Facing Fear
Grade : D

You know what I liked about Facing Fear? It had an Asian-American heroine. I know plenty of Asian-Americans, but I never seem to see them in books. You know what I didn’t like about Facing Fear? Pretty much everything else. The plot is annoying, convoluted, and hard to believe. The characters are irritating, unlikable people; I had no desire to spend any time with them.

Ricardo “Rick” Harden was once a hot shot CIA agent working at a cool job in Internal Investigations. Now he is a bureaucrat. Rick does not like being a bureaucrat, and uses the word like an expletive. But when his wife Leah died in a failed op ten years ago, he refused to answer key questions, and in turn received a demotion. Now he thinks of himself as “Dick Hard-on,” the ultimate prick. And I couldn’t really disagree with him. The director of his new department, TIARA’s (Tactical Intelligence and Related Activities) Task Force Two, has been caught slipping documents to enemies and is accused of treason. Despite all his careful plans to become Dick Hard-on the ultimate bureaucrat, Rick just might find himself going down with his boss.

Nikki Taylor is a secret operative for GEM, an elite government force that operates outside the CIA. She has been assigned to assess Rick’s guilt and his potential to lead Task Force Two. It’s not an assignment she really wanted, but it will give her the opportunity to understand her true past. For the last ten years, Nikki has not known who she really was. She was rescued after a year of captivity by horrible men who raped and tortured her. Her entire face had to be reconstructed, and she looks different (but still gorgeous, of course). She couldn’t remember her name or anything about her past except the teachings of her grandmother. Her grandmother taught her three mantras, which she thinks about constantly: Beware the center. Feed the hungry ghosts. Release the frozen heart. If you didn’t get that the first time, don’t worry; these mantras are repeated ad nauseum. Anyway, the government has promised her answers about her past if she completes this assignment.

If you’ve passed Fiction Reading 101, you can probably guess who Nikki is, which would put you ahead of several of the characters in this book, including Rick. Rick only finds out that Nikki is his wife about halfway through the book, after he’s talked to her several times, held her, kissed her, and even given her an orgasm in her car. After all this, he can’t figure out that Nikki is his wife until she tells him (and a room full of people). The explanation given is that Nikki has had five surgeries to correct the damage to her face, so she doesn’t look the same. I had trouble believing she would still be gorgeous after her face was totally mutilated and rebuilt, but this plot device has been used in more than one novel in the past. What I really couldn’t believe was that he wouldn’t recognize her anyway. This is his wife whom he loved madly. And he can’t recognize her voice? Or anything else about her? Some intelligence agent.

Even if you could buy this basic premise, the book is rife with problems. Probably the most serious is the convoluted plot. I know there are all different kinds of writers. Some work best with a detailed outline, and some like to go where their muse takes them. I’d personally recommend that Ms. Low switch to the outline method so that her plot could make some kind of sense. There were inconsistencies and plot holes galore, and the whole thing reads like a stream of consciousness first draft. That would be fine, if only it were a first draft rather than a final product. Nikki’s character is one of the main inconsistencies. In the beginning, we are told repeatedly that she doesn’t know who she is, and that discovering her identity is the reason she takes on the assignment. Then she reveals who she really is at a crucial meeting, and she sounds like she has only just discovered this information. Later, we find out that she has known who she is for almost ten years, and was just afraid to face her husband because she was so changed. Similarly, we never find out crucial details like what exactly the failed op entailed, who captured Leah/Nikki, and where she was all that time. At the end, we are introduced to a villain of sorts when we learn who was in cahoots with the treasonous director. But like everything else in the book, it has a slapdash feel, like the author just thought of the villain right then and had him/her make an appearance. What is frustrating about all this is that I kept getting the sense that the author had potential, and that with some thorough reworking the book could have been much better.

However, even if the book were better written I doubt I would have liked the characters. I found Rick smarmy and irritating. His constant bragging about his sexual prowess (He knows how to knock women unconscious with their powerful orgasms! He knows exactly what makes every woman in the universe tick! He can go all night like an over-sexed gladiator on viagra! Every woman in the department is just dying to f*** him!) made him sound like a misogynistic jerk. If I were in his department, he’d be the last person I’d sleep with. And then there is his nickname for Nikki – little bird. It’s supposed to be endearing, but it comes across as condescending, and not at all sexy. Nikki/Leah is better, but not much. Her mysticism and constant repeating of mantras made her seem wacky, and her inconsistent characterization gave her a very remote feel.

I originally picked this book up because it sounded similar to Brockmann’s books, which I enjoy. I like action and government intrigue. Unfortunately, this book has very little action, and the government intrigue was anything but intriguing. Perhaps the author will become more organized in subsequent books, but in the meantime, I’d pass on this one.

Reviewed by Blythe Smith

Grade: D

Book Type: Romantic Suspense

Sensuality: Hot

Review Date : March 3, 2004

Publication Date: 2004

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Blythe Smith

I've been at AAR since dinosaurs roamed the Internet. I've been a Reviewer, Reviews Editor, Managing Editor, Publisher, and Blogger. Oh, and Advertising Corodinator. Right now I'm taking a step back to concentrate on kids, new husband, and new job in law...but I'll still keep my toe in the romance waters.
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