The Admiral's Bride


Body Language

Everyday, Average Jones


Freedom's Price

Get Lucky

Harvard's Education


It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

Kiss and Tell

Love With the Proper Stranger

Time Enough for Love

Undercover Princess

The Unsung Hero

The Defiant Hero by Suzanne Brockmann
(Ivy, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8041-1953-8
Oh Suzanne! If you would just leave your Navy SEAL heroes back in your "Tall Dark and Dangerous" Silhouette Intimate Moments series, I'd be so much happier. You have loads of talent, evident in Heartthrob and Bodyguard, two delightful novels that featured nary a SEAL. Even last year's The Unsung Hero was enjoyable because the Navy SEAL storyline was only one of three poignant but often humorous romances. But now you've gone and written The Defiant Hero, which should be subtitled "Taller, Darker and More Dangerous." I'm a little disappointed, and not just because military romances aren't my cup of tea. But I must hasten to add that a less-than-stellar Brockmann is head and shoulders above 75% of what I've read in the past six months.

I certainly give Brockmann credit for creating an exciting, suspenseful story. The book opens with a smiling gunman confronting Meg Moore in her D.C. condo's parking garage. He informs her that he is a Kazbekistani terrorist, whose group has just taken Meg's ten-year old daughter, Amy, and her grandmother hostage. If Meg wants to see her daughter alive again, she must use her position as a translator at the Kazbekistan embassy to take a rival terrorist hostage and murder him in cold blood. If she involves anyone else, Amy and Eve will be killed immediately.

After managing to corner her target in the embassy men's room, Meg demands to the authorities that she talk to one specific person - Navy SEAL Lt. John Nilsson. Several years ago, while Meg was still married and posted in Kazbekistan, she shared a brief, intense relationship with "Nils," and she knows his SEAL team of "Troubleshooters" is capable of pulling off near-impossible feats. But can she trust him with the life of her child? How far will Meg go to save Amy - is she willing to kill another person and perhaps die herself?

For his part, John Nilsson has been infatuated with Meg ever since their first meeting, even though she was several years older and married. He hadn't heard from her in ages, so he wasn't aware that she is now a widow. He hoped that she would contact him someday, but he never expected to see her in these extreme circumstances. The handsome, suave lieutenant comes across as an Ivy League dream - does he dare tell Meg the truth about his background as he's desperately trying to earn her trust?

Meanwhile, Meg's grandmother, Eve, tries to keep Amy's spirits up as the two are held hostage. She tells Amy about her life in England, and of the man she loved and lost during the early days of World War II. At the same time, two characters first introduced in The Unsung Hero, SEAL Ensign Sam Starrett and FBI agent Alyssa Locke, engage in lots of mutual antipathy, even though they are both wildly attracted to each other. But Locke, a beautiful biracial woman who has had to battle sexism throughout her career, is determined to stay away from good ol' boy Starrett and his annoying tendency to call her "sweet thing."

I can see the appeal in these SEAL stories. The good guys are heroic - they wear dress whites, for goodness' sake - while the bad guys are the boo! hiss! kind of faceless terrorists and other assorted crazed assassins. But frankly, life is not all black and white, and I like both my heroes and my villains to have more complexity, even to struggle with the issues of right and wrong.

Apart from not being a SEAL fan, I have some other fairly serious concerns about The Defiant Hero, starting with its heroine. From the moment Meg is introduced, on page one, until almost the very end of the book, she is in crisis mode. Despite some flashback scenes to her earlier relationship with Nils, the reader never gets to know her as a basic person, just a woman who is at the end of her rope. And frankly, she has just about enough rope to hang herself. She relies on Nils to save her time and time again, which makes him look very heroic but makes her look totally vulnerable Which wouldn't even be so bad, but she keeps asking for help, then sabotaging Nils and taking off on her own, until she needs him again.

The three plotlines - Meg and Nils, Alyssa and Sam, and Eve's storytelling for Amy - are interspersed every few pages, and the abrupt shift from one view to another can be rather unsettling. Again, it makes for a suspenseful read, but just as you're getting caught up in a set of characters, boom, you're out of there and on to the next. And while Eve's World War II story is heartfelt, and arguably the best romance in the book, it doesn't feel well integrated into the rest of the novel.

By the end of the book, two of the three plots are resolved, but one duo (guess who) are still at odds, primed and ready for the next Brockmann novel, Over the Edge in September 2001. I know I will read it, because I can't leave these characters hanging. But if Brockmann is going to insist on writing more military romances, I won't be along for the ride. Please, Suzanne, you can keep your SEAL lovers happy with more Silhouette Intimate Moments, but some of your fans want to see more diverse settings and characters.

--Susan Scribner

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