by Linda Howard
The part-time police chief of a small West Virginian mountain town, Isabeau “Bo” Maran finally has her life figured out. She’s got friends, a dog, and a little money in the bank. Then Morgan Yancy shows up on her doorstep. Bo doesn’t need a mysterious man in her life—especially a troublemaker as enticing and secretive as Morgan.
The harder they fight the intense heat between them, the closer Morgan and Bo become, even though she knows he’s hiding from something. But discovering the truth could cost Bo more than she’s willing to give. And when Morgan’s cover is blown, it might just cost her life.
To be fair, this is my second Linda Howard book. The first book I read of hers was not exactly a personal favorite, and in fact, had been disagreeable enough that I had considered not coming back to another Linda Howard. But I'm a believer of second chances, and it just so happens that Linda Howard has a lot of romantic suspense pieces under her name--and I'm nothing if not a lover of romantic suspense.
Comprised with all the intriguing premises of her books, as well as the fact that I DID recognize the subtle humor and the well-written narratives from the train wreck that was Mr. Perfect, I subconsciously decided that it wouldn't hurt to give Linda Howard another go. I've had other books of hers on my TBR since.
Troublemaker sounded quite interesting. And to be fair, it was pretty enjoyable, actually. However, after finishing the book, my biggest take away was that this book was nothing like what I'd been expecting--it was both a good and a bad revelation.
First of all: This book is more Contemporary Romance than it is Romantic Suspense.
The beginning of the book started out as a potential romantic suspense would--there was action, there were guns, there was military and there was near death. The only thing we were missing were the explosions. Unfortunately, the first scenes in the book wherein there IS action is dragged out by the fact that we were also getting a play-by-play, day-in-the-life-of for Morgan Yancy during his stateside moments.
When he was shot and his boss comes up with the half-baked idea to use him as bait and then send him to recuperate in an off-the-grid small town, I thought things were actually picking up. The concept was enticing, although I've got misgivings about these geniuses, specifically Morgan's superior, Axel, knowingly putting someone's life in danger just because there's some bad sibling rivalry included. It would be a bit different if Bo were a security type or military type or even true law enforcement, but as we come to find out, despite the fact that she's the Chief of Police of the small town, she only does administrative work. And from what I gather, she's never actually had police training outside of learning how to fire a gun--which anyone can do on their own time without being a law enforcement officer.
And yes, I know there were other, logical reasons for sending Morgan to recuperate in a place that had no connections to him, but I also found it quite presumptuous of these men to believe that Bo would go for something like playing nursemaid for a complete stranger who, by all rights, could be the most dangerous man alive.
No matter how much money she needed to turn her life around.
But, anyway, after we bypass that first hoop, and our two main characters are settled into a routine, daily thing... well, the book started rolling and I started enjoying. And for it's credit, while NOTHING remotely suspenseful happens for the next 80% of the book--aside from one or two little tangents that were readily resolved, but seemed highly out-of-the-blue--I actually had a good time following the goings-on of Isabeau Maran, her beloved (and spoiled) diva dog Tricks, with the new addition of Morgan into their little group.
In the back of my mind, I DID wonder several times where the suspense was hiding. The main conflict was lingering in the background of the book's premise, of course, but aside from having Axel check in with Morgan and aside from Morgan and Bo bringing up the situation in conversation once or twice, Morgan's attempted assassination was all but left in yesterday's news. So the story itself trudged on as a sweet and lovely small town romance between two people with their own damaged histories to work through, with a nice little "love conquers all" theme going.
Don't get me wrong, I loved the development of the relationship between Morgan and Bo. They go from bickering strangers, to grudging friends, to attraction and lust, to caring roommates, and end up with a steamy, sexy, "we're probably falling in love with each other" development. For a Contemporary Romance this book would have been really well-received, and I'm quite surprised at how quickly my mind switched gears to accommodate this revelation.
Second of all: There really isn't a second of all point, to be honest. At least not one that ties in with all the material and all the points I already mentioned in the above section. So for your enjoyment, here is just a random bullet-pointed list of thoughts I came up with several hours after I finished reading Troublemaker.
- I liked the inclusion of Tricks. There were a lot of moments when she seemed like a super human-dog, but to be honest, the more I thought about it, the more I started seeing parallels between the fictional golden retriever, Tricks, and our family dog, a little Shih-tzu named Baby who I honestly believe could be human.
