I’m always eager to read romances in unusual settings, so Catherine Mann’s latest military romance, Defender, set entirely in Turkey, appealed to me. While I found most of the characters interesting, there are too many separate threads to give it a hearty recommendation.
Captain Jimmy Gage is a pilot for a dark ops squadron in which he tests all kinds of high tech equipment – and drugs – to be used in covert operations. One of Jimmy’s fellow pilots was kidnapped by terrorists in Turkey, and they’re trying to locate him. As a cover, the group escorts a group of USO performers to an air force base in Turkey. What was supposed to be a quick mission turns into something much more complicated when the USO group’s boat explodes off the coast of Turkey. Suddenly, Jimmy is forced to go into shark-infested waters to help rescue the USO troop. The last person he saves is Chloe Nelson.
Jimmy and Chloe are attracted to each other, but don’t like the person they think the other is. Chloe thinks Jimmy is just a stubborn, not too intelligent pilot. Jimmy sees Chloe as a fluffy, very attractive USO dancer. In contrast, we learn that Chloe’s actually a classical musician, who is doing a one-time-only stint with the USO as thanks to a dead military officer whose donated kidney saved Chloe’s life. We also learn that Chloe is a complete Star Trek geek. And Jimmy isn’t just a pilot, but also an engineer.
The USO tour is put on hold until the military can discover the source of the explosion, and Jimmy’s group is ordered to protect the USO personnel, throwing Jimmy and Chloe into daily contact. They’re also placed in almost constant danger, facing repeated threats of bombings and kidnapping. I liked both Jimmy and Chloe. They are complicated characters with a lot of baggage. However, rather than wallowing in self pity, they’re each trying to make a difference. My problem was that I would have liked to have spent much more time with them.
There are a lot of separate threads that all feed into the overarching plot of the attempt to rescue Jimmy’s kidnapped comrade. There is also a secondary romance between a deep undercover operative and a waitress. A lot of time was also spent on the undercover operative’s attempts to locate the captured pilot. Each time I would become really caught up in Jimmy and Chloe’s story, the emphasis would switch to the captured pilot, the undercover operative, the chief terrorist, or one of the other USO performers. While I found all of the characters to be interesting, there were just too many subplots for my taste. Almost any one of the separate sub-threads would have made an interesting book.
Defender was a well-written book, with engaging primary and secondary characters. The balance between suspense and romance definitely tilted more to the suspense side than the romance side; if you like that focus, you may enjoy it more than I did, as I prefer my romantic suspense with a bit more romance and a bit less suspense.