Agent In Charge
Reading Agent-In-Charge made me angry. Not because it was awful (it wasn’t), but because it exemplifies everything I find so frustrating about most series romances today. It is the very definition of mediocre. The characters are shallow. The plot is simplistic. The author pays lip service to the emotions without bothering to generate anything close to genuine feeling. It is competent at best; bland and uninspired at worst. I could feel myself forgetting it even as I was reading it. If Harlequin wants to know why its sale figures are slipping, it’s because so many of the books they publish these days are exactly like this one.
Graham Warren is a secret agent with an elite anti-terrorism unit. He never told his wife Casey what he does for a living. Instead, he simply let her believe that his job moved him around a lot. Their married life consisted of him moving them from city to city every few months whenever he got a new assignment, forcing her to uproot herself from whatever life she’d started to build, over and over again. Casey grew up without much stability, so this wasn’t easy on her. You’d think this would concern her husband, especially since he’s being dishonest with her to begin with. Nope. Later in the book Graham says that he knew he probably should have left her alone when they first met instead of consigning her to this life, but he just had to have her. What a catch. When I first saw what the premise of the book was, I figured it would be like the movie True Lies. But Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t dragging Jamie Lee Curtis all over the country during their marriage because of his lies, and that movie was actually fun. This book isn’t.
Anyway, Casey finally filed for divorce. When the divorce was finalized, she took a box of his belongings to his workplace, even though he told her she should never, ever, ever visit him at work. She doesn’t make it past the front desk, and on her way back to her car, someone runs her down. In the hospital, she learns that her eyesight is in jeopardy, and it isn’t long before she can’t see at all, leaving her completely vulnerable. Naturally Graham, macho he-man that he is, is determined to protect his wifey, even as he continues to lie to her about what’s really happening.
The story is readable and goes down easily enough. Riker is a capable enough writer to keep the plot moving and it flows well. But there’s little here to inspire more than a passing interest in the proceedings. These characters, like everything else about this story, were uninteresting. Graham is practically nonexistent. I knew almost nothing about him, and everything I did know (like the lying-to-her-and-moving-her-all-around-the-country bit) I didn’t like. He’s just a stock secret agent hero instead of a flesh-and-blood person.
Casey is somewhat more developed, mostly she has her blindness and childhood issues to angst about. She’s certainly sympathetic, especially because she’s stuck with this clod. But she’s really nothing more than a passive victim dragged around according to the whims of the plot. She can’t contribute much to this story other than her victimhood, because she’s been kept out of the loop and doesn’t know what’s going on. It takes Graham way too long before he finally tells her the truth, and that only takes place because of a Big Misunderstanding. The occasional moments when she shows she might be a strong woman after all are nice. They’re also few and far between. Mostly, she’s just bland.
The other characters aren’t any better, each one basically fitting a simple stereotype. The nosy boss. The forgetful old man. The weird computer guy. The manly neighbor who makes Graham jealous. None of these characters are well-developed or memorable. The suspense revolves around the usual traitor-within-the-agency plot, except the agency is too poorly defined to generate much interest. The details about the traitor and the terrorists and what Graham does, like most of the author’s writing, are all too sketchy. When the villain’s identity was revealed, I shrugged and thought, “Big deal.” I didn’t know anything about this person, so it didn’t make a bit of difference one way or another if he/she turned out to be bad.
The attempts to scare Casey aren’t suspenseful at all. She starts to enter a revolving door, when a man comes up on the other side and spins the door really fast so she’s caught inside! Someone shoves her into an elevator and traps her between floors! Someone steals her seeing eye dog! Why? You’ve got me. Rest assured, sensitive readers, that no harm comes to the dog. It’s a good thing, too, because the dog was the only character I was invested in. His previous owner passed away and he’s too old to officially be assigned to a new one, so Graham arranges for Casey to take him to save him from the pound. The dog’s disappearance worried me more than anything that happened to Casey, except, since nothing happens to it, the dognapping is pointless. It just means the kidnapper has to go to the extra trouble of caring and feeding for a dog. What kind of villain is this?
If you read as many series books every month as I do, it eventually starts to seem like you’re swimming upstream against a raging current of mediocrity. This was a prime example. There’s nothing that’s horribly wrong with it. It’s boring. It’s forgettable. I didn’t care about the characters. I didn’t care about the plot. The only thing I cared about was that Harlequin now had my money for this book. No, it’s not terrible. It’s simply so very, very blah. Sometimes that’s even worse than being downright bad.