Operation: Midnight Guardian
How is it that Linda Castillo can write such good single-title romantic suspense and such lame series romances? I’ve come to the conclusion that she’s either phoning in her series books or a different, lesser, writer is penning them under her name. Operation: Midnight Guardian, the third in her Midnight series, offers further proof toward either theory. There are some good action scenes, but readers looking for engaging characters, soul-stirring romance and/or an interesting plot won’t find them here.
Mattie Logan was a top scientist at the Department of Defense in charge of the highly classified EDNA project. Then she was framed for passing information about the project to terrorists, convicted of treason, and sentenced to life in federal prison. As she’s being transferred from the federal courthouse in Montana to the prison in Washington State, the prison bus comes under attack by terrorists who want her knowledge of the project. The U.S. Marshals onboard are killed, and Mattie escapes into the Montana wilderness.
Sean Cutter is a former agent with a covert branch of the CIA called MIDNIGHT. He receives a call from his old boss informing him of the situation and that the terrorist known as The Jaguar is the one pursuing Mattie. Cutter has personal knowledge and a grudge toward The Jaguar, so he’s the best one to go after him. Somehow he manages to get to Montana in just a few hours and find Mattie before the people who have been on her trail all this time. He takes her prisoner, and they run around trying not to get shot.
That’s pretty much the entire story. We know who the bad guys are, there’s no mystery regarding the true traitor, and really no place for the plot to go. Instead it settles into a numbing rhythm where the bad guys catch up and shoot at them, and the main characters escape. Then the bad guys catch up, and the main characters escape. And so on. It’s a good thing Castillo knows how to write action scenes, because that’s really the only thing the story has going for it.
I’m not sure I’ve ever read such a quick-moving book that is also so boring. The main reason for my disinterest had to do with the characters – both are one-dimensional. Cutter is your typical secret agent who’s supposed to be alpha but who comes across as charmless and perpetually cranky. His past is trite and predictable (The Jaguar likes to torture people, Cutter had a run in with him. Of course there was a woman involved. All caught up now?). Mattie is one of those romance heroines who’s supposed to be a genius but who acts dopey.
I have a fondness for stories about the wrongfully accused and it’s hard not to sympathize with someone caught in Mattie’s situation. But in this case, Mattie was so whiny and annoying in her protestations of innocence I found it impossible to sympathize with her. We’re treated to a lot of repetitive exchanges that go something like this:
“I don’t care.”
“But I’m innocent.”
“I don’t have any compassion for turncoats.”
“But I’m innocent.”
“Save it for the judge, blondie.”
And on and on. Finally, after getting nowhere with him, Mattie pouts, “I don’t care if you believe me or not.” After listening to her try to convince him for half the book, the statement was so patently untrue I might have laughed if I wasn’t so relieved by the idea that she might finally Shut. Up.
Even worse, some of the details don’t add up. Early on, after one of Mattie’s whining fits, Castillo tells us, “Cutter didn’t know the details of her case. All he knew was that she’d been found guilty of treason in a court of law.” But then, far later in the story, he interrupts still more of her whining and confronts her with the facts.
“So how did eight hundred thousand dollars find its way into your checking account?”
She stomped the quick rise of anger. “I see you did your homework.”
“I always do, Mattie. I read your file.”
So he doesn’t know the details of her case. Or does he? Which is it?
After threatening to derail for most of the story, the plot finally shoots off the tracks in the final third when Mattie makes an astonishingly dumb decision that only serves to put her in danger. The book has one of those “suspenseful” climaxes where the villain (he likes torture people, remember?) threatens the heroine with all kinds of horrible punishments, and I couldn’t have been less interested. It was impossible to ignore the fact that she was an idiot, and I didn’t have the energy to even try and care about her.
If it wasn’t already obvious this is a painfully thin story stretched out as far as the author could take it, all a reader needs to do is open it to any page. The print is huge. Honestly, there must be picture books with smaller text. The thing is, I know Castillo can write good series suspense. Her first book, the RITA-nominated Remember the Night, was an excellent Silhouette Intimate Moments release. But Operation: Midnight Guardian merely makes it seem that she’s better off sticking to her far superior single-title books.