Sep 23 2013 8:15am

Shannon McKenna’s Hot Mess Heroes

“You don’t apologize much, do you?”
His eyebrow twitched. “Is it so obvious? I’m just being honest. When I’ve got you in bed, I don’t care about what’s polite. I go straight for the prize.”

I read Detective Jon Amendola’s scintillating rebuttal a couple of years ago on a flight to Toronto, and I can remember wanting to stand up and wave my hand, frantically, yelling “I’m a prize! I’m a prize!” But since my husband has always known that, and the fella who sat across the aisle would’ve likely called the flight attendant over to administer sleeping aids, I kept my cool.

That passage, along with the detective, is from one of Shannon McKenna’s novellas called Anytime, Anywhere, and epitomizes one of the elements I love about her stories: a hot mess hero. Yes, indeed, Detective Jon Amendola of the North Portland PD is a “tough, cynical, foul-mouthed, funny, and flat-out, drop dead gorgeous” dude. By now, “hot mess” is part of the mainstream colloquial, but in case you’re iffy on its meaning, Urban Dictionary defines it as “when ones thoughts or appearance are in a state of disarray but they maintain an undeniable attractiveness or beauty.”

Speaking as a card-carrying feminist and assertive gal, there’s no way in hell I would ever consider one of McKenna’s hot messes as a viable mate—be it for an hour, a hot affair, or a lifetime commitment. But my reader-self would challenge Gloria Steinem to read these men as anything other than captivating … scorching … and as addictive as crack.

There’s something so utterly sexy in these characters that are strong and capable, genius-smart and perceptive, yet complete dolts when it comes to figuring out they’re in love. Lots of romances have clueless alpha men, but McKenna writes them with such hyperbolic abandon. Her guys don’t even feign ignorance about their stubbornness. They revel in it. (As do I.)

One of the best ways to track McKenna’s hot messes is through the McCloud series. This is a whole family of damn, but it’s a hot family of damn. Over the course of the series, we get an intimate knowledge of brain-washing and psychological manipulation with a recurring villainous syndicate. They’re over-the-top, too, which makes them extra fun to read. But the McCloud brothers aren’t off their rockers with their conspiracy theories; no ma’am. They’ve experienced the malevolence firsthand.

Let’s track a pattern of these controlling, exhausting, earthy sex gods and the women who ensnare them. McKenna’s narrative is not unlike some of Hollywood’s iconic movies that generate the best lines. Think Uncle Buck (“Buck Melanoma … Moley Russel’s wort.”), Blazing Saddles (“ ‘Scuse me while I whip this out.”), The Princess Bride (“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”), Star Wars (“May the force be with you.”), and Gone with the Wind (“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”). She must have great fun writing these guys who are always on the edge of sanity and self-control.

Behind Closed Doors

Seth was a millimeter away from losing it. The only way to hold his emotions together was to kiss her, with all of himself. All his desperate hunger. Need pounded through his body, but he held it back, trying to express with his kiss everything that was so impossible to say. His anger and grief and confusion, his growing awareness of how important she was to him. How much that awed and terrified him.

Standing in the Shadows

He should be relieved that Erin’s mystery client checked out, but the ghost hand was squeezing his throat even harder. His instincts had never played him false before—but he’d never been in such a fucked-up state before, either. Even Sean and Davy thought he was going off the deep end. That made him feel so alone.
But he couldn’t let it go. Not if Erin was at stake.

Out of Control

He wanted her to trust him.
He wanted to know all her secrets, but he wanted her trust even more. She was the type that would never forgive a guy for reading her diary behind her back. He tucked the journal back into the place where he’d found it and dropped the board carefully back into place.

He got up and backed away, feeling cornered and confused. As is he deserved her trust, after picking her lock and prowling through her house. Hypocritical, waffling idiot. He’d gone through her utility bills and rifled her underwear drawer, and he balked at her diary?
Nothing he did today made any sense.

Edge of Midnight

Keep it together. Impulse control. Actions have consequences.
The endless stern lectures from his father and brothers had clubbed into his head looped in his brain in a chaotic babble of mental noise.
. . .
The something’s-not-right feeling was swelling, bigger and badder. Fire ants in his head. Itching and twitching. What T-Rex said? Burning in the fire of his passion. Our union will be explosive.

There’s something addictive about these sexy bad boys with penchants for temper tantrums. It’s also refreshing how McKenna tips the balance of hysteria for us with these McCloud men since it’s typically women who are painted as emotional basket cases.

And there’s a new McCloud story releasing September 24, Fatal Strike. It’s not a McCloud brother, but you can predict the hero will be just as hot—and messy—as the examples above.


Dolly Sickles is a Southerner with a lifelong penchant for storytelling. Her Secret Squirrel identity is Dolly Sickles, but she also writes romance as Becky Moore, and this year her first children’s book will be published as Dolly Dozier. She’s an avid reader of all literature, but she takes refuge in the romance genre, where despite the most grandiose, exhilarating, strange, and unlikely plot that’s out there, every story has a happy ending.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Peggynoodle
I'm thinking I need to pick up one of Miss McKenna's books! It sounds like she has some great hero's in her stories. I'm looking forward to trying her out as an author. Thanks for the great information and insight.
2. Iris Gardener
I finished "Fatal Strike" by Shannon McKenna not long ago. I love her books and enjoy the hours spent with her characters. Your comments are so humorous and want me to make a visit to my local library today :)
3. carmenlire
I've heard of Mckenna, but have never read her. Thanks to this post, however, I'm thinking I may need to read one of her books quite soon!
4. Gaye
Anything that can guarantee a "hot mess" sounds good to me. I've been reading Shannon Mckenna books through the years and enjoy them very much. Looking forward to future blogs suggesting new authors and hearing about the "oldies but goodies".
Patricia Wilkerson
5. Proofreaderpat
One of my favorite Shannon McKenna books is "the Ultimate weapon",where both the hero and heroine are "hot messes".
Dolly Sickles
6. Dolly_Sickles
Good luck with them, Peggy, Iris and Carmen. They're fun, in a 007-over-the-top-villain kind of way. Gaye and Pat, happy to meet fellow fans. I'm excited about tomorrow's release.
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