Julie Garwood, historical romance legend and by now a longtime romantic suspense writer, reaches the thirteenth volume in her Buchanan-Renard series, Wired, the story of a computer hacker and the FBI agent trying to protect her.
Allison Trent is in trouble. A part-time model, part-time college student and full-time A-class-level genius hacker, she’s being forced – by her skeevy aunt and uncle – to pay off her n’eer-do-well cousin’s debts with the money she earns from modeling, and because her conscience won’t allow her to keep the cash she makes via her hacking endeavours, she’s more or less living hand-to-mouth. Luckily for her, the FBI happens to need her specific skillset in order to figure out who’s leaking information to bureau targets, so they’re willing to ignore the fact that she’s broken several laws in pursuit of justice and offer her immunity if she’ll work for them. She’s in no position to turn them down.
Liam Scott, lawyer and FBI agent, sees Allison as both means to an end and a great pair of legs in a tight pair of jeans. He cuts a deal to protect Allison’s aforementioned about-to-be-jailed cousin Will in exchange for six months of work on the leak. As Allison hustles the case and Liam grows even fonder and protective of her, her and aunt uncle’s presence grows more threatening and the division’s mole makes life extremely difficult for both of them.
Wired is, for the most part, a big, chewy, sweet chunk of wish fulfillment. If you aren’t into realism and you want some good old fashioned escapism then you’re likely to take to this book like a duck to water. Unfortunately, it’s got several major flaws that detract from its final rating.
Allison and Liam are the most pure of canon Sues; good-looking and ultra-intelligent, they come off more as sentient dolls than human beings. Allison suffers from Superhuman Heroine syndrome. Not only is she a puzzle-solving genius with model looks, she’s smart enough to beat FBI code-breakers at their own game, and arrogant enough to send the ciphers that she’s broken to them with a message simply stating ‘you’re welcome’. She’s never seen actually training to learn code or expanding her educational horizons except in the vaguest of terms; she’s just naturally That Good at being a genius, to the point of constantly besting trained experts. She’s supposed to be fluent in obscure coding language, a facet of her character which Garwood sadly shows little interest in researching or portraying with much illumination – what does she write? PERL? MYSQUL? You will never learn it here; she’s just generally Good at Computers and apparently can not only hack and write code but also understands general security and antivirus protocol and wants to start her own software company. These are all different areas of computer knowledge, and while they can intersect it’s not often that one is an expert in all of them. In fact, Alison is such a smart person that the device that gets the plot moving feels nonsensical. Would a woman with incredible problem solving skills allow her aunt and uncle to push her around and commandeer money they have no legal right to out of mild guilt and concern over a cousin about whom she has mixed feelings? She’s an independent adult with a very dangerous background, and somehow doesn’t know how to employ burner phones? This ultimately feels like a poor attempt at injecting a sense of vulnerability into Allison’s character.
Liam is her Stu-twin in every way. It’s not enough for him to be the best FBI agent in Boston; he’s also a top notch lawyer and the best around at being a cool, confident man. Move over, billionaire bachelor doctors! Liam is commandeering and bossy, but without that soft core and comedic sense of foolish pride that makes Garwood’s long line of heroes so memorable. You know his story: he can’t love because of Work, oh woe, oh wearaday, and he’s So Much More Sophisticated than her but feels the need to glower and loom over her like a bad smell.
The romance is… well, stilted and sometimes creepy, as the author seems content to focus on the problems of Allison’s hacking and her family relationships, with the occasional paragraph featuring her and Liam lusting after each other or Liam behaving like a possessive alpha. That alphaness has a weird tone to it though, as Liam comes across as of those men whose bossy domineering comes off more like a concerned father’s worry for his favorite daughter than a man who wants to sweep a girl off her feet. If Allison has avoided eating or sleeping, he will be there to bully her into doing it while thinking about her legs and growling at other men for doing so much as looking at the same pedal extremities. The fact that Liam somewhat older than Alison – who is a college student – just adds to the sense of discomfort. It’s as if Garwood can’t transition her male characters properly into a modern mindset – they still come off as land barons trying to protect their naïf royal ladies instead of full-blown modern men and women.
The plot is a slapdash, and each time a new problem is introduced it’s solved within another forty pages at most – and sometimes within a couple of paragraphs. The secondary characters are comically cartoonish, especially Allison’s aunt and uncle, who appear to be co-auditioning for the role of Miss Hannigan in an off-Broadway production of Annie. Garwood does not seem to have enough confidence in the relationships between her characters to simply let them shine through on their own. To tie this into the Buchanan-Renard continuity, Jordan and Noah Claybourne appear for a couple of chapters, though never in the same scene at the same time; we’re told that Allison feels close to her best friend, but the time she spends with Jordan in the story is brief and we don’t really get much development (she wraps Allison’s graduation present in a garbage bag because the boxes are different sizes…who the hell does that?).
Wired sadly lacks the charm and warmth of Garwood’s earlier historical works. She’s done a great job with her other thrillers (Heartbreaker is pretty great), but sadly this one misses the mark and turns out to be a bit of a formulaic jaunt.