Originally published as Almost Home, the title of Pam Jenoff's latest novel has been renamed The Officer's Lover for its UK paperback edition. The new title it transpires is meaningless (not that the original title is much better), changed undoubtedly to capitalise on the recognition factor of Pam Jenoff's previous thriller-romance novels The Kommandant's Girl and The Diplomat's Wife. I haven't read either of those books to know how well they fit their descriptions or their remit as thriller-romances, but in this case there is no officer (though there is a diplomat), there is no lover (he's been dead for 10 years) and there's not a great deal of either romance or thrills.
Jordan Weiss, a diplomat for the US State Department in Washington, asks for a transfer to London in order to be with a sick friend. She hasn't been back in England since finishing her studies at Cambridge ten years ago, still traumatised by the accidental death of her lover Jared, who drowned in the river Cam after a drunken party. Suddenly however Chris, another one of The Eight - the rowing team that Jordan used to cox for - appears, suggesting there's a growing suspicion that Jared's death was not an accident, not a suicide, but a murder. Caught up US State Department work on a complicated case involving Albanian organised crime and money laundering, uncertain about her feelings for a co-worker, the reappearance of Chris in her life, the memories it brings back, the revelations about Jared are more than she can deal with.
According to the book jacket, Pam Jenoff is "a Cambridge graduate who served as a diplomat with the State Department", so clearly she should know what she is writing about. You wouldn't think so from condescending descriptions of the English ("complexions are paler, the teeth more askew"), with references to Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, providing useful gun information in the form of England apparently being "a country where most of the police generally do not carry them". (These kind of Americanisms should surely have been edited when revising the novel for UK publication). Jenoff's - or Jordan's - understanding of international political affairs is similarly naïve, her diplomat making extraordinary blunders, being clearly unfit to carry a gun and going to great lengths to find out highly sensitive information that is apparently freely available on the Internet for her friend to discover. Our diplomat is also rather emotionally unstable, prone to running out of functions, office meetings and even encounters with friends at the drop of a hat, seeking clues in the behaviour of others as to whether they fancy her (inevitably they all do) when she'd be better off wondering whether they might want to kill her.
At the very least however, you might reasonably expect some romantic encounters in the novel, but they are scarce, a few related to reminiscences of the past, most of them repetitively covered in a quick fumbling of clothes, followed immediately by a discreet "Afterwards...". There's very little grappling with the emotional consequences, and very little sign that the author is capable of describing them, Jordan's feelings being clunkily described in lines such as "(he) brought me to places physically I hadn't known existed", and in her pondering "Are all of the men I come close to doomed to die young?". Time to start dating older men, perhaps?
You'll not be reading The Officer's Lover for the quality of the writing or accuracy of the characterisation however and as a thriller it does indeed heat up considerably towards the end - if a little improbably. Overall then, it's a light uncomplicated summer read that will pass the time sitting by the pool adequately if you're not expecting too much in the way of thrills, romance or credibility.