The Wrong Woman, by Cass Lennox
Series: Toronto Connections, Book 4 (Stand-Alone)
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: May 22, 2017
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
As an independent filmmaker, Katie Cherry is used to difficult shoots—but a band’s music video in a tiny lesbian bar is proving worse than most. Stress-busting, expectation-free sex with Zay, the calm, gorgeous bartender, seems just the ticket. But then she and Zay discover the band’s lead singer beaten into a coma in the bar bathroom. They need an alibi, but playing girlfriends is a role Katie’s never excelled at, so she can’t see this ending well.
Zay Fayed-Smith is finally getting her life back together after her junkie ex broke it apart. She’s working part-time while pursuing her dream of being a lawyer, and definitely keeping things chill on the girls front. Of course, that’s when a crime happens in her bar and her ex shows up wanting to try again. “Dating” Katie seems like the best way for Zay to keep her head down and teach her ex a lesson.
Except pretty soon, the charade begins to feel less and less like acting. And when the attacker turns his attentions toward Katie, they have to cut through the lies to discover what’s real.
Content Warning for:
Past drug use
I haven’t read the other books in the Toronto Connections series, though I’ve had my eye on Blank Spaces for awhile. I was thrilled to see a F/F romance come out of this series, and excited to be able to review it. Although several characters from the other Toronto Connections stories have important scenes in this story, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything by not having read the other books. I enjoyed the brisk pace and the humor here, but when I finished The Wrong Woman, I put it down with mixed feelings.
The “fake dating” trope worked for the most part, and there were multiple points where both Zay and Katie really resonated with me, but I ended up feeling let-down by the resolution. The “mystery” behind who assaulted lead singer Nave ends up having an almost eye-rolling answer that was a disservice to the larger story (and to be honest, when three characters end up in the hospital, a significant amount of the story is set in that hospital, a character is doxxed, hacked, and eventually her apartment broken into, then there better be a damn good reason behind the whole mess. The Wrong Woman did not deliver on that front, which made the book end on a reflection that some things from the beginning of the book seem pretty contrived.)
Despite some of those missteps, the way in which Katie and Zay end up in a fake relationship makes way more sense than the summary indicates. Despite what the book blurb says, Katie and Zay aren’t using “fake relationship” as their alibi for the band member’s assault (they were hooking up when it happened, which is really about all the alibi you need). Katie and Zay lie about their relationship for their own, non-alibi related reasons, which make way more sense in context.
As a catalyst and continual instigator throughout the story, Zay’s ex-girlfriend Parry (a recovering drug addict) was well played. Parry had the right emotional weight to be a wedge between Katie and Zay. Parry is highly manipulative, and an excellent example of an emotional abuser. Watching the tug and pull between Zay and Parry was physically painful, because it was so clear that Zay was still messed up about Parry and couldn’t see straight when it came to her. Zay’s ultimate confrontation with Parry made me punch the air in victory, and to be honest, I was way more invested in Zay overcoming the last of Parry’s influence than I was in Zay and Katie getting their act together.
The writing style here, which seems to be a characteristic of Lennox, is to be deep into the character’s inner dialogue. When balanced right, this can be incredibly effective for getting us into the character’s head, without being distracting. Here, however, the sheer number of “ughs” and “mhhms” and similar expressions kept throwing me out of the story. Katie’s method of processing current events as if they were a screenplay was cute and fit her character well, but otherwise their internal monologues were not substantially different from each other. Based on the way they thought and were narrated, they could have been the same character.
Speaking of characters, I’m not entirely sold on the romantic aspect of their relationship. Neither Zay and Katie have any idea how to conduct a healthy relationship, so I did appreciate the irony of them having to act out a fake relationship in order to learn how to do a real one. They’ve each got their own hang-ups to overcome, and seeing their perspectives on the other’s achievements while doubting their own felt all too real to me. But much of the motivating factor keeping them together seems to be lust, and the short time-frame of the book didn’t convince me on their compatibility for the long-term. Still, despite some of the things that didn’t quite work for me here, I enjoyed and appreciated the ways in which The Wrong Woman riffs on the “fake dating” trope, and I have no doubt that fans of the Toronto Connections series will find this one a satisfying addition to the series.
Cass Lennox is a permanent expat who has lived in more countries than she cares to admit to and suffers from a chronic case of wanderlust as a result. She started writing stories at the tender age of eleven, but would be the first to say that the early years are best left forgotten and unread. A great believer in happy endings, she arrived at queer romance via fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction, and manga, and she can’t believe it took her that long. Her specialties are diverse characters, gooey happy ever afters, and brownies. She’s currently sequestered in a valley in southeast England.
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.