Tuesday, December 14

Show No Fear - Marliss Melton

Ten months after an intelligence mission in the Middle East went bad, CIA operative Lucy Donovan is delighted to be assigned to rescue hostages held by Colombian rebels. She's undaunted by the risk and the threat of harm; the only thing that troubles Lucy about the mission is her co-operative, Gus Atwater. Then known as James, he was the only man she ever loved, but Lucy left him when the aftermath of a bomb explosion left her unable to reconcile her terror with the promise of happiness.
Now a very buff Navy SEAL, and going by his abbreviated middle name of Angus, Gus rescued her from her most recent mission, searching for vital information in an elite Guard warehouse after freeing herself from restraints. Though convinced she'd have managed to rescue herself, thank you very much, her boss is wedded to the idea of a joint operation, and the insulting notion that she needs assistance - and that she and James need to play a married couple as their cover. Or something. I quit at the top of page 28, so I have no idea how the story played out. The plot is clearly far-fetched, but I'm prepared to suspend my disbelief quite high if the writing and characterisation promise a worthwhile payoff. And perhaps the brief insights into Gus and Lucy's personalities fail to do them justice - certainly the SmartBitches forum recommendation brought me to it, and those bitches are usually on the money. On the other hand, it was multiple recommendations there than caused me to read Naked in Death, so I knew going in that I don't see eye to eye with every member of the community (or even great swathes of members - do people come in swathes?).
My point is that the plot, or at least as much of it as I managed, was ridiculous but genre-appropriate. The characterisation was superficial, but again I didn't get very far. I warmed not at all to the heroine, who seemed mired in an unattractive combination of PTSD denial and unfocused shittyness, while the hero was something of a cipher.
what caused me to put the book down before I was 10% through, though, was the overblown, florid writing. In the first three pages, as 'seconds drain[ed] away like sand through an hourglass', Lucy is 'awash in a cold sweat' and then

Lucy's heart stopped.
It had to be the greasepaint that made him look exactly like her college boyfriend, James, The athletic body didn't jibe with her mental recollection. But as she took a curious step closer, his expression of horror confirmed her observation.

Okay, I've never been rescued from a terrorist warehouse, my cargo pants pockets stuffed with CD's full of important intel, by an old boyfriend. I have, however, been in an emergency situation and surprised by the appearance of an ex-lover. I'm not aware of a type of recollection that's not mental, but I'll ignore that tautology to point out that I, a non-combat trained person, responded with a brief nod, a frisson of surprise, and an immediate return to the emergency before me; Lucy, not quite so quick.
The writing's all tell, not show - not a facial expression nor a feeling goes unmentioned, from stabs of of suspicion to expressions "both guarded and disapproving.
As that brief extract demonstrated, the writing's a little... florid. As they're escaping, "thoughts shifted across [Gus's] face, too quickly for her to gauge." Really? Perhaps too quickly to decipher, or to read, but to gauge?
And, in common with poor writing, the characters rarely just say anything - in one scene alone Lucy amends, brazens, insists, quips with sarcasm and archly demands (in consecutive statements), explains, assures, protests, retorts twice, adds, cries in disbelief, counters, admits, answers and asks ("remembering with a pang the tenderness he used to show her"), while Gus counters, counters softly, quietly reminds twice, retorts, growls, grates, continues, repeats, articulates ("with a tremor in his voice") and actually both asks and says (the latter with a scathing look). He also "rake[s] her with another look, this one reflecting honest fear and concern." That's a lot to fit into four pages. In the interim, nobody looks - Lucy regards while Gus gazes. It was reading the line:
Lucy shook two Advil tablets into her hand and regarded them in her palm, lit up by the bright sunlight streaming through the airplane window...
that I decided I'd had enough. Next time I'll stick with Brockmann. - Alex

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