|I've been a Suzanne Brockmann fan for quite a while. It's not just the gripping action-packed adventure stories, the multi-layered plots, and the stirring romance featuring complex characters that I enjoy. It's also Brockmann's repeated attempts to promote diversity and tolerance as a key feature of the American way. Her heroes and heroines have a variety of racial origins, social backgrounds, and sexual profiles, but they all stand for the same thing: honor in the most profound sense of the term. Having said this, I must confess that I didn't read the last two books in the series, as I was beginning to identify a slightly repetitive quality to the stories. She doesn't go down a completely different path in Force of Nature, but it definitely deserves to be read. Jules Cassidy, the gay FBI agent who has been around for the last ten or so books, finally gets his story, and what a story it is.
Because P.I. Ric Alvarado is on what he believes to be a routine missing-person investigation, he allows Annie Dugan, a childhood friend who works as his receptionist, to tag along. The investigation blows out of proportion, and they end up saving the life of Gordon Burns, Jr., the son of a Florida gangster.
Burns and his son are suspected of trying to smuggle a dangerous terrorist into the country. The FBI's undercover agent investigating them has disappeared, so Max Bhagat and Jules Cassidy decide to see whether they can exploit Ric's and Alice's new "in." Jules flies to Sarasota, Florida to supervise the investigation up close.
In town is the love of Jules's life - Robin Chadwick, a Hollywood actor, first introduced in Hot Target. Robin has finally acknowledged his homosexuality, but although he realizes that Jules is the One for him, he isn't ready to come out of the closet. Nor does he admit to his alcoholism. This gives Jules several good reasons why he should steer clear of Robin, but love is, well, love. The four work together, hatching plot after far-fetched plot in their attempt to stop the terrorist and to bring the Burnses to justice.
The action scenes are, as usual, well-drawn and vivid, and Brockmann does an excellent job maintaining suspense by using multiple points of view and by introducing an ever-growing cast of bad guys. Things quickly get very complicated, but at no time did this feel contrived or unintelligible.
Robin and Jules are by far the most interesting couple in the novel, and it is sad that even the daring Brockmann didn't give them the main billing. Though appealing and entertaining, Ric and Annie are a bit too familiar to Brockmann readers. (I can name at least three books featuring feisty and independent tomboy heroines pitted against misjudged charmers). What's more, their romantic conflicts seem artificial and forced, but I suspect that even if they didn't, this relationship would pale next to Robin and Jules's more moving and complex one. With so much stacked up against them, it is hard to imagine that the two men will get their happy-ever-after, but they do and their story is as convincing and inspiring as any.
Some familiar characters, including Max Bhagat, Sam Starrett and Alyssa Locke, make a brief appearance. Brockmann also introduces a new secondary character, African-American lawyer Martell Griffin, a former cop who used to be on the force with Ric and still remains his best friend. I'm not sure whether he is absolutely necessary for the story, but he is a wonderful character who is very likely to turn up again.
I'm a bad judge, but I nevertheless feel that the story stands on its own. Even with the familiar territory, Force of Nature is Suzanne Brockmann at her near-best: complex characters, stirring romance, non-stop thrills with an important message about tolerance and the power of love thrown in.