Susan Stoker is a popular and prolific author of romantic suspense novels and has written several long-running series in the genre. I recently listened to an audiobook of one of her titles, and wasn’t wowed by it; I’d failed to realise it was the last book (of nine) in a series, but I wasn’t lost so much as I’d clearly missed out on some important details regarding the central couple, whose relationship had been building since book one. So I thought I’d give the author another try, and picked up Defending Morgan when it came up for review. I knew it was part of a series – it’s book three of Mountain Mercenaries – but the series factor wasn’t the cause of the problems I had with it. I was able to follow the story and action, but it’s slow, there isn’t enough plot to fill a full-length novel, the characters are bland, the romance is limp and much of the dialogue is wordy, repetitive, and unrealistic.
The story opens in media res as a three man team comprised of Archer Kane (aka Arrow – geddit?), Black and Ball (yes, these guys might not be in the military any more, but they still have to have nicknames) effects the rescue of a little girl called Nina, who was kidnapped and removed from the US by her father. The men get a surprise when they discover Nina isn’t alone; a young woman Arrow recognises as Morgan Byrd – who has been missing for around a year – is with her. There’s no time to ask questions; the men get Morgan and Nina away, but decide it’ll be safer for them to split up and make their way to the safe house in two groups – Black and Ball will take Nina and Morgan will travel with Arrow.
After just a few pages, we’re told that Arrow feels some sort of deep connection to Morgan –
She was different from all the other women he’d saved over the years. It was as if he could sense her determination. He was proud of her… He also felt more protective towards this woman than anyone else he’d rescued.
The first third of the book deals with the rescue and Arrow and Morgan making their way to the safe house, but even though they have a couple of run-ins with her captors, it’s pretty stodgy going. It’s mostly Arrow going all ga-ga over Morgan and thinking about how amazing she is to have borne what she’s gone through and how much he wants to protect her, in similar vein to the passage I quoted above. The author makes it clear, very subtly, that Morgan was repeatedly raped, and it’s clear Arrow knows it, too, so I suppose it’s in his favour that he doesn’t start with the mental lusting; instead barely a page goes by without him thinking or telling her how incredible she is.
Once the group are back together, they manage to get Morgan – who has no passport or papers – out of the Dominican Republic and back into the US without any problem, and then set about working out who had her kidnapped and was paying to have her kept there indefinitely.
And that’s basically the plot. We get cameos by the heroes and heroines of the previous books, various scenes with the team of heroes-in-waiting, and a backstory for the mysterious Rex, who set up the Mountain Mercenaries (a group of former military guys who are sent in to rescue women and children in precarious circumstances around the world) after his wife disappeared. (I’m betting his will be the final book in the set.) But the plot is tissue-paper thin, and as in the first third, most of the rest of the book is devoted to Arrow telling Morgan how wonderful she is and saying stuff like this:
“I saw a woman who was scared out of her skull, but wasn’t afraid to stick up for a small child who needed her. I saw a woman who had been through hell, but somehow the goodness in her still shone from every pore… Even before I knew who you were, and what your story was, I knew you were special.”
“Just by your presence, you’ve made this apartment more of a home than it’s been since I moved in. You’ve filled it with your energy and goodness.”
Jeez. Pass the bucket.
Thankfully, therapy is part of Morgan’s recovery. She’s attracted to Arrow, but worried that she’ll never be able to have sex with him – a valid concern given what happened to her. But guess what? Arrow isn’t worried.
“My dick isn’t going to fall off if we don’t make love. We can get creative if you aren’t comfortable with penetration. And I can always masturbate.”
Wow. He always knows exactly the right thing to say, huh?
The search for the person behind Morgan’s kidnap goes pretty much nowhere until the villain reveals themselves and OMG, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the sheer awfulness of their internal monologue.
After two books, I think I can say, categorically, that this author isn’t for me. There’s no romance, no suspense, page after page of sappy sentimentalism and I just can’t buy all these big, tough alpha guys giving each other relationship advice. Arrow pretty much never calls Morgan by name, re-christening her ‘beautiful’, and when one of the previous heroines came out with this:
“If he wants to protect me by not letting me watch the news and by doing his best not to talk about the missions he goes on with his friends, I’m okay with that because it means he loves me.”
I almost dropped my Kindle. Heroines in romantic suspense novels are generally not damsels in distress who wilt at the first sign of trouble; they’re supposed to be as capable, clever and tough as their heroes and able to rescue themselves (and him) when the necessity arises. But I read that, and thought I’d gone through a wormhole and back to the 1970s.
There are plenty of four and five star reviews for Defending Morgan on Goodreads, so clearly the author has a dedicated fan-base, and if you’ve enjoyed her books before, this might work for you. But I found it slow, corny, and boring – and I can’t recommend it.