Author: Linda Howard
Publisher: William Morrow
Price: $26.99 (Hardcover)
I will admit, I was only vaguely aware of the romance writer Linda Howard. That is until I received in the mail her latest novel, “Troublemaker,” along with a very slick press kit that describes her as “the queen of romantic suspense,” a writer of “stunning sensuality” who “meshes hot sex, emotional impact, and gripping tension.” So far, so good.
Looking into it a little further I learned Ms. Howard has had a number of “New York Times” and “USA Today” best-sellers, among her–wait for it—48 books, plus two more co- authored with Linda Jones.
Add to that the information that Linda Howard “lives in Gadsden, Alabama, with her husband and two golden retrievers” and I was in. I thought I knew Alabama’s writers, but I had no idea that someone in Gadsden had published 50 novels.
“Troublemaker,” like many of Howard’s books apparently, occupies a niche market, “romantic suspense.”
The novel opens in early March, just outside Washington, D. C.
Morgan Yancy, 34, the leader of what’s called a GO-Team, has just returned from a special ops assignment. Morgan is a kind of James Bond, Jason Bourne figure, a finely honed warrior, with 16 years of intensive training. He is well-armed, with a pistol in a holster in the small of his back, a knife in his pocket, and a back-up pistol on his right ankle. Morgan is constantly vigilant, surveying everything around him for danger but is, nevertheless, ambushed and shot in the chest on page 10.
There was a leak, a spy among the GO-Teams. Someone put out a hit on Morgan and will doubtless try again so his boss, Axel MacNamara, arranges for Morgan to recuperate, heal and gather his strength in a small West Virginia town, Hamrickville, population 4,000, small enough so everyone pretty much knows everyone. Morgan will live quietly with Isabeau (Bo) Maran, and her golden retriever, Tricks. The dog is important, fully a member of this triangle. Clever, nearly literate, if Tricks doesn’t like Morgan, nothing can happen.
Maran is an administrative chief of police, divorced, off men, definitely. She cherishes her independence but needs the money MacNamara offers and so, reluctantly, resentfully, allows Morgan to crash at her place.
Morgan is weak, needs help even to walk to the bathroom, and resents that.
The mutual irritation builds, then switches to a different kind of tension as Morgan heals, exercises, gains back muscle mass and becomes, mostly, his previous hunky self.
EVERY reader knows how this will go, eventually, but nevertheless, Howard is very skillful at timing, delay, teasing the characters and reader along, letting the pressure build. We know there are two plots, each working towards their climaxes. Morgan and Bo will have sex, and it is explicit and graphic, not crude, but certainly copious and described in detail, and the bad guys will come to the little town to kill Morgan. He will bring “trouble” to Hamrickville and its colorful, friendly folk.
With fiction like this, genre novels, people ask me directly: did I enjoy this book. Yes I did. It is skillfully done, has pace, some quirky characters, everyday scenes drawn well enough and one cannot deny others their taste, but, no, I do not intend to read 47 more.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” A shorter form of this review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio.