Desert Isle Keeper
Navy SEAL Rescue
This was a total goat screw of a situation.
That line perfectly describes this fantastic romantic suspense novel. In short, Navy SEAL Rescue is a story of an Assyrian doctor who’s caught up in the war in Syria and Iraq and manages to escape the Da’esh, the Islamic Front, with a daring trek over the Zagros Mountains into Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, and thence to safety in Armenia with the help of a Caucasian American Navy SEAL. The best part of the book is how both the hero and heroine rescue each other over the course of the book – each leads the other in different aspects of the story – and largely, how comfortable both are with the other being in charge.
William Hudson (Hud) is a Navy SEAL, who’s been captured in the Telskuf region of Iraq. When his interpreter, Hasan, is murdered by the Da’esh in Syria, he pursues them into Telskuf, where he’s captured, put in solitary confinement and only let out for beatings and torture.
This particular corner of hell was an underground spider-hole with four walls, a solid dirt floor and no light. The only exit was an impenetrable metal door.
For two months, he exists in darkness, starved and treated like an animal. Remarkably, he is able to retain his sanity and equanimity through hours of mental and physical exercises.
Dr. Layah Anwar is an Assyrian Christian who was born in Iraq and studied medicine in Damascus. Her father is from Armenia, where her parents currently live. Layah’s wedding to Khalil, a Syrian Muslim, was frowned upon by her parents to the extent that they didn’t attend her wedding, so she didn’t bother to inform them when he was murdered by the Da’esh in Syria to Layah’s everlasting sorrow.
Working as a doctor on people torn apart by bombs and gunfire, Layah has seen so much despair and tragedy that she abandons her plans to practice medicine in Syria. Rescuing her now-orphaned nephew Ashur – Hasan’s son – she flees into Iraq to escape the Syrian war, only to get caught up in the toils of the Da’esh. She’s desperate now to get over the Zagros Mountains to Armenia, the only country in the region likely to welcome an Assyrian.
But she won’t be able to make the journey without help, and Layah decides that the Navy SEAL hidden by the Da’esh in Telskuf will undoubtedly have the training and physical ability to guide herself, Ashur, and their small band of Assyrian and Yazidi refugees over the mountains to safety. Despite the fact that he and his SEAL teammates had failed to protect Hasan, Hud is her only chance to elude war once and for all, so she conceives an audacious plan to rescue him, bombing his cell and getting him out with the help of Ashur and her cousins. Hud is perfectly willing to go along with Layah’s plans during his short recuperation, though once he finds out he’s to be her ticket out of there, he balks. Professional regulations do not allow SEALs to engage in freelance missions to help refugees escape. But Hud is out here on his own, and Layah is his ticket to get out of Iraq alive and into Turkey and thence to an American base. Now he was free and determined to stay that way.
So both Layah and Hud declare a tentative truce to their bristling hostilities, leaving behind only the simmering attraction between them. From the very beginning, they cannot keep their eyes off each other, but as Hud comes to know Layah better, he finds himself unreasonably jealous of her late husband, with whom she still appears to be in love. He wants her focus all on himself, but Layah continues to dream about Khalil. Hud can conquer the Zagros, but how can he dislodge an idolized husband from Layah’s heart?
This novel shows how a delicate balance of sexual tension and intimate relations coupled with caring and intelligent conversation makes for a good romantic story. The constant undercurrent of the war and the fact that, as an Iraqi Assyrian woman and an American navy officer they are on opposite sides, makes their romance all the more poignant.
The combination of teasing and tenderness made her chest tighten with emotion. If only they could always be like this, without the ugliness of the world threatening to tear them apart.
The depictions of the mountain climbs, the war zone, the travel map of the region, and the tribal rivalries and culture are all very well done. I am reasonably up on the politics of the region and I have read enough books about climbing to have a sense that Cliff has done her research thoroughly.
I give the author high marks for talking unflinchingly about the destruction Americans have wreaked in the Middle East and their cultural insensitivity and ignorance of the region. It takes courage to put touchy politics in a romance novel, but for this particular book, it works really well. Both the protagonists are savvy, intelligent people, who, despite their disparate backgrounds, are trying to find common ground with each other, and that requires understanding the socio-political and cultural realities of each other and their situation.
In this short category format, Susan Cliff has penned a large, sweeping story. Navy SEAL Rescue has all the derring-do of a suspense tale, a heart-pumping, tender romance, and solid regional setting details to knit together a complex whole. All in all, it’s a highly recommended book.