The Player is the third in the Family Secrets series and while there’s much good about it, it suffers from an almost fatal flaw. The writing is strong. It has a really distinctive sense of place that adds a lot to the story. There are a number of terrific scenes and it nicely advances the overall story arc of the series. So what’s the problem? The biggest one a romance novel can have: the love story.
Carey Benton loves her job working for White House advisor Matt Tynan. It’s a prestigious position at the center of power, but more important, she secretly loves Matt. She knows the avowed ladies man would never give his secretary a second glance. That doesn’t stop her from dreaming.
Carey is thrilled when Matt asks her to research a secret government experiment from the 1960s involving genetically engineered children as a personal favor to him. A powerful friend of Matt’s is interested in the experiment for personal reasons, and neither he nor Matt has any idea his secretary’s inquiries will put her in danger. When it becomes apparent that Carey is in danger, Matt tries to pull the plug on her investigation. Carey refuses to give up, though, forcing Matt to try and protect her. Gradually Matt begins to suspect his protective instincts indicate stronger feelings for the young woman from Kansas who’s nothing like the women he usually dates.
Unlike the previous book in this series – Pyramid of Lies – which squandered its Egyptian setting with too little atmosphere, the author’s portrayal of Washington and life in the White House is very detailed. Vaughn really makes the setting come to life, plunging the reader into this world and the political process, which helps make a story with such an outlandish premise feel realistic. The book is well written throughout, and includes a number of strong secondary characters who really pop to life as vivid personalities all their own.
She also does a good job handling the series’ overall storyline. The subplot with Violet Vaughn (no relation, I assume), the mother of the biologically engineered children, is often the best part of the book. She’s more fleshed out here than in the previous books and made more sympathetic because of it. Action, suspense, political drama, and information that pushes the series forward are all juggled with ease. The Player also includes a pivotal event that is certain to have reverberations through the rest of the series.
While there several interesting storylines in The Player, a romance is not among them. Modern boss/secretary romances tend to be outdated, but in this book it’s also rather juvenile. Carey’s feelings toward Matt seem more like hero worship than a grown woman’s attraction for a man. Matt Tynan’s the smartest. Matt Tynan’s the handsomest. Matt Tynan’s the coolest. Oh, my God. She’s being kissed by Matt Tynan! By all accounts, Matt is indeed very smart and handsome and suave, but Carey’s attitude too often seems like outright awe. The way she practically gushes over him verges on junior high behavior. The only thing missing is a scene where Carey writes his name over and over in her notebook surrounded by hearts and smiley faces: Matt and Carey 4EVA!!!
Eventually Carey displays a more clear head and stronger will, but too often these instances come when Matt is acting like an idiot, which helps her look good in comparison. Matt is often just as immature when it comes to Carey, prone to stupid jealousy and juvenile behavior. And that’s before he begins to doubt her and treat her like dirt. Vaughn tries to whip up a sad backstory to justify his actions, but it’s too little, too late and only underlined what flat, underdeveloped characters these two were. The ending is sweet and it was nice that Vaughn put an end to their working relationship relatively early to remove any hints of sexual harassmentt, but for the most part I didn’t like their relationship and I didn’t particularly like them.
The Player is still a cut above the norm in every way that doesn’t involve the romance. I can recommend most of it, but all those good elements can’t quite overcome the uninvolving love story.