High-brow or downright pretentious, good PNR or sparkly vampires, I don't care about the premise so long as it entertains me.
...because my life is complete. There's something about Carolyn Crane's characters that just reminds of chili hot chocolate, or salted caramel, or even wasabi white chocolate cupcakes (yes, that is a Marian Keyes reference. Believe it!) Looking at them in theory, they are a mixture of traits that should not coexist, and yet in her books, they work so well, you can't believe how you lived without this. (Hence why I'm rationing her Disillusionists series like nobody's business, because I don't want to be left without a Crane book unread. Yes, I am one of those people.)
Anyway, "The Associates" series are romantic suspense, which is kinda like the Disillusionists series, but without the paranormal aspect. That's okay, though, we have a super-secret organization that fights crime independently of the government that is entirely comprised of geeks agents. And by geek agent, I mean super-hot dudes with obscure areas of specialization that go deep undercover in the worst criminal groups imaginable. They can do what they have to do without any sort of public accountability, but also without having to rely on obscure politics and funding to do their job. Your mileage on that may vary, but I found it didn't marr my enjoyment of the series, mostly because everyone involved is awesome beyond belief.
"Against the Dark" is the story of Cole, a maths geek who enlists the help of a retired jewel thief to get some documents from the safe of a sadistic crime boss and save a bunch of kids from a horrible death. In "Off the Edge", a singer on the run from her abusive husband and a linguistics expert are thrown together in a race to stop a weapon of mass destruction to be sold off to the highest bidder. And "Into the Shadows" has a deep undercover pretending to investigate a series of sweatshop raids, not knowing that the woman behind them is his former lover, or that she gave birth to his child.
Right off the bat, we're thrown into a world of high stakes, where everyone has something to lose and not always something to win. All three books benefit from excellent pacing, with action and lulls coming at just the right moment - it's a reminder that, in the right hands, a multiple third person POV can be pulled off and it can be pulled off quite well. I don't think I would have enjoyed some of these characters half as much if I didn't spend some time in their heads, and learnt their motivations only in the end. Difficult lot, they are.
And I really, really liked how Crane didn't shy from making her male characters well and truly (and I mean truly) broken. Cole, Macmillan and Thorne aren't just a bunch of blokes with a lot of manpain - they all have painful pasts and those pasts massively fucked them up, to the point where they are all barely able to function normally. Now, you might think this opens up the whole "healed by love" can of worms, but I think the series manages to escape it, largely due to how it handles its characters' brokenness.
To put it in another way, there are books out there that make a point of discussing the male character having a mental health problem of a sorts so that can introduce a relationship conflict (see: 50 Shades of Gray.) But having a mental illness doesn't make you unfit to love and live a fulfilling life, and you don't have to be "healed" before you can have all those good things. "The Associates" books don't go out of their way to spell out just what the guys' problems are. Nor do the heroines entertain any notions that men can be "healed" - they are quite broken up themselves, actually. They find a middle road, and there is no better way to sum it up than this piece of dialogue:
"You have to let some things and some people be fucked up," she said.
"How?" he said.
"You just do," she whispered.
- Against the Dark, location 2345, Kindle Edition
Amen to that.