Today, AAR reviewers Maggie Boyd and Mary Skelton tackle Troublemaker, the latest book by New York Time’s bestseller Linda Howard.
Here is Maggie’s summary of the novel:
Isabeau “Bo” Maran is surprised – and displeased – when she receives a self-igniting birthday card from the ex-step-brother she loves to hate. She is even more displeased when she finds that the present alluded to in the card is actually a sick man in need of a very private place to recuperate. She is happy with the bribe she receives to play nursemaid – $150,000.00 will go a long way to alleviating the debt from a bad business decision and putting her back in financial solvency. Looks like she and her dog, Tricks, will be entertaining a house guest.
As the leader of a paramilitary group Morgan Yancy is used to facing danger. He just didn’t expect to find it waiting for him in his own driveway after a day of fishing. Six weeks in hospital after the gunshot wound and he’s ready to break out of that establishment but the open-heart surgery and subsequent pneumonia have proven pretty serious setbacks. He’s in no condition to kick ass and take names like he needs to. When his boss sends him to finish his recuperation – and hide out from whoever ambushed him – at a lazy little West Virginia town he expects to be bored out of his skull within a week. Instead he finds a dog who loves to keep him on his toes and a dog owner who makes his blood sing. But Bo is none too pleased to have him camping out in her home. Can he somehow convince her to give in to the passion between them and let him make this place –and her- his permanent base?
Maggie: Any time Linda Howard releases a new book, I’m completely overjoyed. Her novel Open Season is one of my favorite romances of all time and many of her books are favorite re-reads for me. Are you a long time Linda Howard fan, and if so, what are your favorites?
Mary: I believe I have read every single Linda Howard book that has ever been published; most of them multiple times. Son of the Morning, After the Night, Cry No More…I have more favorites than those in the meh pile for this author. Every time I learn she has a new book coming out I am so hopeful…
Maggie: This book reminded me a bit of Cover of Night or Ice, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I think it was the small town location and friendly, funny local characters which caused me to mentally make that comparison. Did it remind you of any of her previous works?
Mary: I have read both of those titles and they kind of fall in the “meh” pile for me. I liked Ice better than Cover of Night though. The latter had the romance on the back burner for too much of the book. Linda Howard is strongest, in my opinion, when her romance is the strongest.
Maggie: I totally agree. The books are best when the focus stays on the romance.
Bo seemed a bit like Jaclyn Wilde from another Howard favorite, Veil of Night. Both characters are very reserved initially but have a warm core. What did you think of Bo?
Mary: I had a few problems with Bo and the way she was written. I did not particularly dislike her as a character, but I feel that most of the problem with Linda Howard’s more recent books is she is still trying to write in a 1980-90s worldview and that makes her current work feel dated. The occupation of Bo for example: Having her in the role of chief of police is progressive and current, but then she has to make the position almost a figure-head role that requires no police work or knowledge. It strips the heroine of some of her agency. It seems like the author is trying to step into current times, but she is dragging her feet doing it. I do give her props for trying though.
Maggie: It’s funny you should mention that because I got the same vibe from the he-man food issue. The whole idea that men would consider skim-milk “girly” and frown upon salads or yogurt seemed archaic. Guys today are far more in to healthy food and far more likely to drink skim milk than they used to be.
Morgan captured my attention just a little bit less than the average Howard hero. Normally, her men are my romantic ideal. In this novel, I felt we just didn’t get to know and understand him enough for me to fall under his spell. I think another reason Morgan didn’t win me over quite as much is what happened in the aftermath of the Heritage Day Parade. The entire Heritage Day scene was exciting and fun but at the end of the excitement, the scene in the police car reminded me a tiny bit of Death Angel, one of my less favorite Howard novels. What did you think of him?
Mary: He was just fine. Nothing wonderful, but a decent stock romantic suspense hero.
Maggie: She’s capable of so much more, though! Maybe that’s why he was so disappointing. And speaking of disappointing, I think Tricks, Bo’s golden retriever, was supposed to be a completely endearing character but I didn’t fall in love with her. In fact, I found that she was a distraction from the two main characters and their romance. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pet in a novel, in this case I just didn’t feel the writing sustained that particular addition. What did you think?
Mary: I have a wonderful border collie that high five’s me when my college football team scores a touchdown, can tell all of our cats apart and dance through a hula hoop. So I get the pet fanaticism. But, it is kind of like talking about your children. You are thrilled with every little wonderful thing they accomplish and you KNOW they are the best thing since sliced bread…but…other people do not want to hear you go on and on about your children. It gets tedious. I was so over Tricks by the end of the book.
Maggie: As mentioned above, I think the romance here was a bit weakened by everything happening around it. What were your thoughts on that aspect of the novel?
Mary: I think you are being more generous with the novel than I am. Maybe it is because I expect more from a Linda Howard novel, but I just think she has lost some of her romantic mojo trying to hang on to a formula that worked for her in the past, but has become stale with time. For a romance to really work, that relationship has to connect with the reader on some visceral level. I just did not feel that much of a connection. I liked the second half of the book much better than the first and about the time I was really starting to get in tune with the main characters, the book was over. There was too much description, too much build-up and not enough word count spent on the most important aspect of the book, in my opinion – the relationship between the hero and heroine.
Maggie: Agree. That’s the part of the novel she really dropped the ball on. My review of this one will be a B-. I found it very readable, something light and entertaining for a sunny afternoon but ultimately forgettable. What grade would you give it and why?
Mary: I would probably give it a C+/B-, leaning more toward the C+. I felt the book had promise and then the promise was never completely fulfilled. I doubt I will ever pick it up again. So…meh.