The love story in Jasmine Cresswell’s The Conspiracy unfolds during a scary terrorist situation. The complex plot is grounded in current events, which lends the book an air of gritty realism.
Verity Marlowe is the State Department’s expert on Kashmir, a region of northern India that has long been extremely troubled. She grew up in Kashmir and speaks the language fluently. For the past several months, however, since the death of her beloved husband Sam, Verity hasn’t been working; she’s been swimming in grief and vodka.
Just as she is beginning to pull her life together again, the crisis hits: Khalid Muhammad, a Kashmiri businessman and a childhood friend of Verity’s, has an urgent message for the State Department. He claims that the Kashmir Freedom Party is planning a terrorist strike against American targets in order to draw attention to the plight of Kashmir. He secretly hints to Verity that the real leader of the Kashmir Freedom Party is a trusted member of the U.S. government. Then the American ambassador to India is assassinated – and shortly after that, Khalid is also silenced forever.
Complicating matters for Verity is the involvement of Michael Strait. She and Michael have long had a lot in common, including an intense sexual attraction. Verity loved her husband Sam, and Michael was Sam’s best friend, so they’ve both kept their feelings under wraps. Now she learns that, unbeknownst to either her or Sam, Michael is a CIA agent who infiltrated the Kashmir Freedom Party. When the terrorists take control of a school and threaten to start shooting students, Verity and Michael join forces to find the American traitor.
Cresswell works hard to give this book a “ripped from the headlines” feel to it, and her efforts pay off. Unlike so many other romantic suspense novels, this feels like it takes place in the world where I live. The terrorists’ actions seem all too possible, which makes for a genuinely suspenseful read.
The romance between Michael and Verity takes a back seat to the suspense elements of the plot. Things seem a bit rushed between them towards the end; I readily believed in their mutual attraction, but I was less sure about their enduring love. I must say, however, that the terrorist situation is so frightening and so vividly portrayed that I’d have been outraged if Michael and Verity had taken more time out to work on their relationship. In the context of this novel, keeping the romance in the background makes sense.
My main problem with the book comes from the uneven pacing and sometimes choppy writing style. Cresswell’s characters do a lot of silent thinking and pondering, often in moments of action, which tends to mire the story for many long paragraphs. There’s one scene in particular, in which Verity is pinned up against a wall by a knife-wielding assailant. The author slows the pace down to a crawl in order to lengthily describe Verity’s hopes, fears, and realizations. This makes it seem that the bad guy is waiting patiently for a quarter of an hour while Verity figures things out, and it diffused the suspense of the moment. Also, in the beginning of the novel, readers don’t know everything that Michael knows about the Kashmir Freedom Party. For a while this adds to the suspense; suddenly, on page 260, Cresswell decides to release a flood of information, spending seventeen pages on detailed backstory. This big chunk of data really put the brakes on what was meant to be a fast-paced read.
The Conspiracy is unevenly paced, but it’s an interesting book and one of the few suspenseful romantic suspense novels I’ve read lately. It’s a bit light on the romance, but it’s a good read if you’re interested in terrorism and international relations.