All right, what is "romantic suspense?" I had no idea. I've been
known to pick up a suspense novel once in a while, but
romantic suspense? From a guy's standpoint, the concept of
"romantic suspense" is usually limited to those moments when he's
wondering if he's going to wind up in a horizontal position on the
first date. From a literary standpoint ... well, I do have sitting
on my bookshelf all of those "Lady From LUST" paperback knockoffs
of James Bond that were sold at some of the nation's less reputable
outlets in the 1960s.
But taking a look at FLASHPOINT by Suzanne Brockmann, I figured
that this wasn't going to be one of those. The cover has a man and
a woman in silhouette, walking through an archway with a set of,
uh, well, headlights behind them ... I mean, it doesn't knock you
over the head, but you don't have to take a college course on "The
Films of Federico Fellini" to figure it out, either. FLASHPOINT is
going to be more concerned with ripped bodices and heaving bosoms
than karate and explosions. Well, actually, there are a few
explosions, but more like the kind you would find in a Harold
Robbins novel than in, say, Matthew Reilly's SCARECROW.
All of which is to beg the question: how is FLASHPOINT? Well ...
it's really, really good. FLASHPOINT, if one wanted to quibble, is
a romantic espionage novel. Jimmy Nash is a newly retired CIA agent
who now works for Troubleshooters, Inc., a freelancing group
specializing in covert operations. Nash, his sidekick, friend
Lawrence Decker and a small team of operatives are sent to
Kazbekistan ostensibly as relief workers. Their real mission,
however, is to track down a missing laptop computer belonging to a
deceased al-Qaeda operative that contains information vital to the
national security of the United States.
The mission puts Nash in close proximity to Tess Bailey, another
Troubleshooters operative. Nash and Bailey had a tryst some months
prior to the Kazbekistan mission, after which Nash more or less
disappeared from Bailey's life. Nash is actually more nervous about
working in close quarters to Bailey than he is about losing his
life in Kazbekistan, which is ravaged by war and by earthquakes. To
make matters worse, the mission requires Nash and Bailey to
masquerade as husband and wife. Nash additionally feels somewhat
guilty; having discovered that his buddy Deck was, and is,
interested in Bailey, Nash won't do anything about it.
Deck soon acquires his own romantic interest in the person of one
Sophia Ghaffari. Sophia, as it happens, is the widow of Dimitri
Ghaffari, who was supposed to be the Troubleshooters team contact
but was brutally murdered in her presence by one Padsha Bashir, an
iron-fisted Kazbekistan warlord who has taken Sophia as his
concubine. Ghaffari may well have possession of dodging bullets and
tremors and a large amount of duplicity all the way.
Altogether, FLASHPOINT is an impressive work. Brockmann gets points
for continuing to explore new directions and doing so quite well.
And let's also tip our hats to the marketing folks at Ballantine.
FLASHPOINT includes a new short story featuring Sam Starrett and
Alyssa Locke from Brockmann's previous novel GONE TOO FAR. While
paperback editions of hardcovers include excerpts from forthcoming
novels, this is the first time that I can recall a hardcover
containing an original short story featuring another of an author's
characters. Nice work, from both Ballantine and Brockmann.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011