Monday, March 2, 2009

Dark of Night

Dark of Night
Author: Suzanne Brockmann
Publisher: Random House Publishing
Release Date: January, 2009

Series: Troubleshooters
Position in Series: 14 out of 14
Main Characters: Lawrence Decker, Tracy Shapiro, Sophia Ghaffari, Dave Malkoff, James Nash, Tess Bailey
Returning Characters: Jules Cassidy, Robyn Chadwick, Sam and Alyssa Starrett, Ken Karmody
Sequel Bait: Jay Lopez
Bad Guys: a shadowy government black ops group gone bad

This book was quite possibly the most polarizing series entry that I've ever encountered as far as its reception by the fans. There was no middle ground on this one - you loved it or you hated it. But more on that in a minute.

A handful of years ago, Lawrence Decker met Sophia Ghaffari under some horrific circumstances. They had a sexual encounter that left both of them emotionally scarred, and Decker has never forgiven himself for what he did. Sophia, however, has harbored feelings for Decker that she finally realizes he will never be able to return. Ready to move on with her life, she turns her attentions towards her best friend, Dave Malkoff, a man who has been quietly waiting in the wings and will take Sophia in any way he can, even if he feels as if he's her second choice.

Meanwhile, Decker has thrown himself into his latest mission, trying to discover who it is exactly who has been trying to kill fellow Troubleshooters operative James Nash. Decker's investigation throws him together with the group's receptionist, Tracy Shapiro, and no one is more surprised than Decker when sparks start to fly between himself and the fiesty girl.

As his friends work desperately to keep him safe, James Nash grinds his teeth with frustration. Recovering from a near fatal gunshot wound, he's forced to remain behind at the safe house while his fiance, Tess, puts herself in danger in order to clear his name once and for all. Too, he's beginning to realize that if he ever hopes to have a future with Tess, he's going to have to reveal his darkest secrets to her, admit his worst sins, and hope that she'll accept him as he is.

The action in Dark of Night is certainly fast-paced. The story takes place over the span of only a few days, and the characters are always on the move. While this action keeps the story moving, it did create a little bit of confusion for the reader. Several times I had to rethink who was doing what where and why. And because more of the characters found themselves in mortal danger as the story progressed, you began to wonder how the problems would ever be solved to satisfaction.
I mentioned above the kerfuffle this book caused with fans when it came out. Thing is, over the past few books in the series, Brockmann has been dropping hints and clues that the predestined couple would be Decker and Sophia. It is no spoiler to reveal that in this installment, Decker finds romance with Tracy Shapiro and Sophia is perfectly happy to spend the rest of her life with Dave. Many long time fans of this series felt betrayed by this turn of events - so betrayed they are planning to boycott any further books in the series.

I did not harbor any major disappointment with the pairings that resulted in this book. My only issues came from other problems I had with the Tracy/Decker romance.

First of all, Tracy and Decker move from some previous minor flirting in one other book to a full-on love for all time romance in the course of only a few days. I always have a problem with books that throw a man and a woman together and have them fall deeply in love in such a short time. I can buy lust and infatuation and even the sparks of something they both know is going to develop into something big and great and longlasting. But this courtship-on-speed makes me doubtful for the couple's longevity.

Too, for many books we have been shown that Decker's sexual encounter with Sophie has left him wracked with guilt. He believes he took advantage of a desperate woman, and his self-loathing is so great he can't manage to overcome the guilt to see that he made a human mistake. This is why he can't allow himself to reciprocate Sophia's love.

But when Decker manages to open up with Tracy and reveal the real truth behind why he has such baggage over that one episode, the reasons completely blindsided me. This is a bit of a spoiler, so you may want to stop reading. Come to find out, Decker actually got a special little thrill out of the danger inherent in his encounter with Sophia. He's horrified that he was sexually aroused by being dominated (and very nearly killed) by Sophia. In short, he feels like a dirty boy for finding pleasure in a non-traditional sexual situation.

I had a bit of a WTF? reaction to this revelation. The whole reason he can't let himself love Sophia is because she turned him on in a way he felt was wrong? I guess I was expecting something much more debilitating than this bit of Freudian upset.

As for the Sophia/Dave pairing, the main conflict rests on Dave's fears - and rightly so - that Sophia has settled for him since Decker won't have her. She struggles to convince him - and herself - that this is not the case, and over the course of the story she does come to realize that the love she feels for him is as real and pure as anything she'd ever felt for Decker.

Dave as a character completely baffles me. Brockmann describes him as schlubby and very un-CIA stereotypical. In my mind I imagine a balding man with a bit of a gut, not very handsome or physically fit. Yet when Dave is put into a life or death situation, he becomes a Power Ranger extraordinaire. This creates a disconnect for me that I can't quite overcome. It's as if Brockmann is unable to let any of her heroes be anything less than super macho warriors. Perhaps Dave's challenge shouldn't have been so much physical as intellectual. Let him be smart and sexy instead of requiring him to be smart and super powered to be sexy.

The other couple featured heavily in this story is James Nash and Tess Bailey. This is another pairing that doesn't quite work for me. In "their" story (that is, the story when Nash and Tess supposedly had their HEA, which turned out to be not so much "ever after"), Nash was portrayed as a black ops assassin-type who barely walked on this side of good. Tess was a sweet, freckle-faced girl next door. I couldn't quite understand the attraction between them. In this story, my reaction to their continuing saga was lukewarm. I didn't really much care. I'm not sure what this means.

I have one other minor complaint. As much as I love Sam Starrett, he's beginning to turn into Dr. Phil. He offers relationship advice to pretty much every guy he encounters, and I'm wondering when he became such an expert. I liked Sam much better when he wasn't so well adjusted.

Despite these problems, I enjoyed this book. It kept me turning the pages pretty steadily. I won't say it was my favorite in the series, but I certainly did not have the negative reaction that so many others did.

Rating: Held My Attention
Status of Series: Has reached a love it/hate it point, where many readers have grown weary of the same characters and situations, while others who love returning to this world are happy to have more. The writing is still top-notch.

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