The Red Files by Lee Winter is the last book I read in 2015, and is also my pick for best lesfic book of the year. It’s funny, sexy, smart, and has everything I want in a romance novel without being overly focused on the romance.
Lauren King is too smart for her job on the entertainment beat, covering celebrity parties for LA’s Daily Sentinel, but it’s a stepping stone towards her dream of political reporting in DC. Catherine Ayers, aka the Caustic Queen, is also in the celebrity gossip reporting ring of hell, having been cast down from Washington after getting caught up in a reporting scandal. Everyone stays away from Ayers and her precise, vicious insults except Lauren, who can’t seem to help taunting the dragon.
One night at the elite launch of a revolutionary payroll service, Lauren and Ayers each notice something odd: a whole bunch of prostitutes from definitely not LA have been brought to the party to mingle, but service no one. When Lauren talks to the bus driver about to take them away from the event, she learns he was also asked to pick up a pallet of pink champagne, which was never served at the party, and has been paid by the state of Nevada.
They may not be able to talk without sniping at one another, but Lauren and Ayers know one thing: there’s a story worth chasing together.
The character work in The Red Files is superb. Catherine Ayers has truly earned her nickname as the Caustic Queen, and is incisively cutting with almost everyone. Her words are never wasted, and when her kindness shows through, it’s in a way that’s true to herself and her experiences. Hers is the strongest arc, and it never feels forced or unbelievable.
Lauren doesn’t have as much of an arc, but I suspect that’s because she’s a friendly, open person from the beginning and doesn’t have as much to work through, apart from hating her job. She’s funny, smarter than she looks at first sight, and is genuinely likeable.
The Writing Style
How, someone please tell me how, this is Lee Winter’s first book? The style is so crisp, the plotting tight, the dialogue sharp and funny. The romance burns so slow that it finally explodes, with sex so hot and perfectly written, followed by feelings and vulnerability that avoided being even the slightest bit treacly. This is a romance novel I could hand to any naysayer to show why smart women read romance, and I loved it so much that I found myself slowing my reading because I didn’t want it to end.
Everything. Seriously. The characters, the dialogue, the story they’re chasing, their move from enemies to grudging respect to eventual lovers. Just, everything.
I want more books with Lauren and Catherine following leads and pursuing incredible stories, and that’s unlikely to happen.
Read this book. Read it now. Then go to the Ylva site and pick up the free, related short story Flashbang.
Excerpt from The Red Files by Lee Winter
Ayers straightened. “Tell you what—take a long shower, decompress. I’ll order us breakfast, and we can get moving.”
“Okay. And, um, I think I need a stack of pancakes today.”
“Of course,” Ayers said obligingly.
Lauren side-eyed her. “With maple syrup,” she added, waiting for at least some snark. “And extra butter.”
However Ayers merely nodded and said easily, “Naturally.” As she got up, she leaned forward. Her white cotton cleavage briefly billowed and provided Lauren with an unexpected flash of naked skin.
She slammed her eyes shut. Okay, so Ayers really wasn’t wearing anything else. Her brain helpfully replayed that tantalising glimpse of soft breasts, much fuller than she’d have guessed. Arousal coursed through her.
“I could order your pancakes with double the sugar, too.” Ayers stood. “Why stop at one diabetic coma?”
“Um, I do have a line, believe it or not,” Lauren countered, her voice hoarse. She stood and stretched, her gaze fixed on the far wall as she warmed up her muscles. She gave her neck a rotation each way and then shook out her arms and legs.
Ayers seemed suspiciously silent. Lauren sneaked a peek to find her gaze fixed on her bare stomach. She watched curiously as Ayers’s hooded eyes shifted upwards, running slowly along the lines of Lauren’s tank top. They paused at the curve of her bust and then lifted higher and stopped.
For a moment they stared at each other. Lauren fidgeted under the close scrutiny, and she pulled her tank top back down her stomach. Ayers focused with surprising intensity on the fingers plucking at cotton.
“Catherine?” Lauren asked.
“It’s time to get up,” Ayers husked. “We should… get started.”
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 978-3955333300
- Publisher: Ylva Publishing