on 27 March 2011
I first encountered SB's books via the Harlequin Mills & Boon TDD series, "Prince Joe"; at that time she was several books into the Troubleshooters main stream series and I started out with Book 1 and read in orderly progression. The books were very enjoyable because they were what "romantic suspense" should be - romantic and suspenseful, with realistic characters and believable relationship issues.
This last book, or the last one for now whilst she goes on "hiatus", has several flaws, realistic characters and believable relationship issues being at the core of these, becuase SB gets on an anti-heterosexual soapbox and stays there; it was more a gay propaganda leaflet than romantic suspense novel, which is exactly the problem. SB's desire to support her son is admirable but her constant "attitude" sails dangerously close to anti-heterosexual bigotry in places; I wonder what SB and her novelist husband Ed Gaffney's heterosexual daughter thinks of all this "air time" lavished on her brother - perhaps SB should remove the rafter from her own eye and consider the possibility of her daughter being a vicitm of "obedient child syndrome"?
I don't mean to be harsh, but what irritates me is that SB did this before, a great deal better, and with no soapbox attitude of "anyone who disagrees with me is a bigot" in All Through The Night: A Troubleshooter Christmas, which was witty, tense, thoughtful, romantic and suspenseful. Her attitude is also a bit insulting to those she is championing; a person's sexuality is not the sum of them - Jules Cassidy worked so well, particularly in the previous books, because he was a handsome, intelligent, brave, tough-as-nails FBI agent that was incidentally homosexual, not because he was a homosexual handsome, etc. At the end of Breaking Point, Jule begins abortive romance with a US Marine combat veteran, Ben, who is later KIA whilst Jules is on assignment; as a Marine, Ben was in the closet, having a 'beard' girlfriend/fiancee who knew his secret. Ben is buried, without Jules in attendance, with full military honours by his family who were completely unaware of his real sexuality. Prior to us learning Ben has died, Jules declares to Alyssa that the relationship would only have worked had Jules "done what Ben wanted" and "climbed back into that closet with him" - that came across as nothing but petulant and selfish, and the whole implication I got from SB's writing (which I found offensive, to be honest) was that Ben should have been true to himself and that it was somehow his own fault he died because he wasn't true to himself - so he was to sacrifice being a Marine, which he loved and in which career he excelled as a decorated combat veteran, for the sake of Jules' simplistic propaganda worldview, which would have seen his career destroyed and his life ruined - particularly snce SB was at great pains to keep reminding the reader that Jules was really in love with someone else anyway.
SB's agenda overshadows the writing of the entire book, which is a shame, because whilst it's an ok read, it could have been "up there" with the best titles of her Troubleshooter series, like Gone Too Far (Sam/Alyssa), Breaking Point (Max/Gina, Jones/Molly), Hot Target (Cosmo/Jane) and Flashpoint, for the completely platonic but deep, close friendship between Decker & Nash or Breaking Point again for the same friendship between Max & Jules.
She could have done so much more with the culpability of Seal Tm 16 plus Dan and Eden themselves in their attitudes and how that causes others to view them; in a previous book, we see how the Gillmans grew up in an affluent neighbourhood but were poor after they lost their money. Seal Team 16 (including Izzy) believed Dan Gillman to be a silver-spoon wealthy man. Eden is right to have issues with her brother - his response to their problems was to imitate their father by abandoning the family (he "ran away" to the Navy) and imitate their mother by making Eden the scapegoat - she didn't blindly do/think what I wanted, so she's bad. In previous books, Eden was an adult, regardless of her biological age, because of what she'd experienced with her useless mother, runaway father/brother, etc., but here she regresses to angsty immature teen in some places.
