Have you given up Brockmann? Flashpoint, a definite departure in terms of style, might just be the book to win you back. If you are one of the many readers who didn’t appreciate the multiple plotlines, World War II subplots, or recurring characters, you just might want to give this one a try. Brockmann has eschewed these old stand-bys – and given her Troubleshooters series a much-needed shot in the arm.
Tom Paoletti resigned as the leader of SEAL team sixteen at the end of Gone Too Far and formed his own private agency which accepts government contracts. After an earthquake in fictional Kazbekistan (a country more or less modeled on Afghanistan under the Taliban) an al-Qaeda operative is left dead. He was well known to be in possession of a laptop that had crucial information about al-Qaeda operatives and potential terrorist targets. Since the earthquake also devastated the country, it’s borders are open to western relief workers for the first time in years. The U.S. government can’t risk its own operatives, but they hire Troubleshooters Inc. to see if they can retrieve it. As part of the mission, the team will also search for a foreign couple, Dimitri and Sophia Ghaffari, for possible recruitment.
The leader of the team is Lawrence Decker, former SEAL and most recently CIA. His right hand man is Jimmy Nash, also a former CIA operative with a dark, mysterious past. Jimmy is glad to sign on for the op, but dismayed to find that Tom’s choice for a computer specialist is Tess Bailey, another former CIA employee – and a recent one night stand. Jimmy’s afraid to face Tess because she makes him feel vulnerable; when they slept together he revealed things about his past that he’d never told anyone before. To make matters worse, Tess can only travel to Kazbekistan if she poses as Jimmy’s wife. The volatile political situation makes it a very hazardous place for women. So the tension mounts as the group arrives in K-stan, searches for the laptop, and establishes communications.
Meanwhile, Decker has an early run-in with Sophia Ghaffari, whose husband was killed by a powerful warlord, Padsha Bashir. Forced to marry Bashir and “entertain” his guests, Sophia bears horrific physical and emotional scars. Her husband was betrayed by a close friend, so she isn’t sure she can trust Decker – or anyone. Yet she has vital information that could help the whole team. Tension runs high as the whole team tries to do their jobs amid a backdrop of constant danger.
While some of the elements of the story (Tom Paoletti, Kazbekistan, etc.) are familiar, this book is a definite departure. There’s no mention at all of World War II – no elderly great aunt or grandma who spied, no Tuskegee Airmen or French Underground fighters. While I really enjoyed the WWII subplots initially (particularly the one in The Unsung Hero) I think ditching them was a good move. The well of ideas had pretty much run dry, and it was time to move on. The story is tighter and more focused without it.
Similarly, there are virtually no familiar characters. Tom’s participation is almost entirely off-stage. There’s no Sam, Alyssa, Max or Gina (or Kelly, or Stan, or Terri, or – well, anyone). Unlike many readers, I actually enjoyed Sam and Alyssa’s long, tumultuous courtship. Nonetheless, I was surprised how glad I was not to see them. The new faces gave the series some much needed energy, and I pretty much liked all of them. I suspect that some Max and Gina fans might be a little disappointed, but I’ve never found their relationship all that compelling, so to me their absence was almost a relief.
Tess and Jimmy are really the main characters here, and both of them are intriguing. Jimmy’s done some frightening things in his past, and the more innocent (but capable) Tess is a good foil for him. I really liked Tess (any author who gives her heroine lots of freckles gets some serious bonus points from me), who’s gutsy in a good way. Sophia and Decker interested me even more, and I’ll be watching for more from them in coming books.
I think the Troubleshooter books are better when the characters are abroad and in real danger, and that aspect of the book worked a little better for me than some of the more recent offerings. While I think a lot of the political stuff requires suspension of disbelief, the action is exciting and the setting is interesting. However, there is so much action and intrigue that the love story takes a definite backseat. I would have liked to see a little more of Tess and Jimmy together (well, together and not worrying about getting shot by some K-stani thug).
Is Flashpoint worth the hardcover price? Well, die-hard Brockmann fans have probably bought it already, and I think most will find it worthwhile. If you are one of those who enjoyed Brockmann in the past but tired of the same old, same old, you might want to give this a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the changes (though you may choose to wait for the paperback). This isn’t the series’ best offering, but Brockmann is one of the few writers out there who can deliver a solid action/adventure romance. The new characters infuse the book with an energy that many will enjoy.