Desert Isle Keeper
I’ve been eager to get my hands on Firestorm, the third book in Rachel Grant’s gripping Flashpoint series, for months – and it was definitely worth the wait. This is one high-octane, high-stakes ride; steamy, complex, intricately plotted, politically astute and emotionally fraught, Firestorm is easily one of the best romantic suspense novels I’ve read in ages and Ms. Grant is clearly an author at the top of her game.
All the books in the series have been set in and around the fictional US base of Camp Citron on the outskirts of Djibouti. The series is called Flashpoint for a very good reason; the stories take place in some of the most dangerous places in the world (the Horn of Africa, Sudan and Congo), which are – literally – potential flashpoints that turn on a knife-edge; unstable regions and countries open to exploitation by influences both foreign and domestic. In this story, most of the action takes place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Russian-backed dictator-in-waiting, Jean Paul Lubanga, is planning to seize power and gain control of the country’s massive wealth in diamonds, minerals and uranium oxide. Russian control of the DRC would destabilise the already precarious political situation in Central Africa, and most worrying of all, the likely supply of uranium to places like Syria and Iran could be the first step towards World War Three. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and Camp Citron’s resident ‘spook’, Savannah James, has been tasked with finding out exactly how close Lubanga is to staging a coup.
Savannah – Savvy – has been a prominent secondary character throughout the series, a coolly enigmatic and ruthless (when called for) woman who is believed throughout the camp to be working for the CIA, although nobody knows for sure. She’s frighteningly competent and utterly dedicated to getting the job done by whatever means necessary –and sometimes those means aren’t pretty. Most of the people on camp dislike her and give her a wide berth, although she’s found an ally of sorts in Master Sergeant Pax Blanchard (hero of Tinderbox, book one) and Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford (hero of Catalyst, book two), the latter in spite of the fact that she ordered Bastian to seduce his now-fiancée, Brie Stewart, in order to gain information about the links between Brie’s family and the Russian mafia. The one man in Bastian and Pax’s circle who makes no attempt to hide his dislike of Savvy is Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan (Cal); that he also happens to be the one man Savvy wants at her back as she infiltrates a gathering comprising some of the most dangerous men in the world is not about to make life any easier for either of them.
There’s been a strong undercurrent of lust and sexual tension humming between Savvy and Cal since book one; they’re not exactly in denial, they both know they’re intensely attracted to one another, but neither is very happy about it and they keep their distance as far as possible. But that’s going to be impossible if Cal accepts the mission Savvy outlines; the only way she will be able to gain access to the party being thrown by Radimir Gorov is if she turns up hanging on the arm of an obviously powerful, ambitious and dangerous man. Which is where Cal comes in.
“Warlords and oligarchs will never accept a woman at the table unless she’s there as a toy… you’re the businessman. I’ll be your sex toy.”
Cal and Savvy are both strong, likeable, highly intelligent characters who share an intense dedication to doing what’s right and are driven to protect those they care for and those less fortunate. Savvy is tough as nails and is as highly trained as any special forces operative, yet she has faced – and continues to face – sexism and misogyny, even from those who are supposed to have her back. When she realises the extent of the manipulation to which she has been subjected by someone she’d trusted implicitly, it’s an excruciating – and ultimately life-threatening – betrayal that sees her and Cal running for their lives.
This is a very personal mission for Cal. The son of a Congolese mother and American father, his aunt and female cousins were raped and murdered by soldiers in the Second Congo War, and his male cousins disappeared; to this day it’s not known whether they died or have become part of the same rebel group that killed his aunt and her daughters. Cal may have been born in the US, but there’s no denying the strong kinship he feels with his mother’s homeland, and he’s just as determined as Savvy to strike a blow against the would-be interlopers and criminals who want to strip the Congo of its resources and autonomy.
The fake-relationship trope is perhaps a bit of an overdone premise in this particular genre, but be assured it’s only a springboard for what follows. There is much, MUCH more to this novel than the scorching sexual chemistry between the two leads; we’re plunged straight into a multi-layered story full of danger and nail-biting tension while at the same time we’re seeing the layers of suspicion and distrust built up by both Savvy and Cal being slowly peeled away to reveal the true nature and depth of their feelings for one another. The author has created compelling and rich personal stories for both protagonists, and, as usual, doesn’t shy away from referring to the atrocities and corruption that are every day occurrences in this part of the world.
I never fail to be impressed by Ms. Grant’s impeccable research and her ability to construct a sophisticated, topical and perfectly paced story that grabs me from page one and pushes me closer to the edge of my seat with each chapter. Firestorm is a real treat for lovers of romantic suspense; great characters with off-the-charts chemistry, a tender romance, a powerfully compelling plot full of dramatic twists and turns, and one of those against-all-odds finales that has you jumping up and down and punching the air when the good guys triumph over evil. I think this is the last book in the series and I’m certainly sorry to see it end –although you can colour me intrigued by the little glimpse we’re given of what we might have to look forward to next.
Firestorm is romantic suspense done right and to the max. Don’t miss it.