Disclaimer: So as to avoid the appearance of impropriety, Dr. S is “a complete, utter, and unabashed FanGrrl” and has “a professional relationship” with Brockmann. Dr. S does not enjoy any monetary gain from the sales of the books. We encourage you to seek out other reviews (or read a few chapters in the bookstore) should this review leave you with some questions about whether this book would work for you.
Dear Ms. Brockmann:
Despite your best efforts, the only way one would not know spoilers for this book is if one (a). didn’t care, or (b). lived in a dark, dank, cold, internet-less cave in the middle of a spooky forest surrounded an impenetrable and very smelly swamp. So while I’m going to try to review this wonderful book without too many spoilers, I’ll be employing the spoiler font with a very liberal hand.
You are famous (infamous?) for your innovative story arcs in which future primary couples not only meet in books previous to their own, but they actually start the relationship. Gone Too Far (Book 6 of your Troubleshooter series) finished the overwhelmingly popular story arc of Sam and Alyssa (that starts in earnest in TS#2). Flashpoint (TS#7), Tess Bailey and Jimmy Nash’s book, starts the arc of Sophia Ghaffari, Lawrence Decker, and Dave Malkoff. Well, actually, it looked like it started the story arc of Sophia and Decker, while Dave was just a secondary character. Dark of Night is TS#14, so this has been a long damn arc and Dark of Night provides quite the culmination.
The story so far: in Flashpoint, Sophia is the forced bride of a brutal warlord in Kazbhekistan, the fictional country that combines the worst of the post-war chaos of Iraq and the repressions of Taliban-led Afghanistan. She resourcefully escapes during the earthquake that the TS squad (Tess, Nash, Dave, Decker, and a few others) use as an excuse to enter the country, under the guise of humanitarian aide workers. Sophia, hunted and desperate, basically forces a blowjob on Decker, using it as a tool to try to distract him, at the culmination of which she tries to shoot him. Decker finally realizes Sophia is one of the good guys and manages to get her out of the country and set her up in an apartment and gets her a job with TS Inc., but he never forgives himself for not saying no forcefully enough and for, in his mind, adding to the overwhelming abuse she had already suffered. She hero-worships Deck over the next…five? years and bemoans her crush to her best buddy, Dave, who is completely and utterly in love forever and ever with her. It’s the kind of crush that everyone in TS Inc. knows about, and, in fact, they both almost lose their jobs when Decker refuses to be in the same city with Sophia.
The controversy, of course, lies in that despite the fact that both Sophia and Decker get their HEAs in this book, they don’t get them with each other. Sophia, in fact, ends up with Dave. And Decker, well, Decker, super-SEAL that he is, Decker ends up with
I think this outrage gets at a core issue in the romance community, an issue similar to the condom–conundrum. Do we read romance for “reality” or for “fantasy”? Do we mind if our “fantasies” are interrupted with safe-sex? Do we mind if the romantic reliance on One Twu Wuv is derailed because, you know, sometimes someone will crush on the wrong person? Or does one fraught sexual encounter and some subsequent emotionally-charged, one-sided pining mean that these two people are destined for each other, no matter what?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the outrage, even if I’m far from participating. I get how (intentionally?) misleading clues, both internal to the series and external in the meta-discussion (pairing Sophia and Decker in reader polls and your Extras Booklets), can lead to readers feeling betrayed. But, as a complete, utter, and unabashed FanGrrl (although, I like to think, not in the creepy or crazy-ass sense), and, full disclosure here, as someone with a professional relationship with you, I was willing to trust you to convince me that Sophia and Decker were better off without each other.
And, getting back to the review, you managed that 110%. As the author who made me like Mary Lou, Sam’s racist ex-wife, and made me believe in her love for and HEA with a non-white Muslim immigrant (Into the Night, TS#5), I trusted that you’d convince me that Sophia and Dave loved each other with a full, passionate, consuming love, and that Decker and
You make us believe by not denying the very things that are causing the reader controversy in the first place. Yes, Sophia absolutely goes into her relationship with Dave thinking that he is her second choice, behind Decker, and you don’t hide that. So readers who say “But how can we ever believe that Dave isn’t just a second choice?” are shown precisely how, because he IS initially Sophia’s second choice. Dave knows that Sophia thinks this and he’s (mostly) content with this. He’s just happy to be with her, even if he also KNOWS that he’s her second choice. You don’t hide that and you therefore manage to convince us when Sophia realizes that Dave is, and always will be, her first and only choice. Decker can’t see himself with Tracy anymore than any of us can, and you don’t hide that. So when we see him bemusedly fall for her, and her with him, we can believe it fully. You don’t flinch, you don’t falter–in fact, you REVEL in the relationship expectations you’ve nurtured for seven books. And then you show us, without a shadow of a doubt, that Sophia and Dave, and Decker and
Another reader concern: this book is absolutely a romance. While some of your previous books in the Troubleshooter series seemed to be edging away from full-on romance into military suspense with some vaguely romantic themes, this one is 100% romance extraordinaire. There’s a suspense plot that’s seamlessly woven into the romance in that the characters would not be able to come to the emotional realizations they do in order to be able to grow and mature and deserve their happy ending without the suspense plot, but the romances drive the book and keep you reading. Or at least, they kept me reading.
As a super-extra bonus for your readers: multiple Happy Endings. Generally, because your character arcs span four, five, seven books, this means that, although the main couple get their HEA, the secondary couple(s) are usually torn apart (Sam’s marriage to Mary Lou, for example), punished for not having their shit together enough to deserve their happy ending. No double or triple weddings at the end of your books, a la Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or, say, Shakespeare’s comedies. Your readers get one happy ending and one doom and gloom ending and you’ve said explicitly that you do this on purpose, not only to make the happy ending that much more precious and rare, but also precisely to elicit emotion from your readers. So to have two (
One last point, because this is my self-proclaimed area of DA expertise.
I wish I had some niggles with this book, so that I could prove that I’m not a total, unthinking fangrrl. I guess, if I were thinking hard, my niggles would all have to do with the bad guys: their apparent omniscience seemed a little over the top. And the figuring out of the WHY of the suspense plot — that is, who exactly is hunting the good guys and why — is a little bit of an info-dump, even if done in dialogue. But I like the reason. Its very mundane-ness makes a larger point than if it were a huge Plot of Terror. And why the final villain didn’t just cut his losses and run, I’ll never know. For what it’s worth, there are books of yours, especially TS Inc. books, that I would grade with a B or even lower, books that seem to be filler that gets us to the point of being able to complete the other, more important, story arcs. But this one isn’t like that, of course, because it IS the end of a story arc. But I also think it does a MUCH better job than the other story arc endings: Gone Too Far (TS#6: Sam and Alyssa’s book) or Breaking Point (TS#9: Max and Gina’s book). Maybe that’s because Decker’s romance both starts and is rewarded solely in this book? I’m not sure. I just know that this book ranks, for me, with The Unsung Hero (TS#1) and Heart Throb (non-TS stand alone) as your most perfectly plotted, most brilliantly written books.
I have always admired (WARNING: long PDF biography of Brockmann) the innovation you bring to the romance genre. Its authors like you who keep romance alive and interesting. I think the sheer volume and vitriol of reader outrage whenever you do something new is a testament to how well you manage to do this.