Then there's Izzy - again a previous book alludes to him being an ignored child of nearly a dozen siblings and the victim of domestic violence from a father who beat him severely. Here that thread seems to be lost; his and Dan's long-standing animosity seems to be resolved with a "hey, presto!" as if SB suddenly realised she had nearly reached the novel word-count limit and needed to wrap up everything for the publisher. Whilst not at the level of a sudden 'bromance' like McGarrett-Danno in the rebooted Hawaii 5-0, which would have been completely unbeliavable, it was far too simplistic a resolution to pay dues to their years of misunderstanding mutual tension. Izzy was a much better developed character (as was Eden) during Into The Storm. What irritates me again is that SB can and has done excellent 'bromance' - completely platonic but deep, intimate friendship - between two men - read any TS novel incorporating Lawrence Decker and Jimmy "Nash" as significant characters for how bromance should be done (Flashpoint, Into the Fire).
Likewise with Dan's girlfriend Jennilyn, who in any real universe was way out of his league and really needed to grow a spine. Yes, she loved him, but no relationship will work if only one party is willing to make the effort; Dan didn't appear to actually "grow up" in a mature adult emotionally during the book, whilst she was light years ahead in her emotionaly maturity; again, her and Dan's issues were almost magically resolved with no discussion or retrospective in the light of new understanding/new information.
Then Ben and Neesha; Neesha was simply superfluous to requirements. At the risk of being unkind, the child-sex-brothel-slavery ring was overkill in a novel that should have concentrated on developing the more than adequate plot-threads begun in earlier books. Eg, Ben was a minor, so when he ran away/Eden et al "kidnapped" him, you immediately had enough meaty plotlines involving the FBI, Child Protection Services, police procedurals, etc., which would have also been an excuse to bring back characters like Max and Jules plausibly.
And there was far too little TS/ST 16 until the end of the book, where they seemed tacked on as an afterthought; SEALs are trained to insert into places with -stan in the name and take out Taleban, so a bunch of paedophiliac criminals were a cakewalk - there was no suspense, no threat that one of the team could be in real danger, or that would force Izzy and Dan to work together for their survival, etc. See earlier TS novels like Breaking Point, for how a SEAL/FBI suspense novel should read.
I apologise to other reviewers if this seems like one long moan. If you're new to TS, don't start here because it will make no sense, and I do recommend the previous books in the series (particularly those involving Lawrence Decker and his best friend Jimmy Nash), but I also think SB has been very wise in going on hiatus if this title is anything to go by. It's rushed, has far too many subplots competing for space that are then resolved in implausible "with one bound he was free" type fudging, and is is perilously close to being a non-fiction pamphlet for her pet cause than a romantic suspense fiction novel.
It reminds me of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern - contrast the likes of The White Dragon with the dull turgid Renegades of Pern, until she got back "into it" with Dragonsdawn. This novel smacks of a writer who has lost her sparkle and has knocked something out to fulfil a publishing contract obligation - contrast this with Breaking Point, or her recent non-TS novel, Infamous, which was fresh, funny, romantic, suspenseful, innovative and witty - everything that BtR should be and isn't.
There's nothing wrong in taking a break if the old "zing pzzzt" feeling isn't there, and maybe us readers bear some culpability - we crave the next title so are always badgering for it and publishers, who understandably exist to make profit, are only too happy to tie the poor author into a 2-books per year plus touring/promoting contract which starts to falter as the author begins to lose their joy in their work and feel like they're a hamster on a wheel.
Several of my favourite authors like Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Jayne Ann Krentz, Dean Koontz and PN Elrod went through the same sudden plummeting drop in quality with formulaic write-by-numbers before gradually moving back to quality writing again - for example, look at the sagging middle section of Elrod's Vampire Files and contrast early Koontz's Cold Fire or Lightning Road with the pap he churned out before coming up with Odd Thomas; every time Christine Feehan brings out a new Carpathia title or Gena Showalter a new LotU I brace myself for that same "not enjoying it anymore" vibe, though fortunately so far it hasn't happened.
I hope SB takes the opportunity to completely ignore the TS universe for a while so she can come back with fresh eyes and fresh enthusiasm for it and give us a TS novel that is Infamous, not Breaking the Rules.