- Just the mere fact that our dog tends to really understand what we tell him and has a bit of a teenage rebelliousness in him makes him all the more frustrating as the youngest sibling in our family.
- He knows his routines, and much like Tricks, is mildly put out when he doesn't get his dinner or breakfast at the appropriate times each and every day.
- And also like Tricks, our Baby has ways of finding things to amuse himself with even when everyone else is too busy dealing with life.
- And also, like all dogs or beloved pets, no matter how bratty he can get, he still makes you smile at the end of the day.
- I liked the small town vibe in this book--in fact, I like a lot of small town settings, but a lot of times, some books take the whole "no secrets in small towns" thing a bit too extreme. And a lot of books also take the whole "everyone is up in everyone's business in small towns" thing, also a bit extreme. Seeing as how I've never lived in a small town, I guess I'm not a hundred percent certain how representative most books are when setting up a small town scenario.
- I liked the side characters in this book, but I felt like they were very "background noise" instead of side-character status--I don't know what I'm talking about, and this statement probably only makes sense in my head.
- The point is, I wish we could have seen more from the side characters in a capacity other than simply to forward the plot; even if I don't really need to know their life stories.
- I know, I'm difficult like that.
- I really wish that there had been more suspense in this book. I still have trouble reconciling the book's cover illustration with the book's summary blurb with what actually was presented in this book.
- Because then it brings me to this last thought: The conclusion was very rushed, and while there was an almost preachy "sometimes there are loose ends in life" lecture going on at the end, it still doesn't satisfy my annoyance at the loose ends at the end of this book. It felt like there was a distinct divide between the Suspense and the Contemporary parts of the book, and the ending decided to finally pick up the suspense where it had left off in the introduction.
Some Final Thoughts: Troublemaker is entertaining. I'll give it that. If it hadn't been marketed as a romantic suspense, and if the back of the book jacket didn't so emphasize Linda Howard's Booklist description as being the "Queen of Romantic Suspense," I probably would have been happy to settle with a book that was 80% Contemporary, and 20% "These seem like romantic suspense scenes, let's include them to fulfill the genre requirements!" But given how misleading the cover jacket illustration, the summary blurb, and the marketing of Romantic Suspense was, I'm feeling a little duped.
Nonetheless, for anyone who is interested in Linda Howard and a fairly serviceable and well-written romance with an adorably sweet two year old gold retriever with a diva personality, I wouldn't mind recommending this book.
It was entertaining, and I enjoyed myself in spite of the quibbles.
Also, for your enjoyment, here are some short excerpts and quotes from the book I found amusing or sweet:
"What about Princess?"
Bo's mouth curved with amusment as she realized she'd never told him Tricks's name. "Her name is Tricks. T-R-I-C-K-S."
"I thought it was Princess. That's what you called her yesterday."
"Princess is her title, but her name is Tricks. Besides, I call her a lot of things. For the first year of her life she thought her name was No No You Little Shit."
"[...] I brought Tricks and all her stuff home with me and did some panicked research on how to take care of a puppy. She was still terrified in a new place, and wouldn't stop shaking unless I held her. When I put her in her little crate at night, she cried. It broke my heart. So I got her out and let her sleep curled against me. That was that."
"Pushover." His mouth quirked with humor.
"You think you could have resisted a little ball of white fur? She looked like a baby's stuffed animal, or a cotton ball with big feet."
He said, "You bake cookis?"
"She gets cookies for her birthday."
"That's tomorrow, right?"
"No, it's quite a while until her birthday."
"Mine's tomorrow," he lied.
"It is not. I saw your driver's license, remember?"
"It's a fake."
"I'm not baking cookies."
Morgan was already over a hundred yards away, and maybe two hundred, but he must have heard her because abruptly he stopped and turned in the water to face her. She doubted he paid any attention to her, though, because Tricks was coming right at him, swimming so hard she was leaving a wake.
Tricks reached Morgan, and though Bo didn't have binoculars, she didn't need them to know what happened because she knew her dog. She gripped her head with both hands as Tricks latched on to Morgan's arm and began towing him toward the bank. She was "saving" him. She'd done the same thing to Bo the first time Bo had gone swimming with her, and it had taken several trips to the lake before she relaxed her vigil.
In retrospect, she could follow Tricks's reasoning: when Morgan had arrived, he'd been weak and unable to take care of himself. Therefore, he was someone Tricks needed to watch over. Seeing him in the water, without realizing how much he had recovered, had triggered her protective instinct and she had gone after him thinking he was literally in over his head.