Awaken to Danger

Code of Honor

Fully Engaged

Grayson's Surrender

Pursued

Taking Cover

Wedding at White Sands

 
On Target by Catherine Mann
(HQN, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-373-77212-4
***
Although this is a very readable story, familiar characters and a predictable plot mean this book isn’t so much romantic suspense as romantic déjà vu.

Shane and Sherry O’Riley are about to divorce. In fact, Shane, a Tech Sergeant in the Air Force, is traveling to the remote Caribbean island where Sherry, an NGO (non-governmental organization) aid worker, is posted, bearing the papers for Sherry’s signature.

Shane and Sherry married after a whirlwind courtship and in the sporadic times they’ve managed to be together since, have never been able to find the compromises that would let them have a happy, satisfying relationship out of bed. Sexually, their relation remains combustible.

When the crew of Shane’s experimental CV-22 aircraft receives word that a nearby cruise ship is under attack, they divert to fight the terrorists off, then continue on their way to deliver the supplies that Sherry’s group needs. It’s difficult for the two of them to see each other, especially since the experience so clearly delineates two of the major hurdles in their marriage: Sherry is sometimes sent to unsafe parts of the world, where she lives for months at a time with her adopted daughters, Cara, 8, and Mally, 6. Shane’s profession is even more dangerous, since he gave up a pro baseball career to serve in the Air Force following 9/11.

Shortly after Shane’s crew arrives, the island is attacked by the same terrorists who threatened the cruise ship, and no one knows why. They do know, however, that all Americans must be evacuated. Shane is happy to get the woman who is still his wife, and the girls he loves as if they were his own, back to the relative safety of the U.S.

Except the States aren’t quite as safe as they should be. Disturbing incidents dog Shane’s family, and the reader knows (although the characters do not) that both a traitor and a terrorist are nearby, hiding in plain sight.

The strong points of this book are Catherine Mann’s effortless prose and her insightful depiction of personal dynamics. Sherry and Shane have clearly reached a crossroads in their marriage and the author does a nice job of showing them taking digs at each other then backing off – partly because it’s not getting them anywhere and partly because, if they’re splitting, there’s nothing to fight for any more.

In addition to their relationship with each other, Shane and Sherry have strong ties to friends and co-workers as well as their daughters. There is also a nice secondary romance between one of Shane’s crew-mates and a colleague of Sherry’s, and this romance between characters who have an unfortunate history adds what little real suspense the story possesses, because it’s one of the few situations whose resolution is not a foregone conclusion.

Shane is a strong, competent, honorable alpha warrior type, who’s far more comfortable with action than with introspection although he’s a wonderful father to Cara and Mally. He would prefer a stay-at-home wife – after all, it would be a lot easier for him to spend time with his wife and family when he gets back from his various overseas deployments, if they were actually home when he got there instead of off building schools and sewage systems in the third world.

But Sherry is equally committed to making a positive difference in the world, although she goes about it differently. She’s also a devoted mother who home-schools her daughters and ensures that they’re culturally as well as intellectually prepared to be American citizens.

But these characters are staples of romantic suspense, and what the author has not done is taken the stereotypes and injected them with the dose of unique individuality they need to jump off the page. I feel as though I’ve read about these characters, in very similar situations, many times before.

There’s a predictable crisis near the end of the book which is no doubt intended to ramp up tension, and of course it makes the hero and heroine realize that their love is worth fighting for, but most of the book involves fairly static soul-searching. Not really what I was hoping for in a book whose cover promises “riveting action” and “relentless suspense.”

-- Judi McKee


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