As an FBI legal attache, Selena Shaw Jones travels to foreign countries to foster cooperation between them and the United States, and to develop counterterrorism programs. She accepted her latest assignment in the Middle Eastern country of Berzhaan as a means of escaping marital problems. Her husband Colin is a CIA contract agent, and their marriage weathered difficult times in the past. This time though, his betrayal was so severe she had to walk away.
Berzhaan is a war-torn country dealing with constant threats by Kemeni rebels trying to overthrow the ruling government. Rebels storm the Berzhaan capitol building while she’s visiting the prime minister. She herself is safe in a bathroom throwing up when the attack takes place. Before she left the States, she and Colin were trying to get pregnant, and now she’s having vomiting fits that raise the question of whether she’s with child. Under the present circumstances, she doesn’t have much time to worry about that, though. She’s the only one free inside the building who can try and stop the rebels, a mission that becomes more vital when they start executing hostages.
Checkmate is the twelfth and final book in the Athena Force continuity. It stands on its own for the most part. The events of the last couple books, which introduced the fictional country of Berzhaan, are referenced, and several heroines from earlier books make appearances. However, the events of this story are self-contained and shouldn’t be too hard to follow for anyone who hasn’t been following the series. The reappearance of an old villain from earlier in the series might not mean much to readers who haven’t read that book, but to be honest, I did and it still didn’t mean much to me.
The story is interesting, but never truly compelling. While there are some good sequences and effective action scenes, overall the book never really takes off. There are a lot of long narrative sections and lengthy paragraphs that slow the momentum. The last Athena Force book, Target, was fast and exciting even with the heavy narrative sections. This book isn’t, and there were times the story barely managed to hold my attention. Almost the entire book is built around the hostage crisis, which is the kind of storyline that might work well for a novella or a short series book, but here, it just felt drawn out.
Selena is an admirably tough and feisty heroine who acquits herself well in the action scenes. The best parts of the book are the ones that focus on her interactions between her and rebel leader Tafiq Ashurbeyli. The battle of wits between them, the way Selena reads him and knows how far to push, is nicely done. At the same time, she’s an underdeveloped character, and the subplot with her husband doesn’t really do her any favors. It seems too much like typical romance novel melodrama that’s an ill fit in a high-octane Bombshell book. When she thinks about her difficulties with Cole, she often comes across as weak and wishy washy, and any moment when she contemplates her possible pregnancy felt out of place in the action plot.
While the book has more of a romantic element than some Bombshells, the relationship itself is pretty dull. Cole is even less developed than Selena. They share several phone conversations throughout the story, as she calls him from inside the capitol building and he tries to do what he can to help her. But I got too little sense of their relationship to care much about it, and what I did know wasn’t good. The exact nature of his purported betrayal is kept vague for so long that I suspected a lame misunderstanding would turn out be the culprit. Without spoiling anything, I did think that it ultimately proved to be much ado about nothing.
Checkmate is a mixed bag. It has some good moments, but is also never quite as exciting as it should be. The heroine has some kick-butt scenes, but she also is stuck with a weak relationship subplot. All in all, the final entry in the Athena Force series is simply an acceptable read.