Desert Isle Keeper
The Unsung Hero
For years I’ve been searching for the perfect romance novel. The one I can give to my husband and say, “Here, read this and then tell me romance novels are fluff.” What I’m searching for could well be the Holy Grail of all romance novels, because if the first one I give him fails, he may never read another. (It doesn’t help that my husband has a PhD in literature). My requirements are strict. The plot can’t have any holes, the ending can’t fall flat, and there can be no “only in a romance novel” plots. The dialogue and characters must be believable and the heroine can’t even have a have a friend who’s too stupid to live, much less be TSTL herself. The novel I’m searching for may not exist, but The Unsung Hero comes awfully close.
Lt. Tom Paoletti of the US Navy SEALs is returning to his hometown of Baldwin’s Bridge, Massachusetts while on forced leave. He recently suffered severe head injury while on a rescue mission, and since then his behavior has been somewhat erratic. He suffers from debilitating headaches, dizziness, and possible paranoia. After 30 days, he’ll be re-evaluated for active duty. No wonder his commanding officer doesn’t believe him when he reports seeing one of the most-wanted international terrorists in Boston’s Logan airport, and again in the local hardware store. Of course no one believes him. Why would the man known as The Merchant be interested in a small town like Baldwin’s Bridge? Faint-hearted readers should be aware that Brockmann makes frequent use of the f-word, but only in situations where it is warranted. Can you imagine a Navy SEAL realizing he may not be able to stop a deadly terrorist and saying something like “fishlips”?
Dr. Kelly Ashton is also returning home; but she’s here to nurse her father, Charles Ashton, who has cancer and only has 3 months to live. The Ashtons and the Paolettis are next-door neighbors, but this is the first time in 16 years that Tom’s visits and Kelly’s coincide. Sixteen years ago they were friends, and almost lovers, but he left town to join the Navy, breaking her heart. Now she’s determined to go for what she wants – and she wants Tom. She tells herself that love isn’t in the cards, so she’s willing to settle for an affair if he can just get past her nice-girl-next-door image.
Suzanne Brockmann is known for her to-die-for heroes, especially her Navy SEALs, and she doesn’t disappoint with The Unsung Hero. Her heroes are always strong and capable, but she finds a way to make them suffer without ever having them cross the line to becoming “tortured”. Lt. Paoletti demonstrates this perfectly. He’s the commanding officer of the Navy SEALs elite team sixteen, but is now separated from his team and forced to doubt his own judgement. Paoletti is caught between a rock and a hard place – if he continues to request FBI assistance for what many think is his own delusion, he’ll lose his job. If he doesn’t, innocent people may be killed.
The terrorist-in-a-small-town plot is gripping which, given Brockmann’s proven skill at writing page-turning action and suspense, is no surprise. Lt. Paoletti keeps catching glimpses of the terrorist, or possible cronies of his, but never has enough evidence to be sure. The Merchant has probably had extensive plastic surgery, and once or twice, Tom finds out that what he thinks he saw was something else entirely. But then he discovers The Merchant’s likely target, and begins to believe in himself again. He enlists the help of some of his teammates from the Navy SEALs. They only have about 6 days to stop the terrorist before all hell breaks loose.
There is a large supporting cast of secondary characters and subplots, which in the hands of a lesser author would quickly get out of hand. In addition to the action and suspense, Brockmann manages to tell not one but two complete love stories, while at the same time seamlessly interweaving a third, tragic, story of Tom’s grand-uncle’s World War II service told through flashbacks. This story brought me to tears on more than one occasion. Somehow, all of these stories mesh beautifully and all become integral to catching the terrorist and preventing the bombing.
If there is any weakness in this book, it is in the development of the romance itself. Brockmann’s heroines sometimes pale beside her heroes and this is true here. Just what makes Tom fall in love with Kelly is unclear. Yes, Tom and Kelly have a past history, which helps explain how they can fall in love in just a few days, yet we have to rely too much on references to that history, without ever really seeing them fall in love. Lust, yes, but not love. The same is true for the secondary romance. Yet even despite the rapid pace, the secondary story is beautifully told and surprisingly convincing.
The Unsung Hero may not be the perfect romance novel, but it’s the next best thing. I think I’ll have my husband read it. I may never find the perfect romance novel, so why should I quibble when this one comes so very close?