Last Man Standing -- Cindy Gerard
Book 7 (final) of Black Ops, Inc. series
-- follows The Bodyguards series
2012 Release -- Pocket Star Books
Romantic Suspense, Military, International
Here is the opening line to Last Man Standing:
Joe Green was as good as dead. He’d known it the moment he’d started digging for answers to questions no one wanted asked.
What he hadn’t known was the havoc his hunt would create.
From the Prologue of this book and onward, there was not a moment I wasn’t sitting at the edge of my seat, anxious about the outcome of this book. Between Joe Green’s life-or-death circumstances and Stephanie Tompkin’s stellar development, there didn’t seem to be a moment of rest for either of our main characters.
And before I jump into it, unlike previous books, Last Man Standing unfortunately doesn’t feature the rest of the BOIs participating in the overall conflict at all. I’m a bit disappointed, though I kind of see what Ms. Gerard was trying to accomplish here. More on that later.
Joe Green’s search for answers about Bryan Tompkin’s death rolls over from With No Remorse and we come upon him in super noble idiocy mode. Being troubled with what he’s found, Joe decides to make this a solo mission thinking that if he screws up, he’ll likely bring down all of his loved ones with him. So, pulling out from the team on Personal Leave, Joe returns to Sierra Leone to find out the truth behind Bryan Tompkin’s death.
In the meantime, he decides to play protector and hero and breaks up with Stephanie Tompkins (Bryan’s little sister) who he’s been seeing since the fourth installment, Feel the Heat, without telling her anything or giving any reasons.
Any reasonable Cindy Gerard fan knows that, of course, Steph isn’t going to just sit back and let Joe rot when she finds out what has happened to him. In Sierra Leone, Joe has stumbled upon a possible lead to Bryan’s death and the mission that went FUBAR fifteen years ago. But before he reaches the priest for questioning, the man has been killed and somehow, Joe is framed for murder and arrested.
This is where we pretty much start the story off.
Being NSA, I was fairly certain that Steph would find out eventually what was going on with Joe. Why he thought he could keep his little traveling stint a secret from anyone was a bit optimistic of him, considering the friends he keeps. But, yeah, thanks to Steph’s co-worker and friend, Rhonda Burns (who has the makings for a potential main character with her character description and who has already been brought into play with Cindy’s newest book, Running Blind ), Steph learns that Joe has been arrested for the murder of a priest in Sierra Leone. But since the news sources aren’t announcing that Joe is American, that means he won’t likely be getting any help from the U.S. embassy, and that the Sierra Leone government intends to keep this arrest confidential.
And so what does our heroine do but head to Africa with all intentions of rescuing Joe… unarmed, unprepared, and without a plan, of course.
While the idea is noble and it makes for good story telling, I’m a slight bit aghast that Stephanie would simply rush into danger like that without any plan or forethought. Even with the BOIs out of commission (they are on an op that requires complete and total blackout), I would think she’d try different options before taking herself into a different country to play hero, knowing full well that she could very well end up stuck there and in even more danger with her own life.
Because of the way the story manages to progress and because of all the character development that Stephanie goes through… I’m going to overlook that teeny little detail and go with the flow of the story.
Because while Stephanie Tompkins starts off as a meek, seemingly fragile and passive, delicate woman, she proves that, once determined, she can make herself withstand many different obstacles and become a powerful, strong, assertive leader. She finds a way to get Joe out of jail and makes plans to get the two of them out of the continent and back to the relative safety of their home state.
Of course, the rest of the conflict involves conspiracy and fifteen years of maneuvering a greedy, power-hungry politician into an even higher position of power, the deaths of many others in his way, and even more deaths to come… But that’s just standard fare for a crime thriller and suspense with action and the ilk.
But honestly, if this book emphasizes anything to me, it is the following:
This book was propelled by Stephanie Tompkins. She is the heart of Last Man Standing and without her, the story wouldn’t have had much progression. While the previous books had me falling head over heels for the men of Black Ops, this last book was all Stephanie Tompkins.
I may even have a girl crush on her.
And I like it this way if only because we always expect, in books like these, that the men are the ones who pull through and save the day and save the world. We expect that Joe Green will be the one who ultimately resolves the conflict. But really, Joe doesn’t stand out quite as well as Stephanie does (and his noble idiocy and short stint as a lone wolf doesn’t sit well with me either). Being imprisoned for such a long duration of time had sapped Joe of all physical strength and the proper mental capacity to function properly. And being the “Big Man” that he is, he’s adamant that he won’t rest and stop being vigilant until the two of them are safely out of Sierra Leone.
At least that was how he had wanted the situation to go until Stephanie finally makes him realize that: A) He’s no good to anyone if he doesn’t rest up to full capacity, and B) She’s got things under control and he needs to just deal with it.
Aside from the slight logic flaw of Stephanie going TSTL heroic at the beginning, the rest of the book played out nicely. The only other thing I’m slightly disappointed in is that the rest of our BOI team doesn’t get the chance to participate in this op. Instead, they’ve been sent on a wild goose chase wherein they have to go off the grid completely with no communications until the mission is complete.
Bryan Tompkins was a brother to all the men of Black Ops, Inc., and so it felt as if they all should have been there for the ultimate showdown. It just seems disconcerting to me that Joe was the only one there, despite the fact that Stephanie (the little sister) was part of the whole ordeal as well.
But I’m going to go on a limb here and suggest that there must have been a significant reason for this. The rest of the BOIs have “moved on”, so to speak, and consciously “let go” of their rage and their depression over the events of Sierra Leone fifteen years ago. The rest of the BOIs have found new reasons to live their lives without dwelling on the past and are all moving forward. Joe Green is described as the only team member who hasn’t quite let go of Bryan’s death and continues to drown in that tragedy.
It felt like, maybe being the one to finalize and resolve the conflict was a way for Joe to receive the closure he needed. Last Man Standing was probably Joe’s chance at closure.
And then there is also the recurrence of Mike Brown (who will be appearing in Killing Time) and the introduction of Mike’s little brother, Tyler (who will have his story and romance in The Way Home). These two are given a pretty hefty chunk of significance in bringing the final conflict to a close. I’m guessing it’s Cindy’s way of making sure we don’t forget that these guys are going to be important pretty soon.
Oh yes. We also get a glimpse at Jess Albert who will be starring right alongside Tyler in The Way Home.
I’m sure by the time this last novel of the Black Ops was written, Cindy already had plans for all of these new introductions. And I look forward to it all, of course. Mike Brown seems like an intriguing character to follow.
And now to finalize this long review:
Last Man Standing was a great conclusion to the Black Ops series. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The action and the suspense were non-stop. The romance wasn’t really all that significant, but it was sweet and nice all the same--the two had crushes on each other for years before finally acting on their feelings, then they continue to go through obstacles before finally having their Happily Ever After. I’ll take it.
While I was slightly disappointed about some of the events and had to truly suspend my disbelief for other parts of the book, I’d say that, overall, I did like this one enough to warrant a shout out… or whatever. And I’m definitely going to miss this extraordinary team of heroes and warriors and heartwarming moments in each Happily Ever After.
Also, I called it: (not a Black Ops review goes by without mention of Johnny Reed now, I suppose)
I really am going to miss all these people. (So it’s probably a good thing I own all the books, although rereads are never the same as those feelings of a first time read.)