In HelenKay Dimon’s Games People Play series, the heroes are all men who bonded in their youth when they were taken under the wing of someone named Quint, who saved them from the downward spirals they were in, helped all of them learn to utilise their unique skill-sets and set them on the straight and narrow.
Years later, the ‘Quint Five’ are all well-placed and powerful individuals who are often called upon by government departments and law enforcement to undertake missions and cases that they can’t touch. In book one, The Fixer, we met Wren – an enigmatic man whose speciality is making problems go away – and his second-in-command, former Black Ops, professional negotiator, Garrett McGrath.
In The Enforcer (book two) Garrett was sent along to ride shotgun on the mission undertaken by Matthias Clarke, another of the five, whose private security firm is often used by Wren in the course of his business. Garrett immediately captured my attention; his gregarious, wise-cracking ways were such a contrast to the gruff, taciturn Matthias (I do love a smart-mouthed charmer!) and so many tough-guy heroes are dark, brooding and almost miserable that it was a refreshing change to come across one who knew how to lighten up. I’ve been looking forward to his book, but I confess that I’d hoped for a full-length novel rather than a novella. I’m not the greatest fan of novellas anyway (few authors really know how to get them right) and Garrett is such a great character that he deserved more page time.
The Negotiator picks up a few months after the events of The Enforcer, which took place in the small, seafront town in Annapolis where Matthias was searching for a woman named Kayla Roy who was suspected of murder. One of the secondary characters in the book was Kayla’s friend, Lauren Gallagher, who runs a pleasure boat and fishing tour business; and for the past few months, a rather smitten Garrett has travelled regularly to Annapolis to spend time with Lauren, who adamantly refuses to go on a date with him. She tries to tell him it’s because she’s older than he is (by five years) or because she was a mess and … he could do better. But Garrett is a shrewd man and knows there’s more to it than that – and he has his theories as to what that ‘more’ is. Still, the one thing Lauren hasn’t said is that she’s not interested, so he continues to hope that she will eventually open up and let him in.
Lauren’s husband, Carl, died in a boating accident three years earlier, after he ran off with a younger woman and left their business on the verge of bankruptcy, but Lauren has never really believed he’s dead. She had to keep her suspicions to herself so that she could fight her way through all the legal red-tape that would enable her to take control of her tour company and home, and she has worked tirelessly to rebuild her business and put it back into the black. So when Carl shows up at her door one day, she’s not completely surprised – but she IS furious at the fact that he expects to just waltz back into her life as if nothing has happened. Lauren’s usual self-contained detachment deserts her, and for the first time in her life, she finds herself asking someone for help.
When Garrett receives Lauren’s message, he’s about to board a plane to San Francisco where he’s due to make a pre-Christmas visit to see his aunt and cousin. Garrett’s parents died on Christmas Eve when he was nineteen, so he doesn’t celebrate, preferring to spend Christmas holed up alone somewhere, but Lauren needs him and he doesn’t hesitate; with apologies to his family, he makes his way to Annapolis, where he finds a clearly shaken Lauren even more reserved and evasive than he is used to.
But her problems have only just begun. Returning from a trip to collect take-out, Lauren and Garrett return to her cottage to find a once-and-for-all, very dead Carl lying on her kitchen floor… and Lauren at the top of the list of suspects.
What we’ve got here is basically a whodunnit with a fairly short list of suspects; the girlfriend, the brother (who is carrying a torch for Lauren) and the shady business partner. It’s not difficult to guess where to point the finger, and although the author does try to throw readers off the scent, it doesn’t really work. I enjoyed meeting Garrett again and the snarky back-and-forth between him and Matthias that was so great in the previous book was just as good here, but I can’t help feeling that Garrett was wasted in this story; for a book in a romantic suspense series, there is little suspense and not much action of the sort I’ve come to expect from the genre. The romance fares a little better, however, the fact that Lauren and Garrett have known each other for a while and have been seeing each other in a friendly, non-dating way for months helping to make their progression to a sexual relationship more believable. There is a clear mutual respect and understanding that indicates they have a strong basis for a relationship, but still, I’d have liked to see those non-dates and watch their relationship unfold over time. I’ve seen a few reviews suggesting that Garrett and Lauren’s romance must have begun in the previous book, but I checked and it doesn’t; there are suggestions that maybe Garrett is attracted to Lauren, but that’s about it.
Can I recommend The Negotiator? I think readers who are following the series will probably enjoy it, but I can’t honestly say it’s a good place for a newcomer to start or is a particularly strong example of a romantic suspense story. The pacing is fairly pedestrian and the mystery isn’t very mysterious or suspenseful. I read it for Garrett – sarcastic, charming, sinfully handsome Garrett – who is every bit as attractive here as he was in the last book. I just wish he’d been showcased in a more interesting story.