Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7574-X
Romantic Suspense, 2004
There are roughly two kinds of spy stories in the contemporary romance genre. One kind is where the hero and the heroine kick ass as they combine wits and skills to thwart the bad guys. The other kind operates on the principle where it is only romantic if the heroine conforms to some antiquated notion of “femininity” where she acts emotionally and is always ten steps behind the hero.
Sue McKay is the pseudonym for Susan K McClafferty who also writes as Selina MacPherson. The author’s debut under the name Sue McKay, Shaken and Stirred, belongs to the second kind of spy romances. If you find it romantic that Sydney Bristow’s constant emotional turmoil sees her weeping yet again on Alias, you may like this book. If you are still mourning over the cancellation of the really kickass show Karen Sisco, you may end up like me, clutching my head as I wonder how the heroine London Llewellyn can last this long without accidentally shooting herself while she is stuffing tissue papers up her nostrils when she mistakes the gun for a tranquilizer jab in her teary-eyed state.
At first I don’t really mind the heroine’s utter incompetence and overemotional state. After all, the CIA undercover agent reaches Vienna after a long and exhausting professional trip to Prague only to find her brother Benji dead.She falters in trying to catch the man in the hotel room where she found Benji (can’t shoot – the usual “good heroine” nonsense) and, after “feeling a keen sense of disappointment” that she let him get away, vows to find him the next time. But soon to my dismay, it becomes apparent that the story is taking on a distressing pattern where the heroine, no matter how good, will always be the dumb bunny in the relationship.
The man she is after is Adam De Wulf, an Australian with an agenda of his own. This agenda causes his life to be truly tangled up in London’s life when London tries to discover who killed her brother as well as clear her brother’s reputation (Benji is accused to be a spy for the enemy). Oh, and what’s a “strong heroine” without lots of Daddy Doesn’t Love Me baggages, right?
Adam is a typical commitment-phobe been-hurt-before hero but at least when the author calls him competent, he comes off as only mildly competent. Then again, compared to the emotional, gullible, incompetent London who lets her emotions take over her senses all the time, Adam will definitely come off as the better person. As the story progresses, Adam runs rings all around, over, and under London while London continues her downward spiral of too-stupid behavior that I am sure she will eventually be dragged away into a padded room by men in white uniform armed with giant tranquilizer guns. The romance doesn’t work because London’s attraction to Adam is just another carriage in the train wreck that is her erratic behavior in this book. The killer here is that Ms McKay keeps insisting that London is good and capable. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I really have a good laugh when I learn that London works from the wonderfully, paradoxically named HQ that is the George Bush Center for Intelligence. But on the whole, the intrigue doesn’t work as London and her colleagues’ incompetence allow matters to drag and the villain is a convenient plot device whose downfall frees up Adam to be with London. I find it disconcerting that I end up sympathizing with the villain of this story. To explain why would be a spoiler as I would have to delve into this person’s identity, so let’s just leave it at that. But does it matter? Dude, the heroine’s an idiot! She’s Sydney Bristow’s more neurotic and out-of-control sister! Then again, she comes from the George Bush Center for Intelligence. Hmm.