As I’m still struggling with the reading slump from hell, I’ve turned to old favorite authors for comfort reads. Not only do I re-discover plot points or scenes I had long forgotten, but I’m also finding that many of these books stand up very well to the passage of time. Win-win.
As I’ve said a couple of times before, many of Linda Howard’s books are among my all time favorites (though that is one crowded set of bookcases, lemme tell you). While this one has many of the elements that make her novels so appealing to me, it’s not as successful in a couple of respects.
Up Close and Dangerous, by Linda Howard
This novel had a mixed reception when it was released, back in 2007. Personally, I liked it well enough when I read it for the first time, soon thereafter. Re-reading it now, particularly during a slump, has allowed me to better see the basis for the original criticism.
Here’s the blurb, from the cover jacket of my hardback copy:
A mysterious plane crash . . . a dangerous trek through the Idaho wilderness . . . a smoldering attraction . . . and a deadly game of cat and mouse. In her latest tour de force of romantic suspense, New York Times bestselling author Linda Howard blends these elements into a gripping story that will keep readers breathless–and leave them begging for more. For in Linda Howard’s world, trust can be a weapon, a kiss can be a threat, and intimacy can be deadly.
Bailey Wingate’s scheming adult stepchildren are surprised when their father’s will leaves Bailey in control of their fortune, and war ensues. A year later, while flying from Seattle to Denver in a small plane, Bailey nearly dies herself when the engine sputters–and then fails.
Cam Justice, her sexy Texan pilot, manages to crash-land the aircraft. Stranded in the wilderness, and struggling to douse her feelings for the ruggedly handsome man by her side, Bailey begins to wonder whether this was a mere accident. Who tampered with their plane? Who’s trying to reunite Bailey and her husband in the afterlife? Cut off from the world, and with little hope of rescue, Bailey must trust her life–and heart–to Cam, as they battle the harsh elements to find a way out of the unforgiving wilds and back to civilization . . . where a killer may be waiting to finish the job.
Sexy, suspenseful, and lightning fast, Up Close and Dangerous showcases a beloved author at her dazzling best.
The set up is pretty much as described in the blurb, which honestly is not terribly original. The main deviation is that most of the novel is actually devoted to Cam and Bailey’s survival, even though there are a few scenes, here and there, set in Seattle, during the time they are missing.
(Considering that this is a romance novel, it’s not a spoiler to say that they survive, and get back to civilization, and that there is a HEA, is it?)
What sets this novel apart, as it does for most of Ms Howard’s work, is the characterization and dialogue.
The novel starts by setting up the two main characters and their current circumstances, which involves a couple of brief info dumps during the first chapter or so. Then, before page 40, the action begins,with a vengeance.
After the crash, Cam is really in a bad way–between a fairly serious head wound and a concussion, he’s pretty much at the mercy of the elements, and of Bailey. And Bailey, steady as she goes, detached, dependable Bailey, finds herself doing the extraordinary, simply because it must be done.
I loved, loved, loved, all the time Cam and Bailey spend together, fighting with everything they have to survive–the next few minutes, the next hour, the coming night. Then another day, and another day, and another day after that. Ms Howard has such a knack for making her characters’ thought processes and inner lives come to life for readers, that I was absorbed in every detail.
Most importantly, I completely believed that these two individuals, under these specific, and quite dire, circumstances, would prevail. Here, Ms Howard absolutely succeeded in selling me both the setting and the characters.
The secondary characters with speaking parts, with one marked exception, are fully drawn people, with their own lives, and personalities, and quirks. Not all of them are likable, but they are realistic–and they have interests beyond the plot. Some of them are so interesting, I wish we had a full out novel for them–Karen “the indispensable” Kaminski, for example. Are those flowers on her desk gifts from her bearded, tatooed, professional boxer boyfriend, or does she buy them herself?
My true issue with the novel is not that the action lasts less than a week, or that it only takes Cam a third of that time to decide that he not only wants, but loves Bailey, in the “lets get married and strive for happily ever after” kind of way. In part, this is because the circumstances in the book are extraordinary, and therefore, it’s easier to accept that extraordinary feelings can be born from them. Part of it is the fantasy inherent to many romance novels: once in love, our stalwart hero will neither falter in his resolve nor allow the heroine to hide from her own, equally deep, feelings.
No, one of my problems with this novel was that, after spending 300 pages building up to what, by all rights, should be an explosive climax, we are treated to two extremely disappointing little pops. Seriously, each time I get to these two scenes, I say out loud, “and this is it???”
My second problem, which as a romance reader weighs even heavier, is that the ending to the novel takes place literally on the seventh day, without showing either of the two main characters actually settling back into their lives, and the many problems the crash either engendered or uncovered. We are asked to believe that the relationship between Cam and Bailey, forged during, and through, extremely, intense, dire, and temporary, circumstances, with easily translate into a successful long term relationship.
And that, I honestly couldn’t believe.
Mostly, because I didn’t feel that Bailey’s emotional issues are resolved in any meaningful way. For most of the novel, we are asked to believe that, aside from a few fairly meaningless sexual liaisons, Bailey has kept herself separate from people, because her parents, and divorce, and blah blah. Now, there’s a plane crash, Cam is her hero, let’s get married?
How to grade this novel, then? I really liked the survival part; I enjoyed many of the secondary characters, and I would really like to read their stories (though I commend Ms Howard for not making this into a first in a series). The sexual tension and developing relationship between Cam and Bailey, during the first oh, 300 pages, is fantastic. But the payoff for the suspense is frankly, weaksauce; and I’m not sure I see these two being happy with each other for the long term–not without seeing them process several of the things they now face.
Well, I’m going to cheat–despite my two, fairly major, issues, I really enjoyed those first 300 pages, so I’ll go with that. Up Close and Dangerous gets an 8.00 out of 10