections remain the same, it’s (hopefully) better written now and re-formatted to fit my new design.

 

FYI Update: I’ve read more of Neggers’s work, beyond Heron’s Cove (Sharpe & Donovan #2) and I won’t be reading more. They’ve all been alright but not my thing, especially with the pattern of adult women virgins who of course have first-time idealized sex. However, I’ve been recommended her Death series written as J.D. Ward, so I’ll be trying that soon(ish). We’ll see if mixing up the elements is enough or if Neggers really isn’t the author for me.