The Midnight Hour
by Brenda Jackson, contemporary (2004)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-98997-0

This book is related to probably a zillion previous Brenda Jackson books. I'm not too sure as I can't keep track of this author's books anymore when it comes to the chronology and context of her related books. The hero first appears in Fire And Desire back in 1999, however, so probably many of the gratuitous cameos by secondary characters will make sense better if readers read that book first. That is, if they care to once they encounter the implausible romantic suspense premise of Brenda Jackson's The Midnight Hour, a book which leans slightly towards Suzanne Brockmann, Jessica Hall, and Gennita Low territory when it comes to romantic suspense and a departure of sorts from Brenda Jackson's works in the past.

Drake "Sir Drake" Warren was deeply in love with his fellow Marine Sandy Carroll. Alas, Sir Drake crosses one too many enemies in his line of duty and the result is the death of Sandy during a mission gone awry in Haiti. Now poor Sir Drake is the typical lone wolf CIA operative hero living on a daily diet of remorse heavily garnished with guilt and gruffness. What he isn't aware of though is that Sandy manages to survive. However, Sandy has undergone enough cosmetic surgeries under the sponsorship of the CIA to transform herself into an entirely different person, appearance-wise - she has even become left-handed where she was once right-handed, which is a little unnecessary if you ask me. Now known as the more glamorous-sounding Victoria Green and working as a CIA operative, she and only a few CIA officers are aware of her past as Sandy Carroll. And if they want to remove Sandy from Drake's life, shouldn't she be working elsewhere other than at the CIA where Sir Drake is also a part of?

The logic behind Sandy's transformation to Victoria is that Sandy will become a pawn in the vendetta of Sir Drake's enemies. To me, it seems implausible that Sir Drake would be considered a very skilled Marine while on the other hand there are people that would decide that he can't handle the pressures of his job and have to step in, big-brother style, to make decisions for him behind his back. It is equally far-fetched that Tori's newly appointed superior will be kept in the dark regarding her past, which is why Tori and Drake are reunited on a mission. He is attracted to Tori who reminds him so much of Sandy, but while he is bewildered and even angry at his attraction to her, they succumb to their chemistry during the mission. Tori predictably resigns after the mission is over - without letting Sir Drake know (he's on another mission) - and runs off to carry their Secret Baby without telling him. Book, meet foot.

Alas, Sir Drake's enemies are aware of Tori's existence and are now gunning for her, so it is up to Sir Drake to go running to save Tori. Oh no, can their love - and my interest in the story - survive the surfeit of clichés?

Sir Drake is a stock Brenda Jackson hero - attractive, capable, protective of his woman, and since he's pretty much a variation of the heroes that I can encounter in the author's previous (and better plotted) book, I don't really feel that he manages to save this story. I like a former Marine turned CIA operative heroine who is competent in her work, but the strengths in Tori's character are negated by her truly exasperating, often illogical, and stereotypical behavior once she gets a dose of the Secret Baby juice.

The plot feels like romantic suspense and Secret Baby clichés being cobbled together without any actual attempt to give the story any plausibility. If I have to ask myself whether any actual intelligent CIA agents will do some of the things these people, especially Tori, do in this story, Brenda Jackson isn't doing a good job in getting me to go with the flow of her story.

The Midnight Hour is a standard textbook result of an author trying to write romantic suspense when she has very little actual familiarity with the workings and dealings of a suspense story that works. Instead, this story feels like something an author would write after she's read a few very average romantic suspense novels and decide that she too can write the same mediocre stuff. The Secret Baby angle and the tiresome treatment it receives from Brenda Jackson don't improve matters. The thing is, Brenda Jackson is a much more capable author than this. Alas, like Beverly Jenkins, she seems way out of her league when it comes to contemporary romances with a stronger, action-heavy romantic suspense slant such as The Midnight Hour. Maybe it's time to work on tighter plotlines and credible suspense angles or at least hire a technical consultant (not some online joker pretending to be a SEAL, please) to provide the stories some gravitas of plausibility.

Rating: 60

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