I don’t know about you, but some of my favourite authors are the ones who have a particular genre or style and tend to stick with it. Sure, there’s always the risk of one day waking up bored with it all, but often it’s easy and delightful to come back to what you love and get exactly what you want out of a story.
Then there are those authors who break out of their niche and try something new every so often. Sometimes it works; and sometimes you can only applaud the effort and the bravery in deviating from the tried and true, as opposed to applauding the material itself.
Zero Hour is the first book in Megan Erickson’s newest series Wired & Dangerous series which features a team of coders and hackers. Ms. Erickson’s recent ventures into the supernatural haven’t really wowed me, but there is potential in some of the characters she’s created in this series, even though the context in which they exist and the events that contain them, are not as strong.
We’re thrown right into the mix as tattooed hacker Roarke Brennan works to assemble a team to help him take down the person responsible for the death of his brother. It’s chapter one and we already have a revenge plot; I am digging it. There is fun banter between Roarke and his friend Erick and a clumsy and less than smooth scene where they convince a fellow hacker they don’t even like to join the team. Immediately afterwards, Erickson wastes no time in setting the stage for some angst and conflict by throwing the heroine of this story right in Roarke’s path just as he’s secured the final piece for his plan.
Enter Erick’s sister, Wren – our second PoV – who used to crush hard on her big brother’s bestie ten years ago and now gets to refresh the signal strength of said crush when she sees the man he has since become. I’m not sure we can call this insta-lust seeing as they have history and yet… it still sorta feels like that. Wren has done some of her own growing up and with Roarke’s revenge plot still simmering, we’re introduced to yet another one, as Wren wants to exact retribution for a wrong done to her friend by the same set of people Roarke is looking to take down. This is the first, but not the last, time things feel unbelievably convenient, and in this case, a little clumsy. By shifting gears so quickly to Wren’s need for justice, Erickson ends up diminishing the impact of Roarke’s feelings of grief and anger over losing his brother. Had Wren’s motivation been only teased, and maybe dragged out a little, it would’ve made for a smoother start.
What follows are some generic computer-y scenes, some undercover work involving spy cams and coding, poor dietary preferences, some dark backstory on Wren’s part, the snarky personalities that make up this group of grey hats, and action sequences you don’t normally see being handled by guys who spend more of their lives behind computers. There’s also plenty of sexual tension between Wren and Roarke as they refuse to act on their feelings because of various complications and the likelihood they’ll have to hit ‘delete’ on their lives and disappear once the mission is complete.
If you’re getting the sense that I wasn’t able to sink into this story, or suspend my disbelief, you’d be right.
As mentioned before there is just too much contrivance within these pages. It’s convenient to have the reader believe that ten years have gone by and neither Roarke nor Wren have ever been interested in anyone else, especially as they were never together and never confessed their feelings. To try and convince us further we’re treated to sweeping statements such as, “she suspected Erick had always wanted her to be with Roarke” but we don’t hear of any hints or overture, made that would support this. There is no foundation for this belief or that it would have survived the time apart – at least not on Wren’s end.
Additionally, some of the suspenseful moments are just… unlikely. We have a camera planted in a necklace to capture video feed while Wren’s undercover on her first date with her target. And the reader is supposed to believe that said date just happens to come prepared with a necklace of his own for her to wear? That’s a bit of a stretch and does nothing but try to force the reader to feel anxiety for Wren and the team. But don’t worry. Unbeknownst to everyone, a last minute gift of diamond earrings had a backup microphone so they can still record and Roarke is reassured about Wren’s safety. Spell it with me now. C O N V E N I E N T. And on and on it goes.
For a book in which hacking is a major plot point, I never felt the distinct presence of the culture or that I was reading about characters who reside in the world of coding. There are a few offhand geeky references sprinkled here and there but instead of reinforcing the niche it mostly feels out of place. For some readers this will be a bonus as they won’t feel bogged down in jargon and they can instead enjoy a medium-high stakes adventure story. But for me all it did was fail to convince me these were the highly-skilled and sought-after hackers they claim to be.
What Erickson does do well is her effortless diversity. We have a pair of Korean siblings, a gay man, a bisexual Latina, and another character who is a bit of a mystery to me but who features in a crossdressing scene. I loved the strength she gives Wren; she’s the one going undercover, wired up, and in far more constant danger than Roarke, who is safely behind the computer while running the mission. The dialogue is also peppered with realistic quips about hackers not liking to run (despite their ripped physiques) and we have men who don’t enjoy handling or being around guns (despite owning guns), so these are not your typical full-out alphas used to physical conflict and danger, even if they feel a little too capable for said situations. Ultimately the characters are the best part of this read, specifically the supporting cast who feel more like they fit the hacker mold, and it’s a strength of their group dynamic that will likely have me picking up the next book.
While not believably suspenseful enough for what I expect from a romantic suspense novel, I still feel I have to give kudos to Erickson for trying something new. Unfortunately, a mix of convenient plot devices, my inability to suspend belief about the abilities of the protagonists, and a story centered around a couple who tried really hard to convince me that a flimsy emotional connection – based only in wanting what they couldn’t have – would actually survive ten years, didn’t make Zero Hour very enjoyable. Though the author makes a point to subvert alpha-tropes and also manages to give her lady more of an action-focused role, overall this just wasn’t a winner for me.