My Hero

 
Big Trouble by Marianna Jameson
(Signet Eclipse, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-21825-6
***
The equivalent of a cool, fizzy drink on a hot day, this would be a good choice as a beach book.

Naomi Connor is a computer security consultant who, after a mis-spent youth as a hacker, now uses her considerable skills to test the defenses of her employer’s clients. When Brennan Shipping, a large defense contractor, hires her firm to audit its new security systems, Naomi convinces her boss to let her have the assignment. She sees it not only as a fast track to making partner, but also as a way to redeem herself for almost destroying Brennan years ago when, as a teenager, she inadvertently helped an Eastern Bloc crime syndicate hack into its data banks.

Once she gets the job of testing their newest systems, however, she finds herself on tenterhooks around the Brennan family, waiting for someone to point at her and shout j’accuse.

She’s particularly uncomfortable around Joe Brennan, a lawyer acting as Brennan’s Chief Technology Officer until the audit is over. Joe is vocal about despising hackers, and makes no secret of the fact that he’d like to see them all behind bars.

Naomi’s life is further complicated by the fact that she finds Joe Brennan “seriously adorable.” Joe is disconcerted to find that the new consultant is not some mousy girl geek but as beautiful and sexy as she is smart. Both are determined to keep their relationship strictly professional while they’re working together, but fortunately for the reader that becomes more and more difficult as these two get to know each other. Things get even more complicated when the security audit reveals that someone inside Brennan is systematically stealing classified material.

The first thing I like about this book is that, while Naomi and Joe are both highly intelligent, and the author lets them act like smart people (albeit smart people with their own quirks and insecurities) from beginning to end – no convenient stupid protagonist tricks to move the plot along. Brava, Ms. Jameson.

The second thing I like is that one of the things Joe likes best about Naomi is how smart she is. Yes, he’s attracted to her physically, but he’s nuts about the fact that she’s really good at what she does and challenges him intellectually with no apologies.

I very much like the way the sexual tension is heightened by their reluctance to get involved for professional reasons, even as they find it increasingly difficult to keep their hands off each other. Romances are so much more satisfying when the characters have to fight their attraction for a while – and for a real reason that’s driven by character and plot, not some made-up nonsense that has the author’s boot prints all over it. The sex is pleasantly steamy once they do give in.

There’s enough plot to keep the whole thing ticking over nicely and the pace is generally good, although it does get a bit stalled in the middle.

I was ambivalent, I’ll admit, about Naomi’s tendency to second guess Joe and assume she knew what he was thinking. Ms. Jameson rendered it very realistically, so in the first half of the book it gave me that squirmy ‘too close to home’ feeling – which is not necessarily a bad thing. It did get a bit tiresome, though, when Naomi never figured out that she was usually wrong. It may have been realistic, but reality doesn’t always make riveting fiction.

Joe is a lovely hero – kind of a beta hiding in alpha clothing. He’s surprisingly alert and sensitive, but always in a nice guy-ish way – he never falls into the ‘girlfriend with a penis’ trap. The characters do go around in circles a bit, which partially accounts for the slight sag in the middle, but it wasn’t a huge deal – I always kept reading. The secondary characters – mostly Joe’s family – added some nice color, and it felt as though the author did her homework on security systems. I know nothing about this stuff, but I had no ‘yeah, right’ moments, which is always a treat.

In other words, pick it up if you’re looking for a light, entertaining summer read.

-- Judi McKee


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