Time and again I set Free Fall aside, hating that my duty as a reviewer required me to keep reading. Finally, I treated it like removing a band-aid – I read it as quickly as possible so I could just get it over with. It is quite possibly the worst book I’ve ever finished.
Stella Carson is an Interpol code breaker. She took the job so she could go to Africa to investigate her part-time Peace Corps mother’s suspicious death in a car crash when Stella was fifteen. While on assignment in the Arabian Sea, Stella meets Pararescueman Jose “Cuervo” James. Their attraction is white hot, and in-between missions the two quickly fall in love.
Sober for five years and determined to avoid the mistakes made by his alcoholic mother and sister, Jose’s high adrenaline job keeps him distracted and away from the booze. When Stella indicates that she wants kids someday, Jose balks at the prospect of passing on his alcoholic genes or possibly letting down a child if he ever relapses. Crushed that they want different things out of life, they go their separate ways.
A month later, African separatists have captured Stella and a group of college students, and Jose is part of the special operations team tasked with their rescue. Thrown together again, Stella and Jose can’t stop their feelings for each other from filling every thought. While the same problem still stands between them, neither can imagine how they will manage to say good-bye again.
I’m not even sure where to start with the problems I had with this book. Given that it’s a romance, I’ll start there. Stella and Jose are soul mates, perfect for each other, in love. I know this because every other page, one of them mentally bemoans this fact followed with much angsting about how painful it was to break up and how even more painful it will be to part again forever because they Can’t. Be. Together. The only conflict keeping them apart – Jose’s fear of the effects his alcoholism might have on their distant-future children. Until the end, when all of the sudden he decides that a family might actually give him the support he needs to remain sober.
When Jose isn’t dwelling on how Stella broke his heart even though he was the one who put the kibosh on their long-term future, he’s worried about her safety and wanting to get her away from danger. I think this was supposed to make him seem protective. Given that they are working in Somalia, it makes him look stupid.
In addition to their inability to go five minutes without obsessing over their relationship woes or mentally worshipping the other, the two are beyond unprofessional. They can’t keep their hands or lips to themselves regardless of inappropriateness. Even in the midst of an RPG attack, Jose’s mind is not on the job: He tucked Stella closer, debris stoning his back. Even with his body on high alert, still he couldn’t help but catch the scent of her hair, the softness of her body.
Not that Stella’s job is in any way realistic. She’s an Interpol code breaker who rescues Navy SEALs, goes undercover to infiltrate pirate rings, interrogates prisoners and is an expert computer hacker who works with a spec ops team to thwart an attack on a U.S. dignitary. All of this despite the fact that in reality, Interpol is a politically and militarily neutral organization whose mission is to provide support to local police forces, not to maintain a U.S. covert missions department.
Even if I could manage to ignore the poor premise and constant internal despair of the main characters, inconsistencies drove me to distraction. I lost count of how many times the story contradicted itself in the span of a few pages or even paragraphs. A few examples:
Some things were just silly. Jose buys lots of pillows at the military base store because he knows that Stella likes puffy pillows to go with her industrial, military-issue bedding. CIA agents named Smith, Brown, or Jones wear dark suits while on missions in Africa. The U.S. VP’s wife undertakes a “goodwill” mission to Mogadishu, one of the most dangerous places on the planet. A Somali orphan school teaches upper level chemistry. I could go on and on.
I haven’t even covered the plot that involves Stella deciphering a code woven in a piece of cloth that reveals a conspiracy to unleash a deadly bio-toxin on a huge crowd all to create chaos so that local warlords can continue their reigns of crime and oppression. And as far as the original motivation that drove Stella to Africa? Her mother’s death is mentioned once or twice throughout the story then all but forgotten until a huge coincidence solves the entire mystery.
If you are a fan of this author’s prior work, you may be able to ignore the unrealistic plot, weak romantic conflict, and the sloppy writing. I’m just so glad I don’t have to read Free Fall any more.