True Devotion by Dee Henderson is an old-fashioned love story, which takes place against a background of modern-day treason and nuclear espionage. Kelly Jacobs lost Nick, her Navy SEAL husband, three years ago in a “training accident,” which she knows means he was killed during a top secret mission. His best friend, Lt. Joe Baker, was injured during the same mission and feels the guilt of Nick’s death. All this time, Kelly and Joe have been the best of friends, until Kelly blurts out that she loves him in a moment of crisis.
Joe and Kelly’s relationship enters new territory as they try to determine whether marriage is in their future, or if they can ever go back to being just friends. Despite her feelings, Kelly doesn’t think she wants to marry another active military man, and Joe doesn’t want to start a family knowing he’ll be an absentee father. Meanwhile, the same terrorist who indirectly caused Nick’s death three years ago is at it again, and to Joe, it’s personal – he wants this guy.
The development of Joe and Kelly’s relationship is handled deftly and believably by Henderson. Each is a fully drawn character with all the attendant preconceived notions and reservations that most of us bring into a relationship. There are no Big anythings in this story, just small everyday insecurities and emotional flutterings which make the story seem completely real and sweet. Kelly worries what their first kiss will be like, and Joe keeps trying not to think of her while he’s on the job. The only real stumbling block to their union is the question of kids – Kelly feels she has already put off having children too long (she’s 31) but Joe doesn’t want to start a family while he’s still on active duty.
How often have you read a romance novel with such a refreshingly old-fashioned and honest dilemma? Unfortunately, this romance is old-fashioned in more ways than one. At every step it is Kelly who has to compromise and adapt to Joe’s needs and schedule. And she does this willingly and without complaint. The novel implies that since all Kelly really wants is to be a wife and a mother, why shouldn’t she be the one to adapt? While it’s true that Joe can’t help the inflexibility of his career, somehow Kelly still comes off as too much of a doormat for my tastes. What’s wrong with expecting him to compromise on the issue of children?
Alongside the romance is an altogether gripping backstory of nuclear espionage, and Joe’s need to avenge Nick’s death. Henderson writes military action scenes with all the skill of authors like Suzanne Brockmann and Linda Howard, and with even more accurate detail. The events of the plot are tense, and real, and you’re sucked into the action. The villain, however, is revealed far too early on in the story, and is made to be an incongruously sympathetic character. His illegal actions never reconciled with his other, more benevolent role, making Joe’s need for vengeance against him less satisfying.
By far the largest problem I had with Henderson’s book is one which I don’t feel it is fair to grade her on, so my final grade for this book does not reflect my misgivings. True Devotion is an inspirational romance, which means in the course of the story the characters are brought closer to God, and find comfort in their religion. I thought I knew what to expect in this book, but with religion, a great deal depends on your perspective. My perspective is from a Jewish background. I remember bringing my Presbyterian husband to a synagogue service while we were dating. He asked how much Hebrew would be in the service, and I assured him it wouldn’t be much; from my perspective, it wasn’t. Well, my husband felt he couldn’t understand anything at all, and that I had vastly understated the amount of Hebrew. Likewise, when we went to one of his Church services, I felt that there had been many more references to Jesus than he had led me to believe.
The characters in True Devotion talk about Jesus and “becoming a Christian” a great deal. If you are comfortable with conversations where one character asks the other if he really, in his heart, knows Jesus, and he replies that he only wishes he knew Jesus better, then you will undoubtedly enjoy True Devotion thoroughly. If however, that sort of conversation pulls you immediately out of the story, then you will find the narrative line interrupted far too often for comfort. Every time I started to get involved with the characters and the story, I would be jarred out of my reading. For me, too many “inspirational” messages marred what would have otherwise been a good blend of romance and action and a satisfying story.