Book Review

Review: Striking Distance by Pamela Clare


Title: Striking Distance
Author: Pamela Clare
Publication Info: Berkley November 2013
ISBN: 978-0425257357
Genre: Romantic Suspense

Book Striking Distance Striking Distance by Pamela Clare rocks.

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.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    KatieF says:

    Darn it—I’m on my iPad and I can’t get the spoiler to display. I’ll have to check it out on my laptop. I read an excerpt of this somewhere and it was really good. I’m glad to hear the rest is just as good. Definitely going to top of my TBR pile!

  2. 2
    Dora says:

    Big fan of heroines who are strong AND vulnerable. I think sometimes people get caught up in the concept of a “strong female character” as being “someone who is completely immune to hurt and ever needing help, and if she does, then she isn’t strong”. Give me well developed and realistic female characters overcoming their hurts and being able to stand on their own while still knowing that accepting the love and support of others doesn’t make you weak any day over a robotic, preternaturally competent and emotionally stunted “strong woman”.

    This sounds like a solid book, but definitely on the “heavy” side emotionally speaking, and thus something I’d have to be in the mood to read. Sometimes you want Braveheart, sometimes you want The Princess Bride. I’ll have to keep it in mind! I don’t generally read books with military heroes because it seems like they tend to wind up as dominant possessive alphas (which just isn’t for me), but this Javier sounds like a more well-rounded dude.

  3. 3
    susan says:

    Interesting that you commented on the ending. I love Pamela Clare; she is an autobuy whether she is writing historicals or RS. But I have consistently found her RS endings disconcerting and/or problematic. I don’t mind seeing the whole I-team gang (past and present) get together to socialize, but there is a certain sameness to how everyone’s lives turn out. I know I am being vague here, for the benefit people who have not read any of Clare’s RS books. There are other authors writing RS series—like Laura Griffin—where the relationships are not quite so neatly tied up in a big white bow.

  4. 4
    Jen says:

    I read Breaking Point and really liked it, but for some reason the blurbs on Clare’s other books haven’t grabbed me as strongly. And frankly I’ve sort of hesitated on this one because of the spoiler, as I am not a huge fan of that “thing” in books, but your review is swaying me. I may just have to give this one a try!

  5. 5
    laj says:

    I couldn’t get the spoiler to display on my laptop or my tablet. Why is that?

    In the past I have passed on Striking Distance because of the rape and torture…..maybe I’ll have a look at it after all. thanks for the review.

  6. 6
    Rose says:

    I did have some issues with the plausibility of this one. It’s still quite good – Clare is one of the best RS authors around – but I think this is the first of her I-Team books in which the suspense plot wasn’t drawn from her own work as a journalist, and it shows. I could also do with fewer recurring I-Team characters; some of them just feel really shoehorned into the plot.

    Laura was a wonderful heroine, and I know that Clare drew on her own experience in writing Laura’s personal journey, which is very moving.

    Jen: you might want to at least try Unlawful Contact, it’s probably the best one in the series.

  7. 7
    SB Sarah says:

    @laj: highlighting the text did not work? I’m sorry. I’ll have to come up with another way to hide text!


    Sometimes you want Braveheart, sometimes you want The Princess Bride.

    YES. That is a perfect way to describe it. And this sounds like it’s definitely on the Braveheart end of the scale.


  8. 8

    I really loved this one too! I absolutely loved that Clare didn’t gloss over Laura’s trauma, and even hung a lampshade on the old “magical healing penis” trope. The only issue I had with it was that she did an awful lot of exoticizing of Javier’s race, at one point even using the word ‘exotic’ to describe him. That, plus his references to Laura not seeming like the “hot blooded island women” he was used to, sometimes threatened to turn an otherwise well-realized character into a stereotype.

  9. 9
    Sarina Bowen says:

    Sold! Because I have exactly the same issues with romantic suspense that you do. I mean, I enjoy a good Harlen Coben, too. But when that thriller shit gets blended with romance, it often just falls SO flat. And stupid. Really, really stupid.

    So I’ll give this one a shot.

    Also… I was recently thinking about Kristen Ashley’s plots. Now, she’s an indie author who never had to worry about fitting precisely into a subgenre. And her Rock Chick books always, always, always feature a kidnapping. But there’s something really tongue-in-cheek about the suspense parts of her books. Like the heroine gets nabbed because she was wearing impractical shoes, etc. So I’m never offended by the ridiculousness of the plots, because I can feel the author winking at me as I’m reading it.

