Secret Passage is another thrillingly different entry in Amanda Stevens’s Quantum Men series. The story is so unique that it earns a recommendation based on that alone, but it’s also a somewhat frustrating read that could have been so much more.
In 1943, Camille Somersby is a woman on a mission. She works at a secret government installation in the mountains of Tennessee, where everyone believes she is merely a secretary. In fact, she’s there to protect a scientist whose research will soon be employed in the war effort. She will stop at nothing to prevent his murder at the hands of the man she knows will be sent to kill him. She has an intimate knowledge of the killer. He’s the only man she ever loved.
In the present, Zac Riley is a former soldier who was deemed unfit for duty and discharged following an accident that robbed him of his memory. He doesn’t remember much of his life, including the identity of the beautiful woman he sees in his dreams every night. Then he meets an elderly man, Dr. Von Meter, who reveals the truth about him: that Zac was part of a government experiment to create a group of supersoldiers. Now Von Meter needs Zac to complete one more mission. In 1943, a military experiment tore a hole in the space-time continuum, resulting in a “secret passage” connecting 1943 to the present. In order to prevent anyone from the future from contaminating the past, Van Meter needs Zac to go back and stop the passage from being formed.
Zac travels back to 1943, where he is soon caught up in the secret motives and subterfuge surrounding the military base. There is no one who he can trust, but there is one familiar face. He meets Camille, the woman from his dreams. He doesn’t know how he knows her or what her intentions are, but he does know that time is running out on his mission.
It’s a great premise, and this time period is certainly a different one than most romances these days. It gets off to a moody, mysterious beginning in the opening chapters with nicely atmospheric touches as Zac learns the truth about what he is. One element that is better here than in the first two books in the series is that the author provides a strong emotional thread those books didn’t have. Camille has a poignant backstory related to her history with Zac that provides the book’s emotional core. The story is so unusual that it really is fascinating to see what exactly Stevens has up her sleeve and where she’s going to take the reader by the end.
Obviously, there’s a bit of amnesia at work here, as well as another familiar element that eventually reveals itself. But it never really struck me as “an amnesia book” or merely another story built around that other element, because there’s so much more to this book than those parts. The premise and the setting and the plot were all so different it didn’t really occur to me that the book could be classified in one of those categories. There’s so much more going on in the story that the familiar romance chestnuts didn’t come across as typical as they might in a more common storyline.
There’s nothing wrong with the story itself. It’s well plotted and paced, with all the right ingredients in play. The problem is the lack of development. This book is only 248 pages long, and there’s a lot of white space, if you know what I mean. That wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t reflected in the story. The longer it went on, the more frustrating it was that the author coasted by on the bare bones of her story without adding much meat to it. There’s a lack of period detail and atmosphere, so the setting never really comes to life the way it should. There’s enough emotion to make the main characters empathetic, but there’s not much more to them, and the side characters are sketchy. As the story goes on, it builds to more emotional scenes and dramatic turning points. But the author’s writing remains very spare, almost terse. She relates what happens without really digging into the significance of any of it. Sudden revelations come about and are resolved with neck-snapping speed. Too often moments pass by without even scratching the surface of what they mean to the characters. The final scenes in particular just feel like the author is racing to get to the end. The final scene of the book should be a big emotional moment. It lasts a brisk page and a half.
Secret Passage is so different and the material is compelling enough that it remains a fascinating read. But this recommendation is a very marginal one, because this is yet another book where I wanted more of the story than the author delivered. It has all the right parts and what’s here makes for a fairly good read. But, oh, it could have been so much more.