I love being surprised and learning new things. Today I learned that if you ground up a mouse and ate it, it would contain about 57% protein (this from our vet, I am not Googling “mouse protein content”). I also learned that it is possible to have a romantic suspense book that is feels entirely authentic and real.
I love romantic suspense, but it tends to require I do a lot of disbelief suspending. I mean, people do not fall in love with their exes while on the run from a serial killer/drug warlord/human trafficking ring. Even Liam Neeson can’t pull that shit off convincingly. If someone told me “it’s a book where a reporter is kidnapped by al Qaeda and then rescued by her former lover who’s also a Navy SEAL, but it’s, you know, believable,” I would have said “Shhhhhahhhh, no way.” And I would have been wrong.
A word of advice. I recommend reading First Strike, the prequel novella to Striking Distance first. It’s been periodically featured for free, so it’s worth checking out. First Strike does a good job of setting the tone of the relationship between the hero and heroine, Javier and Laura, and I felt it helped me appreciate their journey later. It’s mostly sex though. Lots of delicious, illicit sex in a Dubai hotel room.
Laura Nilsson is a journalist, reporting on the war in the Middle East. She meets Javier Corbray, a SEAL, when he’s on leave in Dubai. They have the aforementioned sex, which they agree is no strings attached, and then go their separate ways.
Later Laura and her TV crew are attacked on live television, and she’s taken hostage and presumed dead. Javier feels guilty and grief-stricken despite only knowing her (and knowing her) for a weekend. Eighteen months later he’s part of a team sent to capture Abu Nayef Al-Nassar, the leader of an al Qaeda splinter group. When they infiltrate the compound they find Laura there, and rescue her. Laura doesn’t know that Javier is the SEAL who saved her life—he’s wearing a mask and goggles—and after eighteen months being held captive, repeatedly raped, and psychologically tortured, she has a lot to work through.
Two years later, Laura and Javier cross paths again. He’s been injured in the line of duty, and blames himself for the deaths of some of his men. Laura has just testified against Al-Nassar, and has received very scary death threats from him and his followers. Laura is also harboring a giant, agonizing secret. More on that later, though.
Laura and Javier meet up through mutual friends. He’s staying at a ranch belonging to a friend (a previous Clare hero). She’s invited to the ranch for a barbeque. At first things are awkward “Hi, sorry I didn’t call you after we slept together, but I was taken hostage by al-Qaeda, so…” but later as the threats against Laura become very real and attempts against her life are made, Javier steps forward as her bodyguard.
So after reading all that, you’re like, no way did this book feel real, right? BUT IT FUCKING DID. When I was reading the opening segment, where Javier and his team break into the compound, I could see it all happening in my head, the way you would on a Nat Geo reenactment in a documentary. Maybe some of it rang true because I remember when Lara Logan was attacked in Egypt, but I think a lot of it was just that Clare is a really excellent writer. She was an investigative journalist, and you can tell. Everything feels flawlessly researched, and she blends enough detail in to make her writing authentic, without bogging it down. This book is sharp-edged and smart.
I loved her characters too. Laura is struggling to deal with nearly two years of sexual, physical and emotional torture, but she’s strong. She testifies against Al-Nassar. She works to get her life on track again. She describes disconnecting with her body in order to survive her ordeal. She’s vulnerable and strong at the same time, and I just liked her so much.
I liked Javier even better. He’s a tough guy without being an asshole. He has some real guilt to work through after a decision he made got members of his team killed. He’s also tender and patient when he needs to be. He cares deeply about Laura, and he does what he can to help her heal without trying to fix her problems for her.
Then there was this ovary-exploding scene:
They settled on the sofa, Laura insisting that she wouldn’t sleep, so they might as well watch a movie. She chose Pride and Prejudice, and Javier didn’t complain, despite the fact that watching guys with goofy-ass hair and prissy clothes walking around speaking in fussy English wasn’t exactly his thing. Hell, he’d have spent the night watching Sesame Street if it would make her feel better.
The spark between Laura and Javier is still there, and she’s desperate to reclaim her sexuality. He’s the perfect partner for her, in that respect. Javier meanwhile works with the US Marshals to keep Laura safe, and works through some of his self-doubt regarding his skills as a leader and protector. And all of this while they try to figure out who is attempting to kill Laura.
And if that wasn’t enough…
Laura’s big secret? SPOILER (highlight to read) She was impregnated by her rapist and her daughter is still somewhere in the Middle East. She’s intent on getting her daughter back and saving her from a life where women’s rights condemn her to no voice and an early marriage. That is if she doesn't die of an entirely preventable disease first.
So yeah, that’s a big ‘ol ball of conflict that needs to be wrapped up there. And a convincing love story that needs to be told. AND SHE DOES IT.
Holy shit, Clare does it.
I admit to being slightly thrown off by ending—not disappointed so much as surprised—but I really, really enjoyed this book. Go read it, like now.