Mission Recovery, Book 1
Heat Factor: Lots of longing and a bit of steam
Character Chemistry: Opposites attract
Plot: There is a bad dude doing bad dude stuff
Why did I pick this book up? I don’t love Romantic Suspense. I don’t love military heroes – and this guy is a Navy SEAL, the most Alpha of all military heroes. Honestly, I’m not sure. But I did, for some reason, and I read it, and… it’s really really good.
What works? First off, the plot is actually suspenseful. The opening scene is the tragic death of a military veteran driving home to his family just after getting out of rehab – a death that is clearly no accident. The second scene opens with the following line: “Do not confront your stalker.” So right off the bad, we’re drawn in to two separate suspense plots, that weave together in various ways as the book progresses.
The action centers around a rehab facility for veterans in a small town in Pennsylvania. Our heroine, Annie, is an eco-therapist there. Our hero, Cole Makani Hunter (frequently referred to by his full name) is a veteran who lost the use of his right arm and his hearing and is now in rehab. But he’s also on a secret special op, because someone from the rehab center has been texting military secrets to Yemen.
So we have three threats, which may originate from the same person, or different people:
- Someone is stalking Annie
- Someone is killing veterans associated with the rehab facility
- Someone is selling state secrets
Marton ratchets up the suspense in each of these areas simultaneously, while also scattering in clues (and red herrings) as to what is actually going on and who the villain might be. For example, we know from the beginning that Annie is being stalked by her ex-boyfriend, Joey, who seems mostly harmless, but is still definitely stalking her. But then there’s some damage done to her property, and some roadkill left outside her house, and someone comes into her home to watch her sleep. All of this could be Joey, but… maybe not.
In addition, there’s a hurricane coming; as the events unfold over the course of a week or so, various characters hear news reports about the status of the storm, or have side-conversations about it. The impending rainstorm metaphorically reinforces the storm going on at the human level, but it feels woven in. It’s not like Marton is beating the reader over the head here, she just throws in the occasional reminder.
But actual suspense is not the only thing necessary for a good romantic suspense story, and I am happy to report that the romance is also top notch. In Annie and Cole, we have a classic case of opposites attract.
Annie is a super hippie-dippy eco-therapist. In this instance, eco-therapy seems to consist mainly of hiking barefoot, because you “absorb negative electrons from the earth through the bottoms of your feet.” (I think negative electrons are a good thing?) She thinks things like “the music of the earth filled her heart with joy and peace.” People who know me would probably say that I am on the crunchy end of the earth-mother spectrum (Erin may or may not have made me more than one item emblazoned with the words “tree hugger”), but Annie takes it to a whole other level, and even I found some of the things she says about the Power of Nature incredibly cheesy. By the way, in her spare time, she rescues injured animals. So her garage is full of misfit animals who have not yet been rehomed. Including two litters of baby skunks.
Cole, on the other hand, is not a skunk rescuer, and thinks that Annie’s eco-therapy is a bunch of woo-woo nonsense. He is an extremely stoic and scary former sniper. When they first meet, at a gas station, Annie is kind of terrified of him, because he is huge and muscley and tatooed and also his hand is bleeding because he just punched a wall. He is processing a lot of stuff because not only did he kill a lot of people, he was also a POW for six months. When Annie makes a joke, he doesn’t smile, “but he was maybe thinking about someone he’d seen smiling at breakfast in the cafeteria.”
The contrast is basically: Annie is wholesome and nurturing and giving – maybe a little too much for her own good. Cole is… not. However, their mutual attraction is completely believable, and not just because of the requisite hotness (you know, big muscles, generous lips, etc etc etc). The view that Marton provides the reader into their thought process helps here. For example, at one point Cole thinks: “Being with her was like… reading poetry. And why he would think of that, he couldn’t fathom. He hadn’t read poetry since high school, dammit.” This short passage really encapsulates what he finds attractive about Annie (she pushes him towards something different, but in a good way) while also remaining true to his character (because of course he doesn’t read poetry, and is mildly frustrated at the fact that poetry is even invading his mind).
I also really appreciated that Marton’s characters actually take violence against women seriously. If anything, Cole takes the escalating threats against Annie much more seriously than she does, which serves as a bonus swoon moment for Cole and is also indicative of Annie’s character and a broader phenomenon of women not wanting to be a nuisance or take up space with their problems. At this point, Annie has not yet been attacked, but destroying property and leaving dead animals around for someone to find are both signs that things could get ugly in the future.
I had a few minor quibbles. Mainly, Annie is one of those heroines that every single man is in love with, but she believes that she is cursed in love (given that she has at least one stalker, there are signs that she attracts the crazies). But like – all the guys in rehab are a little in love with her. Her coworkers are in love with her. Her ex-boyfriend can’t get over her. The cop who comes and takes her statement probably has the hots for her.
This may have been a strategic decision on Marton’s part to increase the suspense (if everyone loves her, anyone can be the stalker), but I found it a bit grating.
Also, I was ultimately disappointed by the bad guy. His motivations are basically: this dude be crazy. How about a bad guy who is not soooooo evil, so that the ultimate interaction is a little more believable?
However, the things I liked well outweighed the things I didn’t. So here I am, recommending a Romantic Suspense book to all of you. Go read it, please and you’re welcome.
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