Thief of the Heart by MJ Williamz

February 9, 2020

Rant

Thief of the Heart

by MJ Williamz
January 14, 2020 · Bold Strokes Books
Contemporary RomanceRomance

Warning: While I had several issues with this book throughout the story, the thing that really inspired this rant happened right at the very end. Here be spoilers. Here be massive, massive spoilers. Also, rage.

I picked up Thief of the Heart for its set up: female FBI agent on the trail of a female jewel thief, and they fall in love.

I mean. Women excelling in traditionally male-dominated professions! Enemies to lovers! Career versus love! A morally ambiguous heroine! So much delicious conflict – what could possibly go wrong?

So much could go wrong. So much. This book made me bored, and then it made me sad, and then it made me angry, and I’m still angry two days later despite having ranted about it at some length to my husband and my hairdresser, and then to my husband again, which means, oh my beloved Bitchery, that the time has come for me to rant about it to you.

Let me tell you a little about the heroines.

First, we have Kit, a professional jewel thief who travels from casino to casino, seeking out victims. Her modus operandi is to seek out older, married women, seduce them, and then steal their jewels while they are sleeping. It’s the perfect crime because her victims are all too ashamed to identify the thief – after all, not only have they been unfaithful to their husbands, they have also been unfaithful with a woman, which only adds to their mortification.

So already I have a problem with this. Strip out the seduction (as the actress said to the bishop), and we have a heroine who is amoral, but potentially interesting for that very reason. After all, Kit has no Dark Past, nor does she have any special, secret reason why she needs to steal. She’s no Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, she’s not on a quest for vengeance, she’s not trying to raise money for a loved one’s surgery, nor is she forced into theft by circumstance or blackmail. She feels no remorse or shame for her thefts – everyone she steals from is wealthy enough to afford the loss, after all. It’s just a job for her, and one she enjoys and is good at. This could be a great premise for a character – think Parker from Leverage, for example.

The seductions, though, and the way Kit used the shame arising from them, bothered me a lot. Kit’s victims were all women who identified as straight, or maybe a little bi-curious, who had not explored this aspect of their sexuality before, and who were charmed by Kit’s seductive skills. To me, it felt like she was taking unfair advantage of them, using not just their infidelity but their sexual identity as weapons against them. While consent was present, it still felt like a violation – and I found it really uncomfortable that the heroine of a lesbian romance was using these women’s shame at having slept with a woman to manipulate them. The fact that the narrative didn’t seem to find anything wrong with Kit’s actions felt a bit bi-shamey, to be honest. At the very least, it seemed to support the toxic meme that bisexual people are incapable of fidelity. Altogether, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

(I would also note that the seduction scenes – of which there are So. Very. Many. – are quite repetitive. Kit picks up women pretty much the same way every time, and it got a bit dull.)

Kit also continues her seductions for a considerable period after falling in love with Savannah. She does eventually start feeling bad about them – not for her victims, but because she feels like she is being unfaithful to Savannah – and eventually decides to retire because she’s not enjoying her job any more and would rather be with Savannah. There are no particular consequences to her for retiring, although she has mused before that her bosses wouldn’t be happy if she stopped stealing.

Savannah does get some consequences for her actions. She is the FBI agent on Kit’s trail, and she is pretty sure from the start that the jewel thief is a woman and that she is seducing her victims. She also suspects Kit very early on. The trouble is, she’s also super attracted to Kit, so she keeps on talking herself out of the suspicion, even though she is fairly sure she is right. So then she forms the brilliant plan of wearing a lot of jewels and seeing if she can seduce Kit and entice her into stealing them. I am fairly certain that this is not how FBI agents work.

(Kit also figures out relatively early in the book that Savannah is an FBI agent, but that doesn’t stop her from reciprocating Savannah’s attraction, because evidently nobody in this book has much common sense.)

Eventually, Savannah’s boss decides that she has been having too much fun swanning around casinos in fancy jewelry and pulls her off the case. She is more or less forced to resign from the FBI, in fact, because she hasn’t caught Kit.

I had a little more sympathy for Savannah than I did for Kit. I mean, I felt that she was being unprofessional and a little bit stupid, but lust can do that. And the book did sell Kit’s attractiveness fairly well. But on the whole, I didn’t really like either heroine very much, and their relationship seemed to be entirely based on physical attraction.

You are probably wondering when I’m going to get to the rant part of this review. Don’t worry, it’s coming, and soon. You see, despite my dislike of Kit and my frustration with the repetitive seduction scenes, I found that I did want to know how the author was going to resolve the conflict between the heroines. Would Savannah arrest Kit? Would she let her go free? Would Kit confess all and give back the things she had stolen? Would Savannah abandon the FBI and become a master thief in her own right? Would Kit turn out to have been on the side of good all along?

So I kept reading. I kept reading all the way to the end.

(And speaking of keeping on reading, this is the point where if you care about spoilers, you should stop reading this review.)

In fact, at this point, I might just put the entire rest of this review behind a spoiler tag

Here’s an excerpt from the second to last page of the book. At this point, Kit and Savannah have both retired / been pushed out of their jobs, and have just been reunited. And Savannah gets a phone call.

