Signet Eclipse, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21825-6
Romantic Suspense, 2006
Marianna Jameson’s Big Trouble on the surface is a book that I could really enjoy due to its premise. But this story has many little things that either don’t add up or don’t feel right to me. The sheer number of these little annoyances creates a pile-up effect that has me thinking that there is something just not right about the story.
The heroine Naomi Connor has a pretty cool job: she’s a very good hacker. That’s a hacker, by the way, a good guy who helps people discover weaknesses in one’s computer systems, as opposed to a cracker who exploits these weaknesses and creates all kinds of problems as a result. When Naomi was fourteen, she fell prey to an international crime syndicate that tricked young hack prodigies into taking part in a “competition” to hack a dummy system. The dummy system is however an actually very real system: the security systems of Brennan Shipping that at that time had a top-secret plan with the Department of Defense. She realized that something was wrong once she cracked into the system and told the cops but the damage was done. That was twenty years ago. Today, Naomi wants to take up an assignment with Brennan Shipping – to test and discover any possible weaknesses in its current security system – as her way of making atonement for her sins. She doesn’t plan on falling for the Brennan Shipping chief technology officer Joe Casey who may turn away from her if he ever discover that she was R@ptorGurl twenty years ago.
Now, I personally would love to kick the behinds of some annoying script kiddies out there but I find it a little ridiculous that the author would have Naomi and Joe judge a fourteen-year old girl’s naivete so harshly. Okay, Naomi is a romance heroine, so I suppose she should be expected to be a martyr who exaggerates her sins so that she will look extra beautiful up on the cross during the grand crucifixion event, but Joe comes off as way too harsh and judgmental. Because a large component of the internal conflict in the relationship between those two lie in Naomi’s past, there is a very exaggerated quality to that conflict in my opinion because at the end of the day, Naomi was fourteen and I don’t think anyone can claim to be wise at that age. I feel sorry for their kids already. I’m not saying that what Naomi did should be laughed off as a childish prank, I’m just saying that perhaps it is unreasonable to judge Naomi at age fourteen in the same way as those two characters would judge an adult.
If the reactions of the two main characters to Naomi’s past feel exaggerated at times to be believable, I also have some problems with inconsistencies in Naomi’s characterization. She starts off being this woman who seems aware of her big chest, long legs, and killer body and therefore she is probably one of those women who are confident about their body and sexuality. Well, no. Sometime later in the book Ms Jameson pulls the whole “I have big breasts so now I am so uncomfortable with my body, eeeee!” card on Naomi. I don’t know why. Are romance readers so insecure that they will, I don’t know, burn with jealousy when they come across a beautiful and confident heroine? But fine, this is her story so Ms Jameson can have her heroine grow wings and fly across an ocean if that’s what she wants. But Naomi’s insecurities contradict her actions in the early chapters of this book. Why would a heroine who claims to be insecure about being too beautiful (oh, what a painful fate indeed, maybe Naomi should start mutilating her face with a fork to feel much better?) show up at the start of the book and in the next few chapters dressed up in a va-va-voom way to flatter her appearance? Naomi’s sudden transformation from femme fatale to self-loathing femme comes out of the blue and feels, to me, like something the author introduced either from the advice of her editor or critique partner or from some belief that her readers will squirm in envy if they ever read a heroine who is more beautiful than they. Maybe those readers will, I don’t know, but the abrupt way the author takes a crowbar to her heroine’s confidence causes this new and whiny Naomi to come off as forced and contrived for the rest of the story.
There are many instances in this story when I find myself going, “Oh, that behavior seems out of character for this particular character!” or “Come on, real people won’t do such things to make their lives so difficult!” All those instances are due to the author overemphasizing the extent that Naomi should be blamed for her actions when she was a silly fourteen-year old girl and the abrupt way Ms Jameson cripples Naomi from becoming too much of a confident and well-assured heroine when Naomi threatens to become just that.
That’s a pity because I really like the premise of this story. Ms Jameson has done her homework and I enjoy reading about corporate espionage and the ways to counter it. How many romance novels out there has a heroine who dabbles in computers? This book could have been something fun and refreshing. But on the whole, many of the things the two main characters do and the way their personalities develop throughout the story don’t feel natural or spontaneous to me. If the story isn’t so bent on making the heroine a martyr to her own beauty as well as her past and forcing the other characters to bend over to reinforce the heroine’s exaggerated insecurities, Big Trouble would have been grand.