Heroes Are My Weakness by bestselling romance novelist Susan Elizabeth Phillips reads like a Bronte novel crossed with a Led Zeppelin song. Newly published in paperback, the book is set in the freeze of winter on fictional Peregrine Island in the North Atlantic, a “place for people who want to slip off the radar.” Annie, the story’s protagonist, doesn’t quite fit that description, however: she has recently lost both her mother, Mariah, and her job. (A bout with pneumonia has ended her career as a ventriloquist.) Penniless, she has nowhere else to go, arriving on Peregrine Island with a Kia full of puppets and not much else.
For reasons Annie still does not understand, Mariah was unkind to her in life, but in death she leaves her daughter title to Moonraker Cottage, which lies in the shadow of Harp House mansion. The terms of Mariah’s divorce agreement required her to inhabit the cottage for sixty consecutive nights every year in order to maintain possession of it, and now Annie must do the same. Her first night there, without water or heat, feels like an eternity, but she is determined to find the “legacy” that Mariah promised was hidden there, an unknown treasure that will bring her plenty of money.
Annie’s early memories of the island center around Theo, a withdrawn writer who has abysmal social skills. When Annie and Theo were fifteen and sixteen, respectively, Annie fell in love with him, and the two shared a summer romance that was also fraught with menacing episodes apparently linked to Theo’s dark side. But the truth about what really happened half a lifetime ago, Annie discovers on returning to the island, is far more complicated than she believed. “You’re cut off out there,” Annie is warned by one of the locals, early in her stay. “You’ve got no phone, and you’re too far away from town to get help fast. Keep your guard up, and don’t let yourself get complacent.”
As she surreptitiously hunts for her lost legacy, Annie ends up spending more and more time with Theo. The long-ago chemistry between the two resurfaces, and their banter is one of the highlights of this romance. At one point Annie pushes him away and snaps, “Stop going all bloody Heathcliff on me.” Their magnetic attraction, even when they’re arguing, makes for terrific, often comedic, entertainment.
Phillips has built her career as a queen of romance novels, and Heroes Are My Weakness doesn’t disappoint. Phillips masterfully keeps the plot charging forward with levity and urgency, and readers will root for Annie as she seeks her mother’s hidden treasure—and the truth about Theo.
Sarah Norris holds an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College and has reviewed books for The Daily Beast, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, and Village Voice, among other publications. She lives in Nashville.