Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Makes a Hero Sexy?

Among the books suggested for my Contemporary Keeper Challenge was Linda Howard's A Game of Chance.  It's not eligible for the prize for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I already have it in my Keeper collection!  (Think about it -- if the challenge was simply to guess which books I have already Kept, a lot of people could win.)

I thought I would reread it anyway, just to honor the suggestion.  It has reminded me why Alpha Males as so popular, and why they don't do it for me quite so much.

Diana, who suggested this book, said quite firmly that if I didn't like it I shouldn't tell her.  Hey, Diana -- I like it.  I like Linda Howard's books.  I keep Linda Howard's books.  I just don't like Alpha Males quite as much as the next person.  And that's okay -- it's a huge genre, and we can all love the heroes we love.

In case you don't know the backstory, Linda Howard wrote a very famous book, Mackenzie's Mountain, in which a para-paranormal hero, Wolf Mackenzie, marries a dowdy virginal female named Mary.  Wolf Mackenzie has all the genetic traits of the classic Alpha Male: strong, knows what's his, doesn't take no for an answer, but underneath it all he's vulnerable and needs his mate.  When I very first got involved with romance novel readers on the Internet, the Mackenzie stories were the Black Dagger Brotherhood books of their day: they seemed to make readers swoon.

*  He's a para-paranormal because he's clearly a werewolf made wholly human, even if Howard doesn't say that.  Don't believe me?  Allow me to remind you of the first two paragraphs:
He needed a woman.  Bad.

Wolf Mackenzie spent a restless night, with the bright full moon throwing silver light on the empty pillow beside him.  His body ached with need, the sexual need of a healthy man, and the passing hours only intensified his frustration.  Finally he got out of bed and walked naked to the window, his big body moving with fluid power.  The wooden floor was icy beneath his bare feet but he welcomed the discomfort, for it cooled the undirected desire that heated his blood.

Well, does she miss any lycanthropic iconography?  Full moon, overheated body, extreme sexual need at a certain time of the month???

Anyway, Wolf & Mary get married, Wolf's son Joe gets married, a couple nearly-anonymous Mackenzie brothers get married without getting a book, Maris gets married in a novella, Zane gets on the Navy SEAL bandwagon and then gets married AND builds a secret lair.  Which leaves Chance.  Chance is your basic "I found him nearly dead on the side of the road, honey.  Can I keep him?  Hunh?  Hunh?!" foundling adoptive son.  I've commented on backstories that are just too traumatic in the case of Nora Roberts' Chesapeake Bay heroes, but I'm inclined to give Linda Howard a pass in the case of Chance.  He has an appropriate degree of neuroses (doesn't like to be touched, for example) but even he's aware he's come a long way.

The Mackenzie men have jobs that keep getting better.  Wolf is an almost pedestrian landowner in Wyoming, Joe ends up being the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Zane has a shadowy job in counter-terrorism, and Chance is a virtual ghost in the same field.  (Where do you apply for these shadowy jobs, The AlphaManpower Agency?)  He's looking for a way to get close to a European terrorist (the book was published prior to 9/11), and he figures he's found it when he discovers that Sunny Miller is actually Herr Terrorist's secret daughter.  She must be working with her dad, right?

Of course, she's not.  She's the heroine.  In A Game of Chance, all you really need to know is that Sunny is keeping secrets from Chance and Chance is keeping secrets from Sunny, and they do eventually get it all worked out.  And yes, all your favorite Mackenzies come back.  (Incidentally, if you like the thriller parts of these books, might I suggest the Jane Whitefield books by Thomas Perry.  Less romance, but a much more plausible set of crosses and double-crosses.)

Chance opens the book on his motorcycle:
Riding a motorcycle always gave him a hard-on, and his own visceral reaction to the speed and power never failed to amuse him.

Danger was sexy.  Every warrior knew it, though it wasn't something people were going to read about in their Sunday newspaper magazines.  His brother Josh freely admitted that landing a fighter on a carrier deck had always turned him on.  "It falls just short of an orgasm," was the way Josh put it.  Joe, who could fly any jet built, refrained from commenting but always smiled a slow, knowing smile.

Mind you, at the time that we learn this fascinating insight, Chance is riding his motorcycle without a helmet.  I guess danger is a broad enough category that it can include foolhardiness.  There's a similar moment after he and Sunny are faux-stranded in a Nevada box canyon with only 36 condoms -- enough for a week, Chance assures her.  Only the second time they "do it" -- yup, he's bareback.

Is that really what marks an Alpha Male?  I see now why I prefer the heroes in the mold of Sherlock Holmes: omniscient and able to see dozens of steps into the future.  The only way one of them is going to risk getting a woman pregnant is because he wants her to bear his child.

Is wearing a motorcycle helmet wimpy?  Would it kill one of these "I'm so carried away with passion for you, I cannot be bothered with protection" guys to think about the consequences?  I don't find that as much of a turn-on as this exchange between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, the two greatest brains of their time:

MORIARTY: All that I have to say has already crossed your mind.
HOLMES: Then my answer to you has already crossed yours. 

I was a teenager when I first saw this play (Sherlock Holmes by William Gillette, a renowned American actor) on the stage in New York City.  I swooned when I saw this bit -- in effect, their powers of deduction are so great they don't even need the convention of actually saying things out loud.  Now that is sexy.

But that's just me.

1 comment:

  1. Where do you apply for these shadowy jobs, The AlphaManpower Agency?



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