The Spy Wore Red
Boy, there really is no escape from Harlequin’s favorite clichés, is there? I would have thought that the usual series gimmicks have no place in the ultra-contemporary, (supposedly) kick-butt Silhouette Bombshell line, yet here we have a spy-themed secret child book. Or is it a secret-child-themed spy book? In any case, it’s not very good, for reasons that have nothing to do with the child in question and everything to do with how empty the story is.
Nadja Stefn is an agent for Euro-Quest, a secret spy organization that trains female agents to be femme fatales. Nadja is Quest’s resident sexpot, an incredibly hot woman who seduces men for the express purpose of killing them. No man she’s seduced has ever survived, except for one mystery man she shared a fleeting encounter with in Vienna five years ago. They had hot monkey sex before she disappeared back into the night. Five years later, she arrives at Quest headquarters to meet with an American agent from the NSA-offshoot Onyxx. He’s about to embark on a top-secret mission and is to be paired with a Quest agent. You can probably guess who he turns out to be.
Bjorn Odell has no trouble recognizing Nadja. The book opens with her riding down in an elevator to the underground headquarters of Quest. She realizes her clothes are a mess and starts to strip out of them, while Bjorn watches her on a secret monitor. He knows every inch of that body and immediately knows she’s his mystery woman. Here, the reader is treated to much musing about Nadja’s “amazing ass,” her “cotton-candy ass,” “the sweetest ass in Prague,” etc. Okay, we get it. Either Bjorn is an ass-man or Nadja’s behind really is tremendous, perhaps both. I’m not sure if this was simply supposed to establish Nadja’s hotness or was intended to be sexy. Mostly, it’s so overdone and Bjorn’s attention to her body is so ridiculously fetishistic that it starts to read like a particularly lame letter to Penthouse. I grew tired of hearing about Nadja’s “cotton-candy ass,” a description Bjorn often falls back on throughout the book. It may indeed be the most wonderful rear a woman has ever possessed, but that’s such a silly description I wanted him to stop using it already.
Anyway, Bjorn and Nadja come face-to-face and soon start exchanging banter that makes them sound like the two most oversexed twelve-year-olds in existence. Again, it was probably supposed to be sexy, but it just comes across as juvenile. I’ve given this book a Hot rating because it is fairly explicit, but I thought it was more silly than legitimately sexy. In any case, they team up for the mission. Several months ago, Bjorn captured an international assassin, who recently escaped from prison. The assassin possesses a kill list naming every spy in the Quest and Onyxx agencies, which is why both organizations are desperate to find him, although Bjorn and Nadja both have personal reasons as well.
The Spy Wore Red is part of Wendy Rosnau’s Spy Games series, which presumably began in an earlier book. I’m guessing it’s her 2004 single-title A Thousand Kisses Deep (which I haven’t read), although that book isn’t mentioned anywhere in this one, including on the list of Rosnau’s previous titles in the back. There are numerous references to characters and events that happened before this story began, including the original capture of the assassin. None of it is explained very well here, so I have to believe that was all part of an earlier book. Quest and Onyxx are both vaguely defined, and I only somewhat grasped the complicated backstory and plot, enough to follow what was happening for the most part, but not enough to care all that much. It certainly doesn’t help that, even on its own, the ramshackle plot is often muddled and choppy.
This book would be a good choice for anyone who thinks stuff like Mission: Impossible and the TV show Alias are too substantive and would rather see something even more over-the-top and a hundred times shallower. This book makes them look ultrarealistic in comparison. It’s a slick, glossy, highly stylized story that’s too often cartoonish to be taken seriously. It would be one thing if this was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but I don’t think that’s the case. The characters are slight. If you scratched their surface, you wouldn’t find anything underneath. They each receive barely a sprinkling of character development, a trace of angst to prove they have feelings, I suppose, but not enough for the reader to become invested in them.
To its credit, this book is somewhat entertaining. There’s a decent amount of action and it moves quickly. It’s interesting and certainly readable enough. I liked the foreign settings and the characters’ international backgrounds (Nadja is Swiss-born and grew up in Austria; Bjorn grew up in Denmark). This story isn’t anything I’m going to remember, mostly because I don’t think there’s anything here to remember, but once it got past the opening idiocy, it was okay while it lasted. The secret child stuff is very predictable and unfolds in a typical manner we’ve all seen before. Nadja and Bjorn’s transformation from horndogs in the beginning to doting parents at the end wasn’t all that convincing, nor were their final declarations of love, but by then the book was over and I was already starting to forget it.
The Spy Wore Red is that rare book for me that got better as it went along. That is to say, I started out hating it and finished it not caring much either way. The beginning is ridiculous, the ending is acceptable, and the rest strikes a balance somewhere in between. It’s not a terrible book, just an empty, silly, forgettable one that, at the very least, goes by quickly. I may actually try the next book, which does sound intriguing (even if the ending seems like a foregone conclusion given everything that happens in this one). Considering how quickly this one is already fading from memory, I just hope I remember to buy it.