Some Kind of Hero
Suzanne Brockmann’s successful Troubleshooters series continues with this nineteenth, heavily flawed installment about a Navy SEAL who falls in love with a romance novelist while searching for his recently-motherless and now missing teenaged daughter. It’s an uneven read with some mind-boggling and even corny narrative choices that nevertheless manages to entertain.
Single mom Shayla Whitman is somewhat more mild-mannered than the daring heroines and heroes she writes about. In fact, when her next door neighbor Lt. Peter Greene moves in with his unhappy teenage daughter, Shayla keeps her distance from him while doing some appreciative ogling until the day he frantically waves down her car outside the local high school. She soon finds herself providing a sounding board for his problems while battling the drooling inner commentary provided by Harry, her latest hero. As Shayla finds herself careening through traffic and using her research skills to scare up clues, the daring fiction she writes about begins to become her reality – including a burgeoning romance with Peter – and she starts to enjoy every minute of it.
Peter has recently taken over parenting his teenaged daughter, Maddie, whose mother, Lisa, recently died. Hoping for a fresh start, Peter has moved to the San Diego suburbs, but Maddie is not settling in well and their relationship is painfully strained, partly because Lisa deliberately cut Peter out of their lives and put a lot of distance between them, but also because Peter’s more conventional, less laid-back style of parenting is the opposite of Lisa’s. Maddie has skipped school and run off and is ignoring all of Peter’s attempts at making contact – which is why he flags Shayla down and jumps into her car. After calling the Troubleshooters in for help, Peter finds himself relying on Shayla’s way with words and her research skills. As they begin to form a relationship, the stakes begin to rise. But the problem Maddie’s gotten herself into reaches far beyond those of your garden variety runaway, and it’s going to take a lot of help to get Peter’s daughter back home.
At the beginning of the book, Shayla acts as if her brains have been replaced by delicious peanut butter, though they firm up over time – going from smooth to chunky, so to speak. She recognizes her SEAL neighbor by the firmness of his buttocks, and spends the opening chapters drooling over him, although thankfully she starts to shape up once she learns how serious the situation is. But the frequent mental digressions through which she banters with her character Harry, (a gay FBI agent in the mold of Brockmann’s own Jules Cassidy), are distracting and felt like an over-the-shoulder wink-wink to the audience and often pulled me out of the story just as I was settling into the tense pace – especially when Shayla hushes Harry out loud for demanding she lick or kiss or suck on Peter. By the time she gains the confidence to talk to Peter about her feelings, Harry has disappeared, but by then the reader is so thoroughly annoyed by Shayla’s dottiness that they’d take Harry’s cheerleading over it any day.
I enjoyed Peter’s calm under pressure, and his self-depreciating nature makes him quite interesting, but I’d have liked him a hell of a lot more if he hadn’t been saddled with Shayla’s OTT self. But then again, how would a hardass drill sergeant whose job relies on his being detail oriented not notice that his daughter’s gloom and rebellion were leading her down a dangerous path?
The main subplot involves Maddie and Dingo (yes, that’s this character’s nickname, and yes, he’s Australian – well, for most of the book), the older ex-boyfriend of Fiona, the friend who’s set Maddie on this dangerous race for her own life. Maddie feels like an authentic teenager – which means she can be annoying – but I found her self-reliance and understandable sense of loss and alienation to be sympathetic – and Dingo was all right too, though the honor and sweetness attributed to him often feel like they’re informed instead of displayed in the first half of the book. Their road trip provides the most captivating moments in the narrative – and the most squirm-worthy section of it, because once they start to fall in love, the realization that Maddie is fifteen and Dingo is an adult sets in and becomes an uncomfortable plot point. Even though Brockmann addresses this fact and tries to make it ‘okay’ by saying that Maddie and Dingo will get together when Maddie’s older, the discomfort lingers. Also, while the central tension she brings to the plot works, it feels a thousand miles over the top – the same results could’ve been culled from a simpler, smaller conflict instead of a ten thousand dollar criminal transaction gone wrong. As for the other supporting characters, there are many marines involved (naturally!) and while it’s hard to tell who is who without previous knowledge of the other Troubleshooters books, they distinguish themselves decently as three-dimensional characters. I also really liked Shayla’s relationship with her sons.
Brockmann knows how to build suspense and her style is bouncy and heavily dosed with pep and humor. As always, I have to tip my hat to her for giving us diverse casts and specifically diverse heroes and heroines. Unfortunately it’s tone that trips her up here, as the story is split into two sections; the tense action-laden portions that bookend the novel and the entire middle stretch, which features the sitcom-like meet-cute stuff between Shayla and Peter and Peter’s friends, Shayla bantering with Harry and Dingo and Maddie’s road trip. The lack of real tension in this portion of the story deflates the exciting beginning and all of Shayla and Peter’s canoodling makes the situation with Maddie feel a lot less urgent – and these tonal/pacing issues are why I cannot recommend this book.