Reviewed by Ian Lipke
I must say that, when I read this book, I was looking for something escapist, something that required next to no cerebral effort, in short, just a rattling good yarn. And that is what I found.
A General of some hidden department in the Pentagon has the bright idea of setting up electronic games machines in the services’ mess. After a suitable time the men or women with the highest scores on the video games are taken from their regular jobs and trained on computer software that can read the paths ahead of soldiers in unsafe areas and alert patrols to the danger lurking up ahead. For reasons never made clear, the selected personnel are put through physical fitness tests that are designed for the SAS (or the American equivalent). Meanwhile, a secret enemy sets out to ruin the General’s day by surreptitious means.
Of course the best video player is an attractive woman called Jini Modell, and it falls on Jini to prove to the tough soldiers of her new unit that she is fit for the task. The silent, embittered leader Levi Butcher makes her as unwelcome as it is possible to be. She trains harder than anyone else and forges ahead with her physical training. Levi makes success almost impossible. Why? Because he has a rule the men under his command must abide by. Being the only female she is off-limits. If Levi can get Jini to resign, then the way becomes clear for him to get her into his bed.
So far, we’re doing OK. We have an unrealistic scenario populated by a games whiz who is lusted after by a leader who is controlled by a trivial rule, the whole show conceptualised and driven by an ego-driven General. Of course the woman passes all tests with flying colours weeks ahead of others doing the same training. And of course, when left behind by her team, she can run many miles in poorly fitting boots to catch the last helicopter out.
Beginning a book with so many ‘inadequacies’ does not mean that a disastrous book is inevitable. There is the purpose of the book and the author’s style yet to consider. This is where Linda Howard shines. This writer knows how to tell a story. She keeps up the suspense, writes action scenes well and creates characters that are realistic people placed in unrealistic scenarios who get the job done. Sex scenes are referred to until the situations are resolved. Referred to rather than actual, yet Howard’s scenes sizzle.
Jini is well drawn. She is a woman with her feet on the ground, placed in situations that stretch her normal life patterns. She focuses the reader each time she appears. She is central to chapters of magnificent dialogue. She has a sense of humour that appeals to the men and can stand up to whatever they quip with a rebuttal that’s clever and sharp. They love her, admire her courage, and recognise her value to the team. The location for the obligatory tattoo she keeps secret to the chagrin of her comrades.
Her gruff soulmate is not up to Jini’s standard. Linda Howard may have wanted a hero figure that everybody could relate to on a personal level. I read him as an anal-retentive guy who believes that he is teaching her to stand unsupported, but doesn’t have the faintest clue about getting the best out of people. Snap at her, ignore any faint signals for assistance or just warmth, if she wants to mix with his big boys, then earn a place with them with an impossibly short period of training. Despite his scandalous treatment of her, his body betrays him, and he calls his lust, love. He never once considers that she might not make love to him the very moment he drops his trousers. The stage is set for this only possible ending. When it happens he remains in character, a man who sweeps all before him as though loutish behaviour will win her heart.
This is a well drafted book. The author has no doubt choreographed each scene and, in so doing, has provided us with just the light relief I was looking for when I began the book. It’s a fluffy book, but it’s good fluff.
As usual, if we are to believe what every publisher seems to be saying about every author, she is a New York Times best selling author. Linda Howard may well be.
By Linda Howard