Jackie Kessler,
Hell on Earth #3: Hotter Than Hell
(Zebra, 2008)

The first two books in Jackie Kessler's Hell on Earth series -- Hell's Belles and The Road to Hell -- focused on Jesse Harris, the former succubus Jezebel, and her adventures in escaping, then rescuing her lover from, Hell. In the background of each book was her infernal paramour, the incubus Daunuan, whose level of personal raunch made Jesse seem downright pastoral by comparison.

Now Daunuan has his own story to share. In Hotter Than Hell, Daun is in line for a promotion among the ranks of the Lust demonkind, but to prove his worth he must seduce an innocent away from her heavenly fate and carry her soul to Hell. His target is a fairly ordinary woman, Virginia Reed, who might seem an easy mark -- if she didn't still pine for her true love, her late husband, who died after a 14-month fight with cancer. Even so, Daun's strengths prove to be more effective in the bedroom than the barroom, as you can see from this first attempt at a pickup line:

Flirting with mortals is as easy as a starving whore. Who needed magic when you had the moves? "Come on, doll. Let's talk some, see if we click." I patted my thigh. "Why don't you sit on my lap, see what pops up?"

"Does that shtick actually work on real women? Or has all your experience been with the plastic variety?"

"Kiss me," I purred, "and I'll show you what you've been waiting for all your prim and proper life."

It's pretty clear why Daun, master lover though he may be, only ever got "dates" among the already damned.

The first half of the book is a bit of a challenge to read. Sure, Daun might be built for earthy pleasures, but it grows a little tiresome to read about nonstop seductions and his poor pants, which are always straining to stay closed against the power of his raging desire. Maybe he should move up a size and stop complaining! It turns out Daun is something of a blunt instrument when it comes to seducing his marks; his level of sophistication seems to go no further than, "Hey, baby, that dress would look great on my floor." Well, hell, I'm sure on some women that line works.

But midway through the book, the story picks up as Daun attempts to learn subtlety. Bless him, he actually tries to get to know the girl, to woo her in an old-fashioned way that doesn't involve quickies in the men's room. Of course, it could never been an ordinary courtship; in this case, his efforts are punctuated by a series of assassination attempts from various denizens of Hell. Who sent them, and why, remains a mystery 'til the very end.

And the end is almost certainly not what you'd expect.

Daun is not a character who's easy to like. I dreaded his appearances in the previous two novels, and I didn't look forward to reading a book entirely about him. Still, credit to Kessler for taking his two-dimensional self and gradually giving him depth. I am curious to see what he takes from this into the next novel, which I have no doubt is already in the works.

As for Virginia, she is a superior choice for the heroine's role. She is no buxom Amazon, nor is she a waifish young thing just barely legal. Kessler here crafts a very normal woman, a full-figured gal in her 30s with a head full of brunette curls, a drab job and a pretty dull life. Getting to know her along with Daun is actually a treat.

Jesse also returns for a few cameo appearances, as does Angel, an angel who has been reassigned -- for reasons still not made clear -- to the succubus division of Hell.

Kessler, against expectations, seems to have lured me back yet again. I suppose I shall have to wait for the fourth book in the series and see where she goes next.

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review by
Tom Knapp

15 November 2008

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