Title: Hunt and Pray
Author: Cindy Sutherland
Cover Artist: Aaron Anderson
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Amazon: Buy Link Hunt and Pray
Genre: Contemporary, Action/Adventure
Length: 169 pages
Rating: 2 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by K.C. Beaumont
Review Summary: An original premise that required too much suspension of disbelief, and ultimately didn’t work for me.
Reporter Drew Edwards got too close to his story and now finds himself a hunted man. After being kidnapped and then released in Colorado Springs Forest, he has six hours’ headstart on a madman trying to teach his son a lesson.
Chance Collins gets one warning from his bigoted, abusive father: “Kill him or be killed.” Horrified, Chance sees only one real option—run with Drew. When he takes it, there’s no turning back. If Drew and Chance can work together, they might make it out of the mountains alive to the promise of a brighter future.
The blurb excited me a great deal and I had high hopes for such a unique premise in this genre. I like contemporary romance enough, but I really enjoy something that offers more than the ever-present boy meets boy, boy starts to fall for boy, boy takes a break from boy after a big misunderstanding, boy gets back together with boy to make sweet love and ride off into the sunset together plot. A tale about a reporter getting mixed up in the story he was writing, getting kidnapped by a madman, and later hunted, promised to be a really enjoyable read, but it just didn’t work for me.
To begin with, the blurb is actually kind of misleading. It gives the impression that Drew Edwards had been going to great lengths to research a story about a serial kidnapper and murderer, and that research had led to him becoming the kidnapping murderer’s next victim. In reality, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, ultimately leading Drew to piece together—while bound, gagged, and blindfolded—that the group of men who’d abducted him were actually the bad guys in the story he’d been researching.
The cover—while gorgeous—is also a bit misleading. It gives the impression of a heart-pounding race from a hunter, when in reality, when the hunt is on, there’s little more than a lot of vigorous hiking. I didn’t expect the entire hunt to be a sprint through the woodlands since the blurb said Drew had a six-hour head start, but I was expecting at least some kind of standoff where there would have been a frantic escape attempt or something similar. Sadly, that did not happen.
The villain in this story, Colonel Kevin Collins, was easy enough to hate, being an abusive, bigoted psychopath who hunted people because he needed something more challenging “than hunting wolves and bears.” Add to this the fact that he was an over-the-top nusto, spelling out his motives and plans all before the five percent mark, and later on, further insulting his military brethren by saying, “You don’t need to think, boy. Soldiers don’t think, they follow orders,” just made me want to put his head in an industrial blender and hold down the puree button for about an hour.
Chance Collins was a sort of villain-turned-hero. He took part in Drew’s kidnapping and detention because he was afraid to buck against his father’s directives, but ultimately decided to attempt to get Drew to safety, and somehow, save himself in the process. A very admiral turn for his character, but his actions left a lot of doubt as to the sincerity of his motives to make things right. I was left wondering what the outcome of the story would have been if Chance hadn’t been attracted to Drew, or if Drew hadn’t spilled his guts to Chance about the family he’d leave behind when he died. From Chance’s point of view, the latter “had been the final straw for [him]. Anyone who loved his family that much and had been loved so much in return deserved the chance to go back to them.” Well, what if Chance wasn’t attracted to Drew, making Chance feel conflicted about acknowledging his sexuality? What if he found Drew physically unappealing? Would he have sat down and allowed Drew to tell him about his family? And what if Drew didn’t have a family? What if he was the type of guy to live in solitude, cut off from society? Would he have been less deserving of a chance to continue living? I’d more easily root for Chance as a character if he’d decided to go against his father because he just couldn’t be a monster like him. He shouldn’t have had to be presented with a specific reason. He recognized what his father was doing—and had done in the past—as something horrifically wrong, and feared doing anything to stop him because of a lifetime of abuse. To me, that is absolutely understandable. People have been known to do unspeakable things out of fear of abuse from someone claiming to love them, but the reason to break free from that cycle of abuse and do the right thing should have ultimately come from a sense of the wrongness of it all—not just because a guy was cute and had an awesome family that would miss him if he was killed in the woods.
Drew Edwards was also a difficult character to root for. Since he was a reporter, I expected him to be naturally inquisitive and perceptive, but I had a hard time buying some of his actions and thought processes as evidence of either of these qualities. An inquisitive person probably wouldn’t read a book while being held in an unknown location and preparing to be sent into the woods as prey for a trained Marine sniper. In my opinion, an inquisitive person—one who didn’t want to die, anyway—would search for any means of escape. The windows were barred, but Drew didn’t know how well those bars held because he never bothered to test them. The furniture was bolted to the floor, but, like the window bars, there was no telling how well those bolts held—or if the bolts could have possibly been removed and used as a weapon later—because Drew never bothered to check. Instead, he got comfy and read a book that had been left in the room. From his point of view, “[t]here wasn’t anything he could do about his situation right now, and getting himself all worked up wasn’t going to make him feel any better.” A perceptive person might be able to pick up on a tremor in someone’s voice, but would he be able to while blindfolded, bound, and gagged, and having just been told he was going to be hunted? Also, a perceptive person, who is so adept at reading emotions in someone else’s eyes—at least a half dozen in varying degrees of lighting that I counted—wouldn’t take so long to figure out just why Chance was so uncomfortable being around him. Chance’s actions and word choices all but spelled out the reason with a neon sign, but Drew was continuously puzzled until just before Chance came out and said it. It was difficult for me to believe that Drew could be that oblivious.
Some other plot points that took me out of the story included:
- Drew’s reaction to Ezra’s attack—how he focused on how physically disgusting Ezra was, and not the fact that the man held him at knife point and planned to assault and possibly kill him. “Drew’s eyes widened. The man was greasy-looking and smelled like days-old sweat. There was no way Drew wanted the man’s [expletive] anywhere near his mouth.” His reaction made it sound as if Ezra had looked and smelled better, it wouldn’t have been as much of a violation.
- Drew so easily having himself a sexual interlude after very recently surviving a near-sexual assault. I know everyone’s experience is different, but that didn’t sound at all authentic to me. Romance doesn’t erase assault and magically make sex sweet again.
- The Colonel equipping Chance with a first-aid kit in his pack when he released him for the hunt, despite having just beaten the crap out of him.
- Chance contradicting himself by mentioning that it wasn’t hard to pick up on Drew’s trail immediately after saying “[i]t had been more challenging to find him than he’d thought it would be.”
All of these, combined with a few minor editing errors that I’d normally overlook in a stronger story (e.g., some instances of headhopping, missing/wrong words, at least one switch in narrative tense), made Hunt and Pray a disappointing read for me.
According to the dedication at the beginning of this novella, this is not the kind of theme Ms. Sutherland ordinarily writes. With that in mind, I give Hunt and Pray two stars: one for the original plot, and another for Ms. Sutherland venturing out of her comfort zone.