All The Queen's Men
Black Ops undercover agent John Medina was introduced a couple of years ago as a memorable secondary character in Linda Howard’s romantic thriller, Kill and Tell. I was intrigued by him then and have waited impatiently, along with many other readers, to get my hands on his story. Was it worth the wait? Well, yes … and frankly … no, but not because of John Medina. All The Queen’s Men has titillating potential that it almost attains a couple of times, but overall, not much happens through most of the book. All the action (romantic and otherwise) takes place in the last fifty pages making me lament much of the time spent on the wheel-spinning that came before. Plus, I know little more about John Medina now than I knew when I opened the book.
The story begins with Niema Burdock’s husband, Dallas, being killed while the two of them (both are operatives for the CIA) are on a covert operation in Iran. John Medina is their leader, and basically orders Dallas’ death while Niema listens helplessly on the transmitter. Five years later, Niema has not remarried, still works for the CIA developing undetectable bugs, does not blame John for Dallas’ death, but has not seen nor heard from John in all that time.
Enter John. Tall, handsome, fit-as-a-fiddle, and as hot for Niema as he had been five years before (although he never put the moves on her out of respect for his friend, Dallas). A new explosive compound has been developed that requires no detonator and is, therefore, undetectable by airline security systems. Such a compound in the wrong hands could wreck havoc on the innocent people of the world and put U.S. security decidedly at risk, so John has been called in to track down the distributor of the explosive and find out who is manufacturing the compound.
Tall, handsome, fit-as-a-fiddle Louis Ronsard is the French distributor who has been identified as selling the compound for huge profits, so it’s off to France with Niema to plant one of her undetectable bugs in Ronsard’s office while John downloads as much information as he can from Ronsard’s private computer. In the meantime, Niema and John must deal with their long-denied attraction for each other, and Niema must decide if she can love a man about whom she knows nothing and who may disappear out of her life tomorrow.
Of course I wanted to like this book. I don’t often shell out $24 for a hardcover release, so it’s pretty obvious I had high expectations. But as jargon-heavy with agent-speak as this book is, the plot should have been tighter. Although Linda Howard used to write strictly romances, her later books have attempted a balance between romance and suspense or romance and the paranormal, and I have not read one yet where that balance has been satisfactorily reached. All The Queen’s Men is no exception.
In a romance, the hero and heroine should spend the lion’s share of time together – it makes for sexual tension and interesting reading. However, Niema spends more time with the “villain,” Louis Ronsard, than she spends with John. Plus, we find out more about Ronsard than we ever find out about John. Plus-plus, Ronsard is as likable and motivated for personal reasons as any hero (do I smell sequel?), yet he’s supposed to be the villain. Why was so much time spent with Niema waltzing through Ronsard’s estate with him when she should have been with John?
Plot holes abound. In real life, after three tries to breach a password-protected computer, the system shuts you out – it doesn’t allow you to continue guessing until you get it right. I’m surprised this got by the editor. There are other examples of inconsistencies – just enough to make me question the “suspense” part of this suspense story and wish this had been a straight-out romance.
As for the romance, the little time Niema spends with John does sizzle and their kisses are incendiary. Their first “love” scene, isn’t, but I won’t go into that except to say that some may find it appalling while others may find it appealing – it all depends on your own personal point-of-view. Date rape is old hat compared to this.
The author made Ronsard so sympathetic, it removed most of the “suspense” from the story – so why was he here? If Ronsard is to have his own book, let it be so (even though he killed no one directly, he was a murderer once-removed … I’d have a hard time believing in his redemption). I wanted this story to be about John, and in that way, All The Queen’s Men rather let me down. It split my attention between the hero and the villain and the result was a story that lacked focus.
With few surprises, there is only one real twist to this story and it came to me as somewhat of a blow. Niema makes a bargain that I found completely out of character for her, even though it might have been justified given the circumstances. Still, it had me shaking my head. This was a complicated book to grade because of inconsistencies such as this. It might have been a C+, but a couple of the love scenes pushed it up to a B-. But the very first love scene, Niema’s “bargain,” and too much Ronsard brought it down again. Not exactly scientific, but, there you have it. If you read All The Queen’s Men, I’d appreciate hearing your impressions.
Some of the elements I loved about the “old” Linda Howard books are still there, but I had to look for them. Some of the newer elements don’t do it for me, so when I look back at Dream Man, After The Night, and Mackenzie’s Mountain, I can’t help but wish Ms. Howard was still doing what I, as a reader, loved her for best … her romances. Ahh, for the good old days.