72 Hours
by Shannon Stacey, contemporary (2006)
Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 1-59998-040-1

Is it me or the people on the cover of 72 Hours look very much like people I've seen on some TV series before? I can't put a name to those faces but they look familiar. At any rate, one look at the cover and you will know exactly what you will get in the story - a ba-ba-boom action-paced story of action heroes and the women who love them.

Our hero Alex Rossi is the boss of the Devlin Group, a bunch of action heroes and heroines who will do the jobs that folks like the government will pay them to do in order not to get their own hands dirty. Of course, we are talking about good jobs that further the cause of justice, equality, peace, and what-not, so the Devlin Group is a group that Captain America will approve. His past collide with his present when his current job sees him meeting the killer of his mother, Bruce Wayne-style, and learning during the mess that results that there may be a leak in the Devlin Group since the bad guys seem to be on to the Devlin Group's moves.

Grace Nolan used to be an FBI agent who was later drafted to join the Devlin Group. She left for two reasons - one, she was become increasingly burned-out by her job to the point that she was becoming too cynical and misantrophic and two, she realized that she was pregnant as she was getting treated for gunshot wounds. Deciding that she'd raise her kid in a more normal environment, Grace pulled a "My Secret Baby" stunt and left after lying to the father of her baby about the paternity of the kid. I'm sure you can guess who the man in question is. Come on, it's not hard. But because Grace is a pro at hacking and dismantling security systems, the Devlin Group asks her to return for one last hurrah. Before Grace can make up her mind to do anything, however, the bad guy abducts her eight-year old son Danny and forces her to entrap Alex for them.

When the bad guy shows up to tell Grace that Danny is in their clutches, she throws him down and whips out a pistol at him. Of course, killing him won't give Danny back to her so there's that, alas. She can't bake cookies to save her life but she's going to pull a Geena Davis on The Long Kiss Goodnight if that's what it takes to save Danny's life. Unfortunately, Grace morphs from a Michele Albert kind of heroine into a Suzanne Brockmann kind when she meets Alex. She turns into this weepy and silly creature dependent on the big strong man to make everything right again. It's a pity because Grace is otherwise a pretty good heroine in the making. She has a very valid reason to hide Danny from Alex, for example, and she has the ability to be a kickass heroine, so Ms Stacey has something good in Grace. Grace has everything to be that rare kickass take-no-prisoners heroine. It is therefore most disappointing that the author fails to capitalize on this and instead opts to reduce Grace into being a mere sidekick and Alex's girlfriend-in-distress. Grace is wasted in this role.

More disappointingly, Ms Stacey also soon reduces Grace's genuine concern about wanting a better environment to raise Danny in into an "Oops, oh yeah, silly me, I should have told you about Danny" thing. In another story, yes, this is right as Secret Baby plots are evil, but in this story, I feel that Grace has some valid concerns to do what she did, so, just it shows in the rest of her treatment of Grace, Ms Stacey doesn't know what she has in Grace. This whole thing makes Grace come off as being so very wrong to the point that Grace becomes even more dependent on Alex to make things right for her.

Alex is a likable hero whose demons in the past motivate him to act instead of mope and wallow in self-pity, but unfortunately he's crippled by a storyline that forces him into a plot straight out of a mediocre Silhouette Intimate Moments affair - because his second identity is Sean Devlin, the boss of the Devlin Group (he keeps this dual identity going because of safety reasons), he's now stuck in a situation where Grace had talked to Sean about Danny and all without realizing that Sean and Alex are one and the same so now Grace may feel betrayed if she learns the truth. Alex's determination to do what is right with Grace and Danny makes him a very attractive hero. He's a very nice guy and a very dangerous action man all in one go. Alex Rossi is that kind of guy who will act like the proud goofy dad and husband at Danny's baseball game and in the next scene happily tear the limbs of those who dare to threaten the lives of his loved ones with his own bare hands because he is so cool like that.

As you can probably tell by now, I adore Alex and Grace. Shannon Stacey have a great pair of characters in her hands and this story has plenty of great possibilities, especially when this is a rare Secret Baby story that makes sense and allows both hero and heroine to walk away from it with their dignities intact. However, Ms Stacey forces her characters into thankless stereotypical roles in this story. Grace is forced to conform to some "feminine" role while Alex finds himself stuck in a dilemma that, should the two main characters be allowed to be themselves, won't matter at all since they have bigger things to worry about at that moment. Indeed, the last few chapters are fun to read because the main characters finally behave very sensibly, talking and getting everything aired out in the open, so I can definitely believe their love story.

Therefore, I am too disappointed for words that 72 Hours seem content to be just another so-so Silhouette Intimate Moments thing. The first chapter is amazing, the last few chapters are very good, but everything else is Ms Stacey forcing two larger-than-life very attractive and moral Mr & Mrs Smith type of characters into behaving like a generic couple trying too hard to pretend that they are in a Suzanne Brockmann novel.

But, having said everything, I still have a wonderful time reading 72 Hours. I know, it's hard to believe that judging from what I've written so far, but I am very disappointed which is why I can go on and on about that so much. However, this book is very well-paced and I do enjoy reading about the main characters even when they sometimes make me want to tear my hair out in frustration when they are being so annoyingly "traditional" in their roles, if I am making sense here. The character designs are excellent here and Grace should be breaking stereotypes instead of conforming to them. The book is a great read, it's just that I'm so frustrated by how it doesn't end up being much better. The author has something amazing here, so why settle for being just merely very good?

Rating: 88

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