Going Dark opens with an elite team of Navy SEALS deep into a covert operation on foreign soil. Their mission could be construed as an act of aggression if discovered so the men are working under blackout conditions; no communication with their transport ship and radio silence while on the ground. When things go to hell the surviving members of the team realize they’ve been betrayed and the commanding officer orders his men to scatter and hide themselves until the leak can be discovered. This dramatic prologue sets the stage for what should have been an intense story of the survivors’ search for a mole within the chain of command. Instead Going Dark wastes much of that build up by changing gears from a military action thriller to a tepid story of eco-terrorism.
Annie Henderson’s life changed forever after she saw the terrible effect of the B.P. oil spill on the environment in Louisiana. Deciding that she needed to make a difference Annie got her doctorate in Ecology and has looked for ways to use her knowledge to effect positive change. When her new French boyfriend, Julien Bernard, invites her to travel with him to Scotland to protest off shore drilling in the Hebrides, she seizes the opportunity to take a large public stand on an issue dear to her. Julien’s group plans to document a sit-in protest on the oil platform with the hopes their film will convince those in power to change the local regulations.
Upon arriving on the Isle of Lewis, Annie begins to have misgivings about Julien and the group of friends he’s brought her to meet. Her unease grows after learning that the boat chartered to take them from Lewis out to the platform was booked using her name without her knowledge – but it’s not enough for her to change course. Annie’s suspicions about Julien’s group seem small compared to the outright hostility they get from the boat’s Canadian captain, Dan Warren, who initially refuses to transport them. Her hackles are immediately raised when she catches Dan washing out an engine component in the marina without a care for the grease he’s getting in the ocean water. While Annie can appreciate how handsome Dan is, she’s put off by his dismissive attitude towards the protestors and his anger at what she and Julien’s group intend to do.
Dean Baylor cannot afford to get mixed up with some fanatical protestors and their misguided publicity stunt. His safety depends on his cover as Canadian boat captain Dan Warren not being blown and exposing the truth that he and other members of SEAL Team Nine survived their mission in Siberia. Dean has been lying low in Scotland, looking for anything in the movements of the Northern Russian naval fleet that suggests an imminent assault on the U.S. The protest group Annie’s involved with is trouble Dean doesn’t need; however the boat’s owner forces him to take the charter and carry the small party out to the oil platform. Things get complicated when Annie finds Dean in the wheelhouse and alerts him to a suspicious item she discovered in the provisions Julien’s friend brought on board. All it takes is her brief description of wires and tubes of clay for Dean to realize that the other passengers he’s got on board aren’t peaceful protesters at all. A confrontation with the group’s leader exposes their true intent to blow up the drilling platform and Dean is forced to incapacitate the other men. Still hoping to maintain his cover, Dean takes Annie on an emergency raft away from the boat and alerts the authorities about the terrorists left behind. Unfortunately, when they reach shore Dean learns that the men were found dead when the coast guard arrived at the scene and all evidence points to him and Annie being responsible. Unwilling to sacrifice Annie’s safety for his own anonymity, Dean uses his knowledge of the islands and stealth tactics to keep one step ahead of the police and whoever is out to kill anyone with knowledge of the terrorist plot.
Before I get into a discussion about the storyline of Going Dark I have to take a moment to thank Monica McCarty for presenting Annie and Dean’s differing ideologies with fairness and intelligence. It would have been very simple to paint both characters with very broad strokes that scream LIBERAL or CONSERVATIVE and yet neither of them can fit neatly into those stereotypes. Both Annie and Dean are very comfortable with their beliefs and backgrounds but they are both willing to listen to the other side and present rational arguments as to why they think they way they do. Annie was lured to Scotland by those who are much more extreme in their beliefs and upon arriving she sees how refusing to listen to opposing viewpoints can lead to tunnel vision and a sense that violence is a viable alternative. That is so far from how Annie wants to encourage change that she sees through Julien’s allure and trusts Dean, despite his earlier hostility towards her and her own prejudices against military types. Dean, too, broadens his horizons by acknowledging early on that Annie has a purpose in her life and it drives her just as strongly as his own dedication to his men and their mission. She earns his respect before she earns his love and that’s a very good foundation for a romance between two polar opposites.
The driving plotline of the eco-terrorists hunting Dean and Annie across the Hebrides is such a departure from the opening scenes of the book that I was confused for many chapters. The SEALS’ doomed mission is a nail-biting moment of military professionals in crisis with an intense cliff-hanger at the end of the prologue. To then ignore all the excitement generated by that scene by taking the book into a quiet fishing village in Scotland kills the momentum and much of the dramatic pull generated by concern for the men’s safety. Dean’s exile in Harris serves little purpose when it’s revealed that Naval Command has been keeping the mission’s failure a secret for political reasons and there’s been no response from the Russians. We do see Dean using his experience and training to save Annie on many occasions; however his character still feels underdeveloped. He carries some survivor’s remorse and guilt about his actions when the SEAL team was attacked but all of that righteous fury is wasted trying to outsmart a group of eco-warriors. There are other characters who get things done back in the U.S. and all while Dean is wind-surfing in Scotland and moping that a beautiful activist is cracking his hardened military shell.
Even though Going Dark wasn’t quite the story I expected I cannot forget how strongly the book started and how well the investigation into SEAL Team Nine’s disappearance was layered into the background. Seeing Dean’s fellow sailors find justice and exposing the traitor is what I want and I’ll be following The Lost Platoon series to get those answers.
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