REVIEW: Last Man Standing by Cindy Gerard
Dear Ms. Gerard:
I liked the poetic nature of the title given that this book kind of closes the door on the Black Ops, Inc., or BOIs, crew. Joe Green is indeed the last man standing of the group. The other living members have all fallen in love and had a happy ending. Joe’s done the falling in love part. He can’t stay away from Stephanie Tompkins. But the happy ever after ending is eluding them, primarily because Joe is driven to seek justice for the death of his best friend, Bryan Tompkins, Stephanie’s older brother.
This leads him to Sierra Leone, a cell, and certain death. Stephanie, a code breaker at the NSA, sees a picture of Joe, beaten. Under the photo is a notation that he was arrested for the slaying of a Sacred Heart priest. Stephanie calls on the BOIs to get Joe out but the team is deployed on a deep undercover mission with no communication. Rafe is manning the home base but is recovering from a severe bout of malaria. He tells Stephanie to wait until the team comes back, a week, maybe ten days. Stephanie believes that Joe will not make it ten days and flies to Sierra Leone. Help comes in the form of a teenage boy who Joe saved. Together they work to get Joe and Stephanie out of Sierra Leone to safety.
The setup worked for me. Stephanie is out of her mind in love with Joe and she wasn’t going to leave him in a Sierra Leone prison to die alone. While a number of coincidences, or conveniences may be the better word for it, occur to aid Stephanie in freeing Joe and escaping with him, Stephanie never acted TSTL. In fact, she demonstrated for Joe a certain type of strength he hadn’t seen in her before.
I’ve really enjoyed this series and reading Last Man Standing was bittersweet for me and maybe it was for you as the author. The tone of the book seemed regretful. Joe wanted Stephanie, loved her, but he didn’t love her enough to be with her. Instead, he had to seek out the truth behind Bryan’s death, a truth he believes implicates someone wealthy and powerful. Stephanie loved Joe more than anything. She’d do anything for him, including following him to a hellhole in Sierra Leone.
Joe says to Stephanie when he leaves her that he doesn’t love her, not enough. And frankly there is a ring of truth to that even though Joe would deny it. He characterizes his departure as being weak, succumbing to the pleasures of Stephanie’s flesh where the better man would have resisted and broken it off with her long ago, knowing that he could never commit. But I did view Joe as not loving Stephanie enough or maybe he was scared of loving her.
Even though I admired Joe and his dedication, there were several points where I wanted to tell Stephanie that she was just too good for him. But her dogged pursuit of Joe and her refusal to accept him pushing her aside won her the man she wanted in the end and that is kind of kick ass all on its own.
What does happen is that Joe begins to see that Stephanie isn’t the frail, weak kneed girl he must have thought her to be. She blows his mind (and well she should). I never could figure out if Joe was falling in love with a new Stephanie, whether Stephanie blossomed under dire circumstances, or whether Joe was simply blind to the kind of person that Stephanie always was. I think it was the last one. Joe was so caught up in his own mission that he couldn’t see the gentle but determined woman that Stephanie was.
Even though this was the last in a long line of books, I definitely think that a reader could pick this up and not be lost. There aren’t many appearances of the other BOIs until late in the book. The focus is primarily on Stephanie and Joe. B-
So Jane, what’s your favorite romantic suspense series? I’ve not read any other than the Ice series by Anne Stuart and the I-Team series by Pamela Clare. It’s a genre I’d like to read more of but don’t know where to start.
I’ve read about 5 of these and really enjoyed them all except for the first one in the Black Ops series, which I believe was actually more of a continuation of her previous series. I was so confused when I was reading it, then I did a little checking on line and realised that all the stuff she was referring to has having happened “off stage” had been covered in the last book of the previous series. I read them out of order, so this didn’t bother me too much at the end of the day since I knew there was all kind of awesome to come. I will definitely read this one – I really liked Joe and Steph’s subplot story in Raf’s book (can’t remember the name…) Stephanie definitely came across as smart but soft in that one – ie she needed to be protected and whisked away and whatnot. Would be good to see her carving out her own space.
I’ve been at a reading stand-still this month – started several books but just couldn’t get into them. Maybe this book will break the dam for me!
