Off the Grid
Off the Grid is book two in Monica McCarty’s series, The Lost Platoon, and although I haven’t read the previous book (Going Dark) I was able to follow the plot in this one without any trouble, so it worked perfectly well as a standalone. What didn’t work so well, however, were the hackneyed storyline, stereotypical characters and the hero’s thirty-going-on-thirteen attitude towards the heroine. Oh, and description of the hero’s mighty wang as a “turgid beast”. I kid you not.
The book opens with a prologue in which John Donovan and the rest of Team Nine – a top secret group of Navy SEALS which has been put together to undertake the blackest of black-ops – searching a supposedly abandoned Russian gulag for proof of the existence of some kind of doomsday weapon when an explosion kills half the platoon. The rest of the men make their escape and then scatter, dropping off the radar while their commander, Scott Taylor, tries to work out exactly what happened. He believes they were betrayed by someone on their own side, and it’s safest for them all to stay dead until he can figure out what the hell happened.
Ten weeks later, John is living as Joe Phillips, a Canadian ski-bum, and is working at a resort in Finland as a ski instructor and tour guide. He’s bored to the back teeth, until he gets a call from Scott informing him that Brittany Blake, whose brother, Brand, was killed in the explosion, is stirring up trouble. An investigative journalist, Brit has written a number of stories for the paper she works for about the so-called ‘lost platoon’ in hopes of finding out what happened to her brother, and her latest article has just hit the international news sites. Scott tells John to find a way to silence her, and when John is reluctant, points out that she could well be putting her own life in danger as well as those of the rest of the platoon.
Brit and John have history; five years earlier, before both John and Brand joined Team Nine, John and Brit spent a halcyon summer together and had become very close. In spite of John’s reputation as a bit of a player, Brit believed they really had something going between them – until John ripped out her heart and stomped on it when she caught him fooling around with a pair of twin sisters. Needless to say, they haven’t been in contact or seen each other since.
John comes up with what he thinks is a way to stop Brit, but she’s not falling for it, and not long after this, turns up out of the blue at John’s local bar. The last thing he needs is for her to start yelling at him, especially as she has no idea he’s living under an assumed name, so he does the only thing he can think of and forestalls the tirade with a blistering kiss. Rather than smacking him, she melts into the kiss (of course she does) and even though they’re both angry, they’re not angry enough to resist the pull between them and return to John’s house to work off all that anger on the living room sofa. Fortunately, his four housemates are out, or that could have been a bit awkward.
The rest of the story basically consists of John and Brit running from the bad guys, and in between having a city break in wonderful Copenhagen where John – whose mother was Danish – entertains Brit by taking her to see all the sights, which, coincidentally (not) provides the perfect way to distract her from pursuing her story. Naturally, she’s not best pleased once she realises what John is up to – and doesn’t believe him when he protests that yes, he wanted to distract her, but that he’s also enjoyed the time they’ve spent together. Maybe she’d have been more inclined to believe him if he hadn’t spent so much time pushing her away (because of that unwritten rule of romance novels – the best friend’s sister is untouchable – except when she isn’t and they shag), and generally being a bit of a dickhead towards her.
That’s not to say Brit is perfect. She’s one of those stereotypical ‘spunky reporter’ types, the sort who will stop at nothing to get to the story and is so blinkered that she can’t see she’s putting lives at risk (including her own) or doesn’t care. I can understand her need to find out what happened to her brother, especially given the complicated history surrounding their estrangement, but she wasn’t willing or able to see a bigger picture, and that sort of character drives me nuts.
In addition – and to its detriment – the novel contains a secondary (second-chance) romance that is obviously set to run throughout the series, between Team Nine’s former chief, Colt Wesson and his ex-wife, Kate, who is a CIA analyst and the only person outside the team that knows they aren’t all dead. I gather the couple made an appearance in Going Dark, but not having read that, I wasn’t prepared for the shift of focus and found it irritating. Kate and Colt (who is also a dickhead) get almost equal page-time to John and Brit, but while their story is intriguingly angsty and is, I assume, setting up their eventual book, the lack of resolution here is somewhat frustrating, and the time spent on developing their story means that not enough time is spent on the romance between John and Brit, which is consequently lacking in depth and emotional connection.
The Lost Platoon series has an intriguing premise and I enjoy these sorts of conspiracy-based thrillers, but in the case of Off the Grid, the author is trying to do too much in juggling two romances and a complex plotline. It all combines to produce an unsatisfying read in which the main storyline advances very little, one romance is superficial and the other left hanging.
There are better romantic suspense novels out there, and I’d urge fans of the genre to look elsewhere for their fix.
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