The Admiral's Bride

Bodyguard

Body Language

Everyday, Average Jones

Forbidden

Freedom's Price

Get Lucky

Harvard's Education

Heartthrob

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

Kiss and Tell

Love With the Proper Stranger

Time Enough for Love

Undercover Princess

 
The Unsung Hero
by Suzanne Brockmann
(Ivy, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8041-1952-X
****
In my December 1999 review of Bodyguard, I noted that Suzanne Brockmann's "Tall Dark and Dangerous" category romances were not my cup of tea. So when I received my copy of The Unsung Hero, and saw a man in uniform on the front cover, my first response was, "Ugh, not a military romance." Once I started reading, however, I realized that the military aspect of the story was actually only a small part of the whole, and that the whole was pretty darn good. So if, like me, you shy away from those armed forces stories, I urge you to not judge this book by its cover.

I liked everything about the hero, U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. Tom Paoletti, including the fact that he's starting to go bald and is not afraid to admit it. Tom arrives in Baldwin's Bridge, on Boston's North Shore, to recover from the head injury he suffered during his last mission. Although he needs the rest, Tom is itching to get back to work and head off an Admiral who wants to dismantle his Special Operations team. Tom needs to be on his best behavior, prove he's fully recovered both mentally and physically, and lay low for a month.

No problem, except that at Logan airport, Tom catches a glimpse of an international terrorist who allegedly died four years ago in Liverpool, England. His face looks different, but his eyes are still recognizable. If Tom reports the sighting, it's likely to be considered the paranoid delusion of a man who is still experiencing the lingering effects of head trauma. This may be just the excuse the overzealous Admiral needs to eliminate Tom's Troubleshooters from the budget. But if there's the slightest chance that Tom is right, then hundreds of lives could be at stake.

Tom would like to carefully consider his options once he's settled in Baldwin's Bridge, but that's not going to happen either. Because he's about to come face to face with Kelly Ashton, a beautiful pediatrician who was his first love, back when he was the town's bad boy. Tom ran away from Kelly sixteen years ago, but she's determined not to let him get away this time. She's tired of being seen as a "nice girl," and Tom is just the person who can help her be really, really bad.

Then there's Tom's Great Uncle Joe, and Kelly's father Charles Ashton -- two old friends who are suddenly at odds with each other over Joe's decision to talk to a reporter about a memorable World War II battle that is being commemorated on its 55th anniversary. Charles is dying of cancer, and would prefer that the truth about that battle die with him, while Joe wants to reveal the accurate account of how thousands of men were saved because of one man's courage.

Tom's 18 year-old niece Mallory complicates the picture too. His sister Angela wants him to do something about Mallory before the foul-mouthed, chain-smoking girl becomes a teenage pregnancy statistic and another good-for-nothing Paoletti.

So if Tom can resist Kelly's advances, keep Joe and Charles from coming to blows and straighten out Mallory, he might be able to figure out if he's lost his mind completely or if there really is a terrorist threat in his own backyard. Not bad for 30 days of alleged convalescent leave!

The front and back cover of the novel lead the reader to believe that the terrorist angle is the major focus of The Unsung Hero, but please rest assured that it is only one part of a very rich, satisfying novel that also includes two romances, lots of sly humor, and powerful reminiscences of a love triangle that took place during the dangerous French Resistance of WWII. In fact, the secondary romance, featuring Tom's niece Mallory, is arguably stronger than the primary love story. David Sullivan is a shy young man who hopes to become a successful graphic novel creator. When he sees Mallory Paoletti, he knows she would be the perfect model for his new heroine, Nightshade. Unfortunately, tough-as-nails Mallory thinks the bespectacled David is a total dork AND a geek. How these two fall in love and realize they each have something to offer is brilliantly related by Brockmann in a very funny and sweet manner.

The terrorist plot doesn't swing into high gear until the last hundred pages of the novel, leaving plenty of time for Tom and Kelly to get reacquainted. Frankly, Kelly is the one weak link in the story. Although I admit that I enjoyed their highly charged flirting, Kelly changes her colors more often than a traffic light at a busy intersection. First she gives Tom the green light for "just wild sex." Then she acts hurt and turns on the red light when he agrees to offer her just that. Then she agrees they should be friends who have sex. Then she backs away when he admits he loves her. With an alcoholic, emotionally distant father, she has a poor role model, but even so her wishy-washiness is vastly annoying.

Fortunately, the last 30 pages of the novel are so suspenseful and powerful that any minor weakness is forgiven. The dramatic appearance of the all-too-real terrorist and the resolution of the decades-old love triangle converge into an exciting and poignant conclusion.

The Unsung Hero is already garnering raves from other reviewers and readers. Sometimes, I feel as if I should offer a unique, dissenting opinion about a popular author instead of just climbing on the bandwagon. Well, that's not going to happen this time. If you want a well-written, emotional but also humorous romance, with interesting, three-dimensional characters, put this book on the top of your list. The hero may be unsung, but Brockmann's talents deserve to be celebrated.

--Susan Scribner


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