An underachieving series comes to an underwhelming end as Beverly Barton brings the Family Secrets series to a close in Check Mate. The first book found Jake Ingram’s brother kidnapped by men who mistook him for Jake, with only the woman assigned to deprogram him there to save him. This time, they finally get their hands on Jake, and the only person he can trust is the woman assigned to reprogram him.
The book picks up right where the last one, The Insider, left off, dropping right into the action with a jarring opening that doesn’t completely match what happened in the previous book. In order to prevent his brother Gideon from being captured by the evil Coalition, Jake knocks him out and allows himself to be captured instead. His kidnappers transport him to an isolated house in Arizona, where Dr. Mariah Daley is waiting for him. Her assignment is to reactivate the subliminal programming buried in his subconscious and place him under the control of the Coalition. Jake is immediately attracted to the tough Coalition agent, even as he plots to escape her clutches. He doesn’t know that Mariah isn’t who she appears to be.
Anyone who hasn’t read the earlier entries in the series probably has no idea what I’m talking about, and this book doesn’t help ease the uninitiated into the saga. This isn’t a story that works on its own. The events are too connected with the rest of the series, and the romance is weak. Jake and Mariah not at all developed and are, at best, inoffensive characters. The reader learns next to nothing about them except they’re hot for each other. The attraction between them is way too forced and over-the-top. They’re swept up in these overblown sexual urges from practically the moment they meet. Although Barton does try to show a growing sense of trust between them, they still barely know each other in the end. As a love story, it’s not believable.
It also isn’t a satisfying conclusion to the Family Secrets saga. Instead of a big finish, this is a very small story. Much of it is Jake and Mariah and two bumbling henchmen in the house. Eventually, they move to take down the Coalition, something that happens too easily for a supposedly powerful group. The Coalition goes out with a whimper instead of a bang. Throughout this entire series I’ve been waiting for the Coalition’s master plan to be revealed. I’m still waiting. As a finale, it feels like a hastily concocted wrap-up that’s just been thrown together. I couldn’t help thinking, I read all twelve books to get to this? The very last scene, though, is a nice touch.
Overall, this continuity series disappointed. While there were some good individual books along the way, there wasn’t enough of a sense that anyone was keeping an eye on the big picture or any real flow between books. This slapdash finale may be the perfect end for a series that felt like it was being made up as it went along and ultimately went nowhere.