    Anywho, thanks for the rec!

  10. 10
    Laine says:

    I loved how the conflict about the spoiler was solved in this book. I didn’t love it while reading it, I was too surprised and shocked. I kept expecting things to turn out diffrently, right until the end. Thinking about it afterwards, I realized that any other resolution would have been unrealistic and would have required completely different characters.

    Striking Distance might not be my favourite book in the series but that ending has stuck with me. (Of course it’s only been a month.)

  11. 11
    Merry says:

    On an ipad, you can copy the spoiler text and paste it into a note. Reads just fine.

  12. 12
    DonnaMarie says:

    @Susan, I feel exactly the opposite. I can’t get into the historicals, but I adore Pamela Clare’s I-Team books. You gotta give props to an author who pulls no punches and isn’t afraid to remove body parts. Naked Edge is my fav so far.

  13. 13

    I **fan girl** Pamela Clare so much that I might as well get a bracelet with her name on it. Think I recommended her French and Indian War stuff a couple days ago on a historicals thread here, in fact.

    Like others, I’ve been wavering on this – both b/c of the spoiler and the torture – I’m a bandaid off fast kind of person, and this just seems like a heck of a giant bandaid coming reallllly slowly, so I wasn’t sure I was in a space to process all that intensity right now. I’ve been feeling in need of happy books. And honestly, when I read a writer as good as Pamela Clare I get a little down on myself, which is not fair, but it’s human, I guess. Don’t we all make those comparisons when we see someone who’s a little thinner or whatever?

    So I was telling myself to save Striking Distance until after my next deadline … ! … but my kids’ school is getting Barnes and Noble kickback donations this month, and now this review has convinced me not to wait (although it has also convinced me I will hit the doldrums again after I read this b/c I’m going to be so wiped out).

  14. 14
    Amy says:

    I’ve read all of Pamela Clare’s I-Team books and thoroughly enjoyed all of them.  Striking Distance, in my opinion, is her best work.  It is not necessarily the easiest to read, but once I started, I was completely engrossed.  While it didn’t have the same investigative journalism bent of her previous books, it still felt authentic; it’s obvious that Pamela is a stickler for research and details.  I was happy to see her go in a slightly different direction with this story, while still keeping the I-Team “touchstone” in the background.  I enjoy reading snippets of the other couples in her books; it gives continuity to the series, yet allows each book to be a stand-alone.
    Anna Richland, you have nothing to be concerned about – I recently finished First to Burn (it was terrific) and cannot wait for the next book in the series. 

  15. 15
    Bookworm-Airhead says:

    I thought I posted a comment yesterday…

    Anyway I finished it today and I just loved it!

    Javier is such a great hero, strong, principled, HOT, but able to let Laura do what she needs to do to get past the awful time she has.  I love that he demonstrates control, he really really desires her, no-one’s in any doubt about that, but he just waits instead of being all Can’t. Control. The. Horn. 

    He knows it has to be on her terms and when she’s ready and instead of getting angry that he can’t shag her he waits patiently, being a nice guy, showing that he is trustworthy, earning her rather than assuming that he can have her because, y’know, MAGIC WANG.

    Laura is a strong character, but strong enough to know when she needs someone to rely on.  She’s intelligent, empathetic, observant and not at all TSTL, thank GOD!

    I also really loved the total lack of pretend-pouty-conflict and head-fuckery game-playing.  They’re just two people slowly falling in love, without ridiculously contrived arguments and falling-out.  And they’re happy to fall in love, there’s none of that fake ‘horror realisation’ of “Oh my god what am I going to do, this is a DISASTER”, sure, there are a few moments of doubt in each of them, but they have reasons for that, it’s their histories that give them doubt, not the love itself. 

    And there’s another great bit of TV watching involving Downton Abbey which is hilarious!!

    I didn’t read the spoiler first but I saw it coming as soon as it was mentioned, and it’s a major plot point.  The resolution is interesting and curious, not sure how realistic it would be, but I can see why it went that way since the options are limited.

    It was really satisfying, a properly grown-up love story that felt normal and real.

  16. 16
    jane says:

    I thought this was one of the better of the series—Megan’s short story is probably the best, though. Some of the others are hard for me to read, though—I did not like Julian’s story, for example, although that one had the best reviews on amazon.

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