Cindy Gerard does her romantic suspense books quite well; if a story can keep me reading and hers do than it’s worth it to me.
Oh, wow, I don’t think I’ve seen a romance novel like that. Already-in-Love but not HEA? Damn you, Jane. >8( Now I have to read this. (If this leads to reading the whole series, I blame you!)
@Dabney Grinnan: I think Brockmann is famous for her Troubleshooter series and I enjoyed it tremendously until Sam and Alyssa’s book. She begins to deviate from a romance to a more suspense oriented story and the protracted romance of Sam and Alyssa never culminated in a story that delivered for me.
Kate Brady, Annie Solomon, and Karen Rose are good romantic suspense writers. Nina Bruhns is hit or miss for me.
@Jane: I loathed the last Troubleshooter book I reviewed. It was the one with Eden in it. I’ve read most of the ones that came before it, but not all. I didn’t read Sam’s and Alyssa’s story–I was happy to only imagine them perpetually handcuffed in whatever book that was in!
This was the first book I have read from Cindy Gerard. Coming very late into the series, I was able to read this as a stand alone since it focuses on Stephanie and Joe. In fact, it allows them to shine without the other BOI overshadowing their story. Although I tend to shy away from romantic suspense, I enjoyed LAST MAN STANDING – I appreciated how Stephanie rose to the occasion.
I enjoyed this book a bit more than Jane I think. Joe & Stephanie are now tried with Nate & Juliana as my second favorite couple of the series. I did think there were a lot of “conveniences,” too. But this plot worked much better for me than some in this series.
@sarah mayberry: I discovered Gerard and read her Bodyguard books just before this series started. It was a much more hit-or-miss series for me, but I had been looking forward to Dallas and Amy’s romance in the last book, Into the Dark. Then Gabe and Jenna appeared and their chemistry just took over that book. So their book, Show No Mercy remains my favorite of the BOI series (and they are my favorite of the BOI couples). But this one is now my next favorite.
I’m wondering if you kept reading Troubleshooters after Sam and Alyssa’s story. Their book wasn’t a favorite for me, but I have really enjoyed watching them show up in later novels. Brockmann does a really good job of showing a couple who are BOTH total badasses and used to being in control trying to navigate a partnership. For me, it’s a great example of a novelist showing that the story doesn’t end with the HEA–HEAs take work and constant adjustments. That may not appeal to everybody, but I think two people working to make their marriage work is wildly romantic.
For anyone who hasn’t read the series, you shoud definitely give it a shot. Unlike many series, the characters are distinct. You know how sometimes the weird secondary character turns into Cookie Cutter Alpha Jackass the minute he gets his own book? Brockmann’s heroes and heroines stay true to character, while still allowing for personal growth across a story arc.
That being said, a lot of people get annoyed with how very, very PC her later books have become. I have to say that you could turn the issues in her books into a drinking game. I just roll my eyes and keep going.
@library addict: I wish I’d known that that “first” book in the Black Ops series was kicked off in Into The Dark. I would def have read it first. As I said, I read them out of order, so it didn’t stop me from enjoying more of the books. It might have if it was the first one I read, though… Hard to know now! I recently finished Johnny and Crystal’s book and really enjoyed it.
Thanks Jane, I have liked the previous books in this series and am glad to hear it ends well
@Dabney Grinnan: another author I enjoy is Laura Griffen. Her books are loosely linked together and they all are good stand alones.
The end of Brockmann for me, I had read all the Trouble Shooters books, and enjoyed them less and less, and DNF the last one – was ticked cause I was always an Izzy fan
This book didn’t work for me from the simple premise that I’m a firm believer in the old adage of “If a man tells you he doesn’t love you, believe him.” Even excusing that disastrous scene which called for the most major grovelling ever to even begin to forgive, I never ~got~ why Joe dumped his entire support system of not only Stephanie, but the entire BOI team. Those men were supposed to be an elite teams of experts who were all closer than brothers to him. It is the entire premise of the series. But still, he dumps them all and takes off on this investigation of Brian’s death. It was too dangerous? Isn’t dangerous kind of what BOI is all about? Then he picks up a young rebel teen who had previously been caught dealing illegal weaponry, and trusts ~him~ with his life.
Made no sense at all.
It was good to put this series to bed in my mind though.