Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5387-5953-0
Romantic Suspense, 2018
Total Bravery may be a part of Piper J Drake’s True Heroes series, but it shifts focus to the Search and Protect Corporation, a private entity, instead of the non-profit Hope’s Crossing Kennels that was the setting of the previous three books. Does this mean that the series will head into a more familiar “A company of gung-ho action heroes for you to collect – buy them all!” territory? Who knows. This book however retains that one unfortunate trait that marred the previous books: a slow, draggy pacing that is inappropriate for something marketed as a romantic suspense.
Raul Sá, our hero, and his German Shepard Dog sidekick Taz are the newest additions to the company, and when the story opens, our hero is chatting with his canine BFF, telling him how he’s always preferred the company of doggies when the phone rings. It’s a woman looking for Raul’s colleague Arin, but Arin is currently away on an assignment. The caller, Mali Srisawasdi, is in trouble – she has just eluded some men who are clearly out to nab her for some nefarious plot, and she needs help. So Raul and Taz are off to her rescue, and the story begins.
I’ve better not go into more detail about Mali’s problem, because this story is structured in such a way that readers will only realize why Mali is such a hot catch later into the story, and hence I’d get some irate readers scolding me about spoiling the story if I say too much. Let me say, though, that this structural choice is one of the main problems with this story: I need to care a lot about Mali’s plight to keep reading and find out, and the author does all she can to make sure that I can’t bring myself to care.
Here’s the thing: Mali is on the run, being pursued by what seems like dangerous men. Ideally, this should be a fast-paced, pitched story designed to get my adrenaline all pumped up as I turn the page, wondering in breathless suspense what will happen next. But for a long time, these men are nameless threats with no clear motives, and worse, these men stay out of the picture for too long. As a result, this story never feels like it is a romantic suspense of any sort. The “danger” feels like an excuse to throw Mali and Raul together, and once that happens, the author has no idea what to do with her story.
As a result, I get plenty of internal monologues revolving around Mali’s back story, all of which has little to do in moving the story forward. I get bewildering tangents like how Mali’s parents are forced to shorten their Thai family name when they emigrated to America, apparently to make it easier for other people to remember it, and this is somehow an angry injustice worthy of interrupting the flow of the story to bring up. The author also focuses so much on unnecessary details, such as all the objects or furniture present in a room the characters are in, or all the foods Mali eat in a single meal, and I have no idea why. She should be focusing on the threat hanging over the heroine’s head or the hero’s efforts to keep her safe, but no, I have to know instead every single dish Mali is eating in some six-course meal. Did the author forget that she was supposed to be writing romantic suspense?
If the suspense is dead on arrival, the romance is equally lifeless. I’m told that these two are attracted to one another, but there is little heat or chemistry between them. The romance is detailed in the same furniture-assembly manual precision as the rest of the information dumping in this story: I’m told that it’s beautiful and amazing, yes, but look at me, I’m yawning and wondering whether the party is ever going to start.
Even when things are supposed to come to a boil in the late third or so of the story, the characters spend more time talking and navel gazing, with Taz occasionally barking and valiantly trying to keep me awake, instead of brandishing guns or doing anything to deliver a grand climax.
While I don’t believe that Piper J Drake is a terrible author, her sense of pacing and priorities feel completely off in Total Bravery. The glacial pacing, the focus on minutiae, the lack of suspense… all these are not something that should be applied to a romantic suspense, unless the suspense stems from how long one can keep reading without nodding off. I can only wonder what the end result would be if the author had written, say, a romantic drama rather than suspense, but as it is, this story is a dull dud.