Hot Pursuit is the latest in Julie Ann Walker’s Black Knights Inc. series which features a group of ex- special forces operatives who now work for a covert government defence firm set up by a former US President. The book is billed as romantic suspense, but disappointingly, it’s neither romantic nor particularly suspenseful; the central characters are supposed to be in their early thirties and yet act like a pair of hormonal teenagers much of the time, and Ms. Walker has a tendency to talk directly to her audience through the heroine, which is odd and the exact opposite of endearing.
The plot is tissue-paper thin. After a mission gone wrong, Christian Watson, together with two other members of BKI, their office manager, Emily Scott (who apparently tagged along to keep them out of trouble), and a former marine turned charter-boat captain are forced to hole up in a small cottage in Cornwall until they can safely get out of England and back to the US. Their anonymity is shot to hell, however, when a bunch of reporters turn up on the doorstep trying to get to Christian, to get the story of what happened when he was captured towards the end of the war in Iraq. The timing was politically sensitive and the mission to rescue him was messy; Christian was blamed for the incident (although his identity was never divulged) and quietly left the SAS. He has spent the last few years living well under the radar, so someone must have discovered his identity and location and fed it to the media. The question is, who?
Watching the news on TV not far away are Lawrence and Ben Michelson, brothers of the soldier killed when the mission to rescue Christian went pear-shaped. Both are police officers, but Lawrence is a loose cannon – he has never forgiven the unknown SAS officer for his brother’s death and the later deaths of both their parents, and is out for revenge. Lawrence and Ben make for the cottage hide-out, just in time to witness Christian and his team make their escape, and then follow them to Newquay airport, where a jet is waiting.
Following a violent confrontation during which the pilot is shot, Christian et al get away and end up making for an Elizabethan manor house that is owned by the National Trust. Christian spent a fair bit of time there as a boy and is sure they can break in and hide out for the night while they make arrangements for another flight to get them out. The book was already on shaky ground, but this was where it completely fell apart. They break into a 500-year-old house, and find rooms in which they can actually sit and lounge about on the furniture and in which Christian and Emily find a bed they use for energetic, loud sex. There’s a reason these things are normally roped off – they’re old and probably fragile. They’re definitely not to be used for hot monkey sex. And don’t get me started about the fact that Christian has to wash the sheets afterwards in the washing machine in the basement.
That’s just the start of a long line of things that took me out of this not-at-all-gripping story. The pacing leaves a lot to be desired, because a huge chunk in the middle of the book – my Kindle shows it’s about 40% of it – takes place at the house, and nothing much happens other than Christian and Emily getting it on, and two of the other team members who are also suffering from a huge dose of unrequited lust, yelling at each other most of the time.
Christian and Emily find time to talk to each other about their pasts; his growing up with parents who were alcoholics, while Emily’s parents and grandparents were serial monogamists with more than a dozen marriages between them, which has made her think there’s something in her genes that means she can’t fall in love. (Oh, for the love of Pete…)
Emily spends most of her time looking at or thinking about what’s in Christian’s trousers, and then telling herself that no, she mustn’t think of him that way because she can never have him. Every bloody page is filled with endless mental lusting which bored the hell out of me incredibly quickly. Their sexy, flirty banter is neither sexy nor flirty. They are supposed to have that whole ‘you-irritate-the-hell-out-of-me-but-I-fancy-you-like-nobody’s-business’ thing going on, but the author’s attempts at flirtatious humour are very wide of the mark and the couple sounds like a pair of kids who are trying to come up with clever insults, but don’t have the requisite vocabulary. Worse than all that, there is no romance in this book whatsoever. There is no relationship development or progression from not being in love to being in love. Christian and Emily start the book in lust with each other, everyone around them knows it, so really, the only thing that changes is that they decide to have sex. And to tell their friends about it.
And the language… oh, my god, the language is cringe-making. Do women of thirty really say things like “That kind of thinking was totally crazypants”, or “it was totally amazeballs” and actually MEAN it? Sure, I’ve said things like that, but only when I wanted to take the piss out of something. Or how about you look at a guy and think he’s “A breaker of hearts. A slayer of vaginas”. A slayer of vaginas?! What is this – Muffy the Vagina Slayer?! Or this – “How would she ever be able to look at him, talk to him, work with him knowing that he wanted to, in the parlance of their time, introduce his boy part to her girl part?” The parlance of whose time? Eight-year-olds in the school playground? I could find many more examples of such utterly dreadful phrases (there’s plenty of panty-melting and panty-slicking), but here’s a final doozy: “He did that humming thing and it hit her directly in the uterus.” Oh, good grief.
Still on the subject of language, I appreciate that Ms. Walker has tried to make Christian sound English, but his use of the word ‘fancy’ is grating and incorrect. We might say ‘I fancy him’ or ‘I fancy a bacon sandwich’ or ‘I fancy a coffee’, but we don’t use it as a substitute for ‘like’ in the way Christian does –“He assumed it was because she fancied keeping the people around her off-balance” or “What I fancy is for the woman to stay precisely where she is”. Plus when using the ‘f’ word to swear, we English usually pronounce it as ‘fucking’ not ‘fecking’. (And according to the Urban Dictionary, ‘fecking’ has a totally different meaning.)
For some readers, these will be minor points or perhaps will not register at all. But I mention them because I was taken out of the story on pretty much every single page, and given it’s a story that doesn’t have a lot going for it in the first place, that made it practically unreadable.
Hot Pursuit isn’t hot and there isn’t much pursuing going on. It gets a D for ‘Dreadful’.