I love Linda Howard novels. I also hate them. The author has produced a mixed bag of books for me, some of them being favored DIK’s and others teetering in that no man’s land of low C or high D. When I heard she had a new novel coming out I was both eager and trepidatious about reviewing it. On the one hand, this could wind up being my best book of the year. On the other, it could represent a lot of hours wading painfully through a bad read. It was neither. While Troublemaker didn’t keep me up all night, make me laugh out loud or set my pulse to racing I found myself liking, if not loving, it. Easy to read, with strong prose and pleasant characters, it actually represented everything I think about when I think – “beach read”.
Isabeau “Bo” Maran had her life turned upside-down and inside-out when the client she was flipping a house for (a barn, to be more exact) reneged on their deal, leaving her deeply in debt with a home she hadn’t wanted in a small town location she would never have chosen for herself. Turns out Fate sometimes knows what’s best because Bo has put down deep roots in her new community, serving as Paper Pusher in Chief (aka Chief of Police), adopting an adorable, lovable golden retriever named Tricks and for the first time in her life having serious friends. She may not have made the choice to live in Hamrickville but it’s home now and she’d never go back to the way things were before.
Which is why she is far from pleased when she receives an unexpected blast from the past. The ex-step-brother she loves to hate sends her a birthday card, on a date that is most assuredly not her birthday, advising of a present to follow. The card bursts into flames while she is still reading it, typical of the psychotic sense of humor Bo associates with this ex almost-sibling. The gift is waiting for her farther up the driveway. A man who can barely stand advises her that he’s been sent to her remote location to recuperate. Then he hands her a phone so she can speak to her annoying “relative”.
The phone call both does and doesn’t go her way. It does in the sense that she is $150,000 dollars richer at the end of it. It doesn’t in that it leaves her and Tricks with a sickly houseguest.
Morgan Yancy had gone out for a day of fishing and wound up being shot, needing open-heart surgery, getting pneumonia during his recuperation and now being exiled to Hicks Ville, USA. He just wants to recover and get back to his para-military unit so he can find out who did this to him and exact some vengeance. The powers that be almost agree. They definitely want him recovered, but they’ll handle the vengeance just fine without him. He’s sent into hiding so he can be safe while he convalesces.
After a few days of settling in, he finds himself quite content with that situation. While Bo is no great beauty something about her draws him in. Before he knows it, he is falling for his landlady, her prima-donna dog and the cutesy small town they live in. He’s even toying with the idea of giving up looking for trouble and settling down. The question is, has trouble given up looking for him?
Of course it hasn’t. This is a romantic suspense books so we see some action both from Bo’s end – via a divorce gone bad in her idyllic town – and Morgan’s, as whatever or whoever was after him returns for a second attempt. The action here is light, though, and takes up relatively little page space. It’s enough to add a few stirring moments but not anywhere close to edge of your seat titillating.
I could say the same about the sex and passion. Again, it’s there and it’s kind of sweet but it won’t set your heart to pounding or your palms to sweating. The romance is very low key and in a sense, that essentially reveals a lot about both the hero and heroine. Bo and Morgan almost blend into the background of their own story. They’re kind, competent people, just not very interesting ones. They have no family and while Bo has friends they aren’t apparently friends she hangs out with a lot. Basically, they shoot the shit with her at work, pry into her business a bit and then fade into the background.
All but one, and that one was a bit of a problem for me. Tricks, Bo’s dog, dominates this story. She’s a precocious darling who apparently has the whole town wrapped around her dainty little paw. Bo is completely head over heels about her, and Morgan good naturedly gets into the spirit of that too. Me, not so much for several reasons. One is that I find it the height of unprofessionalism to bring your dog, child or significant other to work with you. Work is work and deserves your full attention, not what you can give it between canine walks. Another reason is that while I enjoy a good pet as a supporting character in my romances, I want the hero and heroine to be front and center. Tricks and her antics took up so much time and page space that this just wasn’t the case here. The author also seemed to give her more of a personality and life than she gave either of her two main characters, which would work fine if this was labeled as a Marley & Me type of tale but it’s not. Again, in a romance, I want my hero and heroine to be the focus.
When I set Troublemaker down I pretty much knew I wouldn’t be re-reading it. I enjoyed it enough the first time that I can recommend it to fans of the author, folks who enjoy small town romantic suspense or those who really love pets in their books. Just be prepared for something that’s pleasant but ultimately a bit underwhelming.