Lowell, Elizabeth. Death Echo. New York: Avon, 2010. Paperback. +423 pages. $7.99
What's this? Two posts in three days? Say it isn't so!
But it is so, thanks to a cold front, believe it or not. After it started raining last night, my knee started giving me problems, so I put away everything else (studying, WoW) and settled down to finish Death Echo in the bathtub.
First, let me get this straight. I love Elizabeth Lowell. I've loved Elizabeth Lowell since I started reading her books, probably back in 2005 or 2006. The Donovan books (Amber Beach, Jade Island, Pearl Cove and Midnight in Ruby Bayou, mentioned in the last post) were absolutely awesome, and I could not put them down. Maybe if I went back and read them now, I wouldn't be as impressed, but I doubt it. They were really interesting, dealing with the world of gems and gem-dealing, something that has always fascinated me (Dear National History Museum, you rock).
Generally, I like two genres of romance novels. I like historical romance, generally Regency, and I like romantic suspense. When you can get the two of them together, you get Stephanie Laurens (most of the time). The point is, I'm not reading romance novels for the man candy, necessarily. I like my romance novels to have a plot that is not the hero and heroine falling in love. The romance should be a happy side effect, and the book could go forward with out it if necessary.
But I want you to know where I'm coming from when I say that, well, I'm disappointed with Death Echo. Yes, I want my romances to have a plot. But I expect anything published by Avon to, well, have a romance!
Here's the plot. Emma Cross, former CIA agent, works for St. Kilda Consulting, who's been called in to help the U.S.'s intelligence agencies track down a yacht that has been stolen and renamed that may be carrying weapons of mass destruction and stop an imminent attack on Seattle, carried out by Georgian (the country, not the state) terrorists trying to blame Russia. Really, I got a little confused by the plot and the motivations of the terrorists, but it had to do with Georgia-Russia-US relations and trying to upset the status quo with old USSR nuclear material. And something about counterfeit money. Anyway.
Our hero, Mac Durand, is former special ops, who lost his entire unit in Afghanistan when the CIA gave them bad intel and hung them out to dry. Now he works in the Pacific northwest piloting boats for various and sundry purposes. He brings in the yacht to the U.S. without knowing what's up. Emma recruits him to St. Kilda, and they go undercover to continue taking the boat to where it goes. Their cover? Basically, Mac's pre-Kilda job, and Emma's arm candy. Really, really stupid arm candy. There's also something about a former KGB agent who kills one of Mac's friends and who makes far too many appearances with very little actually happening.
Anyway. Mac and Emma take the boat up the Inside Passage, get stonewalled by Canadian customs because the FBI and the CIA are having a pissing contest, then parts of the CIA that aren't talking with the part hiring St. Kilda get involved and the yacht ends up sunk. Come to find the main bad guy has sunk it so he can swap it out with the yacht that everyone thought was stolen and renamed, but is actually a completely different boat. Confused yet? In the meantime, our intrepid heroes are running against the clock, as they have seven days before the shit hits Seattle.
Being a romantic suspense novel, you expect some romance in all of this suspense (which, incidentally, has some pacing problems); the kind of desperate, we've got to save the world, there's nothing to do on a stake-out but wait, fighting against the darkness, life-affirming (add whatever other metaphor you like here) romance that fits into most suspense novels (see Catherine Coulter's FBI thrillers for examples of this done well).
Yeah, no. There's some kissing, mostly for show when their undercover, and no internal monologue about how this might actually be making either of them feel. There's an implied happy ending, but no real wrap up that yes, they'll be living happily ever after working for St. Kilda and preventing other terrorists from trying to do more terrible things.
And shouldn't Mac have had some serious work in trying to learn to accept and trust Emma, the former CIA agent, rather than to simply ask, "Did you work in Afghanistan?" When she says no, apparently all his feelings about the CIA go back into remission as far as she's concerned. I mean, this is a classic romantic suspense set up! You let the lack of trust on a vital mission interfere with the romance until the hero and heroine are at each other's throats. Then the untrusted does something to save the other person's life, and ta-da! We are back into romance land, as the saved person shows how grateful they are.
I can't speak to the plausibility of the plot. Maybe it's possible, and to be honest, her assessment of the cooperation, or lack thereof, between intelligence agencies in the United States? Probably not far from the truth. And she did pick something that worries the intelligence community--old nukes from the Soviet Union that have been unaccounted for. But there were some things that bothered me, like this line, for example. "After all, the Georgians had left a nuclear calling card--a rudimentary dirty bomb--in Moscow once, simply as a warning" (422).
It's near the end of the book, so suspension of disbelief is maintained up until then. But...really? That snapped me out of it, because, well, plausibility is a bit much here. And something stated that factually in a debrief by a CIA agent in the book--well, I expect it, in a book that has stuck with facts about border defense post-9/11 the whole book to stick to the facts! And let's face it, if this had actually happened, we'd have seen it out of the WikiLeak cables by now. Also, Vladimir Putin would have wiped Georgia off the face of the planet. Probably Georgia the state too, just because it had the same name.
Anyway. It's a rather disappointing read, but not so bad that I'll give up on Elizabeth Lowell completely (it's not like she's Troy Denning or anything).
Death Echo = C-