“Boss? It’s Li. Where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you.”

“Sorry. I was busy. What’s up?”

“We got him, Savannah,” Li said.

“Who?” She sat up straighter.

“The jewel thief. We caught him red-handed in Atlantic City.”

Savannah unconsciously cast a glance over her shoulder at Kit.

“You did? That’s fantastic.”

“So far he’s only copped to one robbery, but we’re trying to pin the rest on him. It’s just a matter of proving he was at all the other casinos. Should be easy enough.”

“Well, good job, Li. I’m happy for you.”

“Thanks. I’ll let you go now. I’ll keep you posted by text.”

“That would be great. Take care, Li.”

“You too, boss.”

She set the phone down and lay back down next to Kit.

“Who was that?”

“The guy they placed in charge of the investigation they pulled me from.”

“Yeah? What did he want?”

“They caught the jewel thief, Kit.” Relief coursed through Savannah’s body. She fought not to cry happy tears.

Kit arched an eyebrow.

“They did? That’s great, babe. Even though you’re not part of the team, that has to feel good.”

“You have no idea.”

Kit laughed.

“Well, I’m happy for you. Who was it?”

“Some guy. I don’t know the details. They caught him with the jewels though. In Atlantic City. Oh, Kit. You have no idea how happy this makes me. We should celebrate.”

And then they talk about how they are going to get married and live happily ever after. The End.

So to recap, Savannah loses her job. Her second in command catches the wrong jewel thief and is going to pin all of Kit’s crimes onto him. Kit gets off scot-free, and Savannah will presumably go through life believing that she terribly misjudged Kit early in their relationship, since as far as she is concerned, Kit is innocent and was never a thief at all.

THIS IS NOT A HAPPY ENDING, PEOPLE.

There is no restitution for the women Kit seduced. Kit gets the money and the girl and never has to tell one single person what she did. Some bloke who doesn’t even merit a name is about to go down for a bunch of crimes he never committed and nobody seems to care about that (I mean, yes, he is guilty of one theft. But Kit is guilty of at least six thefts *in this book alone* and she’s not doing any time. He does not deserve to pay for her crimes). Kit and Savannah are going to get married on a beach and live in Kit’s ranch, which is certainly idyllic when you consider that THEIR ENTIRE RELATIONSHIP IS FOUNDED ON LIES AND A MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE.

So that made me angry. That made me angry enough to yell at my Kindle and then go and rant at my husband about how absolutely EGREGIOUS this was until he was ranting in sympathy (he enters into the spirit of this sort of thing very well, definitely a keeper). But that isn’t actually the thing that inspired this book rant.

Because I went away and thought about this book some more, and that was when I realised that the thing that made me *really* angry about it was the way this story betrays the reader.

Think about it. This is a love story between a thief and an FBI agent. The thief wants to steal jewels and get away with it. The FBI agent wants to arrest the thief. And yet, they fall in love. The entire premise of the story is this seemingly irresoluble conflict – how can they compromise these two positions? How can they possibly find love without one of them compromising? This is an impossible situation, it’s full of tension, and it demands resolution. The tension builds throughout the book. More pressure is placed on Savannah to catch the thief. Kit is finding it harder and harder to avoid Savannah at times which would make her look guilty. It’s really tense.

And then it just goes floomp, like a balloon deflating.

Savannah and Kit slide out of their roles, out of the professions that were so central to their identities at the start of the book and move on to their new lives, in love and living, presumably, on the profits from Kit’s crimes. The conflict isn’t resolved, it just gets tossed to one side at the last possible moment, tied up with a neat little bow labelled Wrongful Conviction Of A Character Who Doesn’t Even Get A Name, and voilà, all problems are solved and everyone lives happily ever after.

Except for me, because I am SPITTING mad.

It’s a Deus Ex Machina moment, and NOBODY in this book has done anything to merit help from the Gods.

You know, there wasn’t even a moment in the book where the characters seemed to wonder about how they could have a relationship, given what each knew or suspected about the other. It crossed their minds periodically, and was dismissed.

Also, I’m still stuck on the fact that the entire happy ever after is based on the wrongful conviction of a bystander who we aren’t supposed to care about. This only works emotionally if you assume that the reader cares about nobody except the main characters.

I have seen numerous essays and conversations online about what authors owe to readers, and for the most part, they make me uncomfortable. I don’t think authors owe readers anything, on a personal level – or at least, not more than the things that all humans owe to other humans.

But if there is one thing that an author owes their readers, it is that they will tell a story that has some integrity to it, that lives up to the promises it makes. It doesn’t have to be a story that appeals to all readers, or even to all readers of that genre, but it should be satisfying by the rules of its genre. By all means, stretch or subvert the genre rules – but there has to be some internal consistency. Setting up an entire novel’s worth of tension, and then waving it away on the second last page feels like reneging on a promise. It undoes everything the narrative has created, and I feel cheated.

Thief of the Heart has many, many problems, but I could have forgiven it many of them if only it had attempted to address the conflict that was at its heart: how can a jewel thief and the FBI agent sent to catch her possibly find love and happiness together?

I’ve read the whole book, and I still don’t know.

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