The First Mistake
To a big degree, this new kick-butt heroine trend is not my thing. Or, rather, maybe a better way to put it is that I’m v-e-r-r-ry picky about my heroines and the way they kick butt. Susan Grant, for example, writes the kind of strong and capable heroines I adore, while the Bombshell style of female leads that’s gaining more and more momentum leaves me completely cold. So how does Merline Lovelace’s new kick-butt private investigator Cleo North stack up? While not quite in Susan Grant-land, the series featuring the former Air Force investigator is off to a rip-roarin’ start with this tightly written thriller.
Now working on her own, Cleo is strong-armed by her former boss at the Air Force Office of Special Investigations into providing security for a spoiled movie star at a New Mexico film festival. The star, whose controversial film (it sort of sounds like the anti-Passion of the Christ), has made her a target of death threats the OSI believes could threaten their attempts to quietly connect with a North Korean sound engineer who’s developed technology that could have major implications for homeland security. Though Cleo’s patriotism is reason enough to take on the job, the identity of the film festival’s chairman cinches the deal.
Cleo is haunted by a case she investigated early in her Air Force career in which a young officer killed his girlfriend and then shot himself. Just days before the murder-suicide, Cleo investigated a domestic disturbance between the two and she is guilt-ridden over her inability to spot the imminent danger facing the female soldier. But what if the murder-suicide was instead a double murder? Cleo thinks that may be the case when she learns years later that the young woman may have been involved with another soldier. That soldier – now retired from the Air Force – just happens to be chairing the film festival.
But while Cleo is more than willing to do her duty for her country, she’s far from happy about the OSI Special Agent with whom she’ll have to work. Major Jack Donovan and our intrepid heroine once shared a brief, volatile affair years earlier and – though getting involved with Jack again is the last thing Cleo intends – it’s immediately clear to both parties that the spark between them is far from extinguished.
Anybody looking for a romance-centric book should definitely look elsewhere since the relationship aspect of the book takes a decided back seat to the intricate suspense story weaved by the author. Astute readers will also notice that Ms. Lovelace further breaks away from traditional romance by quite obviously setting up dueling love interests for Cleo doomed to battle it out in future books. The first is, obviously, Jack and the second – well, I think I’ll let you discover that for yourself.
I liked Cleo very much as a heroine, though she does suffer from an occasional problem with designer name-dropping. (I’m not above dropping a few names myself, but somehow in print it just seems kind of…precious.) She’s strong, secure in herself, and also darn good at her job.
As for the kick-butt heroine thing, Cleo is a good one, though, frankly, due to the fact that Ms. Lovelace simply doesn’t devote much time here to fleshing out her characters, not as three dimensional as the heroines of Susan Grant. Still, in the context of this fast-paced plot, I’m okay with that. I have no doubt we’ll learn more about Cleo and John and That Other Guy in upcoming books.
You know, it’s a tough world out there and a little smart, straight-forward, vicarious butt kicking could well be something to which I could easily become addicted. Fortunately, with The Middle Sin coming in May, I won’t have long to wait for my next fix.