Welcome to Trinidad – but the hard-working Trinidad of the oil and gas industry, not the sandy beaches and starlight of the world of resorts. Sean Scott is in Public Relations for the Orion methanol company, when her ex, Christian Devane, turns up to work in operations. While helping him open a local bank account, the two are caught up in a terrorist bombing. Sean and Christian’s relationship progresses as the terrorists move from a bombing to a coup, and in the meantime, something (or someone) is awry in Christian’s safety department at Orion.
Simona Taylor also publishes literary fiction as Roslyn Carrington, and she has definite prose chops. When Sean’s ex, Christian, turns out to be working at Orion with her – “Of all the methanol plants in all the little islands in the world, he had to walk into hers.” Describing an indifferent boyfriend – “he was like a boy who, bored with everything offered on TV, clicks through the hundreds of channels and then decides to sit and watch one chosen at random, merely to fill the time.” The other interesting effect of her literary side is that the author she steps out of genre conventions, and whether or not that works for you will change how you feel about the book. I really liked it in some places. After the bombing, Christian and Sean experience detailed grief and trauma, contrary to the typical ‘shrug-it-off’ protagonists of romantic suspense. Although the ‘final straw’ cheating that Sean dumped Christian over is a classic Big Mis, Christian did cheat on Sean as a young man. When Sean meets a girlfriend of Christian’s, she feels insulted that he was cheating with someone so unattractive. These are characters with weaknesses, some of which are quite petty, and that’s unusual and intriguing.
But while Christian has changed from the unlikeable, egocentric young man he was, Sean retains nearly every neurosis and bad habit from her youth. My inability to connect with Sean was the primary reason for not giving this book a higher grade. She is tormented by keeping a secret for her father, but her decision to keep the secret feels rushed and unjustified. She visits the working area of the methane plant in high heels and without safety gear, then feels self-righteously indignant with Christian for calling her out on it. During the coup, when she and Christian are fleeing to a safer residential compound, she sees a child being beaten during looting and leaps out of their car to intervene. I know the impulse is sympathetic, but the action is TSTL – what’s she going to do against a mob? Plus, she runs hot and cold on Christian at the slightest provocation (although he, admittedly, is unjustifiably angry with her for slighting his competence).
A few other tics made me uncomfortable. Every reference to the coup-plotting Prophetess describes her obesity in a graphic, insulting way (“the sausages of fat that encased her chest and belly heaved with each step”). Characters who speak in dialect English are all villains. I disliked an injury subplot at the end, because of how it gave and then revoked a disability as part of a happy ending. But on the whole, I’d attribute most of the issues with the novel to its 1999 publication date.
To return to the parts of this book that shine, this is a terrifically developed setting, and I could not predict the twists of the suspense plot. I actually predicted the wrong villain for a long time, which is rare! The author clearly knows the petrochemical industry, because the details of the plant’s workings are highly technical, but they are never dry – the details of plant safety measures and sabotage vulnerabilities just add to the suspense. Outside of the plant, the Trinidad setting is strongly developed, from its expat housing enclaves to its political scene. The coup plot and the ensuing chaos were probably based on the August 1990 Jamaat al Muslimeen coup attempt in Trinidad, about which I knew nothing until I googled it after reading this. One of the things I love most about unusual settings in books is how I become more informed about my nonfiction world, and this book accomplished that.
I recommend this book to anyone looking for a complete change of pace and place in romantic suspense. The shortcomings of the main character may not bother you as much as they bothered me, but even if they did, there are plenty of other things in this book that make it well worth reading.