Did you ever read a book whose ending put the story in a new light that made it more interesting? That’s kind of the impression I had after finishing Triple Threat. When the story begins to pick up steam in its final chapters and the pieces fall into place, it becomes clearer that there was an intriguing idea here. The only problem is, it’s only interesting in retrospect. While I was reading it, this highly improbable and low-tension book was too easy to put down and leave down.
In an effort to boost the country’s morale, the president decides to send some of the nation’s most cherished symbols, like the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independent, on a national tour. He plans to kick off the event on the Fourth of July in front of one of the nation’s oldest flags, but a month before the tour is set to begin, the flag is destroyed in a mysterious explosion in its New York museum. The president’s staff is desperate to avert the blow to national morale that would occur if anyone learns the flag has been destroyed (huh?). Rumor has it an even earlier flag, perhaps a legendary one sewn by Betsy Ross herself, will soon be coming on the black market.
The FBI is brought in to obtain the flag at any cost. Special Agent Nate Murtaugh is assigned the case. His contacts lead him to Ellie Littlefield, a Philadelphia antiquities dealer who may have the connections to get him invited to the secret auction where the Betsy Ross flag will be sold. The daughter of a convicted art forger, Ellie doesn’t trust the FBI and wants nothing to do with Nate. But with so much on the line, he can’t afford to take no for an answer.
It’s a silly and far-fetched premise that gets the book off to a very wobbly start. It helps that the book has a clearly fictional president, President Kent, that helps to distance it from the real world. But it’s difficult to get involved in a story where the reader is asked to hope the characters succeed in wasting millions of dollars of taxpayer money to salvage a photo op. It’s alluded to that the nation can’t handle another blow like this after everything Americans have been through in the last few years. Not to get too political, but it’s hard to believe that, after dealing with terrorism and war, this country would fall apart because of the destruction of an old flag. It’s more about making this fictional president look good. Nate has no limit on the amount he’s allowed to spend to obtain the flag, even if it means outspending another bidder who’s willing to go up to $100 million. More than $100 million, plus all the expenses to run the FBI operation, to buy an old flag just so the president can look good? Talk about government waste. That was enough right there for me to hope they wouldn’t succeed in their mission.
In spite of its questionable premise, the book isn’t altogether bad. For the most part Triple Threat is the kind of romantic suspense for readers who want more of the former than the latter. It’s well-written and inventive, set in a fascinating world that’s different from the norm for the genre. The authors spend more time developing the characters than generating suspense. Ellie and Nate, and all the characters really, are perfectly likable. The antiquities subculture is portrayed with enough atmosphere to make it believable. It’s not a hard book to read. It did take me longer to read than it should have though, because once I put it down, I really had no urge to pick it up again.
This book could have used one threat, let alone three. A suspense novel needs to provide some sense of urgency for the hero and heroine, and too often this book had none. There’s a subplot involving threats to a child who’s a potential witness, but for the majority of the book, namely the middle 200 pages, the only thing driving the hero and heroine is a need to get the flag before the Fourth of July, an already suspect motivation. The authors provide too little reason to care what happens next or whether the characters succeed, which kills any real suspense. It’s no surprise that the back cover has to spell out basically the entire story to make it sound suspenseful, and reveal most of the plot the reader is unaware of until late in the book, because for most of the story it’s too easy to forget this even is a suspense novel.
Things do pick up in the end. While it’s not a surprise or twist ending, the explanation for the overall plot reveals that there was an interesting idea behind the story. It’s intriguing, albeit as farfetched as the premise. If it had been better executed, the story would still have had some serious logical flaws, but it would have been a better read. Stories whose endings show there was something else going on than what we were led to believe are cool, but they need to be interesting in their own right before that ending comes. That’s not the case with Triple Threat. It needed to be intriguing for the whole book, not just in retrospect.