Some Kind of Hero, by Suzanne Brockmann

23 Jul

I have said before that it’s generally hard for me to give up on authors I’ve stopped loving–though I hope I’ve finally learned my lesson there.

On the other hand, there are some authors I still very much like, but whose writing may have shifted in directions that, quite simply, don’t interest me. This was the case a few years ago with Ms Brockmann’s (then) upcoming series: I felt completely meh about the whole “not too distant future” thing.

Then, a couple of years ago. she wrote the first of what is supposed to be a spinoff series from the Troubleshooters and I was somewhat interested.¹

And then…then, this book was announced, and here we are.

Reader beware: adult language, some violence, graphic sex. If any of these bothers you, skip the book. Hell, skip the whole series.

Some Kind of Hero, by Suzanne Brockmann

While this is the 17th full length novel in the very successful Troubleshooters series, it absolutely stands on its own, giving a new reader a good taste of what Ms Brockmann’s writing voice is like: fast paced, with well drawn, three-dimensional characters, and set in the real world, very much right here, right now.

Neither of the main characters have appeared in any of the previous books in the series. And while a couple of the secondary characters have, the story is structured so that there’s no need for extensive backstory of previous events, and what little there is, is integrated organically into the narrative.

Here’s the blurb:

Navy men don’t come tougher than Lieutenant Peter Greene. Every day he whips hotshot SEAL wannabes into elite fighters. So why can’t he handle one fifteen-year-old girl? His ex’s death left him a single dad overnight, and very unprepared. Though he can’t relate to an angsty teen, he can at least keep Maddie safe—until the day she disappears. Though Pete’s lacking in fatherly intuition, his instinct for detecting danger is razor sharp. Maddie’s in trouble. Now he needs the Troubleshooters team at his back, along with an unconventional ally.

Romance writer Shayla Whitman never expected to be drawn into a real-world thriller—or to meet a hero who makes her pulse pound. Action on the page is one thing. Actually living it is another story. Shay’s not as bold as her heroines, but she’s a mother. She sees the panic in her new neighbor’s usually fearless blue eyes—and knows there’s no greater terror for a parent than having a child at risk. It’s an ordeal Shay won’t let Pete face alone. She’s no highly trained operative, but she’s smart, resourceful, and knows what makes teenagers tick.

Still, working alongside Pete has its own perils—like letting the heat between them rise out of control. Intimate emotions could mean dangerous, even deadly, consequences for their mission. No matter what, they must be on top of their game, and playing for keeps . . . or else Pete’s daughter may be gone for good.

The book starts with our hero recklessly wading into oncoming traffic, trying to flag someone down to help him give chase to his wayward teenage daughter, who he believes has just gotten into a car. As luck will have it, his new across-the-street neighbor recognizes him and is willing to help him well above and beyond (nota bene: this is how you do in media res).

Now, the blurb only mentions two people, but there are actually four main characters, and five points of view–the one secondary character who gets a point of view? Our friend Izzy! For those not familiar with the series, Irving Zanella, aka Izzy, was a recurring secondary character for a number of books, who got his own happy ending in the last book released before the author’s hiatus (from the series and, from what I can tell, from writing) back in 2011.

As a fan of Ms Brockmann, I have always found her writing almost compulsively readable. There’s a mix of fast pacing with a down-to-earth relatability in her characters, that draws me in easily, and keeps me in the novel’s world for the duration.

In this case, there are basically two plot threads: one, Peter has just found himself the custodial parent of a fifteen year old girl; a couple of months after this life changing event, Maddie has, for all intents and purposes, run away. Serendipity and desperation combine to put Shayla in the role of Peter’s partner as he tries to find Maddie.

On the other side we have Maddie’s reasons for dropping out of sight. Hint: a lot more complicated than, “I don’t know this ‘dad’ person, I don’t like this ‘dad’ person, I’m gonna run away.” Maddie is definitely mourning her mother, and vulnerable with it, which makes her a logical scapegoat for someone else. When Maddie realizes just how deep the pile of shit she’s standing on is, her reaction is to find the fastest way out of the mess. To this end, she enlists the help of a sort-of friend-of-a-friend, Dingo; a guy who has not made the best decisions in life so far, but who is a decent person at his core.

Which is indeed a lucky break, because not only is that pile of shit deep, and Maddie’s very life in danger, but a fifteen year old is always vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation, let alone when she’s a runaway on the streets of a mostly unknown city.

In pretty short order, we learn the basics of Peter’s and Maddie’s relationship, and why, as it turns out, he basically does’t know his own child.

This is an important part of the plot, as it means that Peter spends a bit of time going down some pretty awful mental paths as events unfold. He not only worried about Maddie’s fate, as the parent of any missing child would, but he wonders what exactly is she ‘into’ that he has no way of guessing.

The novel is structured in what I’ll call three narrative streams:

  • Peter’s and Shayla’s efforts to find and help Maddie, and the developing relationship between them.
  • Peter’s efforts, instigated by Shayla, to reach Maddie, by telling her about meeting and loving Lisa, her mother. This is done via long emails; as Peter tells Shayla, she writes them and emails them to Maddie.
  • Maddie’s and Dingo’s quest to fix things so she can go back to her life and be safe.

I really, really like how Shayla comes across as very smart and intuitive, without making Peter look like an idiot; he’s out of his element, and worried out of his gourd, but not stupid.

Shayla is very relatable, as the capable mom who has learned to think at several levels simultaneously just to keep up with her teenage sons. She is also a successful writer of romantic suspense, which I love. As a reader who has always been fascinated by how writers’ brains work–the constant, ‘what if?’ and all the, ‘huh, plot bunny’ about the most innocuous, trivial things–Shayla’s way of figuring out what to do next made perfect sense to me.

Ranty aside: I read somewhere a criticism that Peter should have been the one to lead, as ‘he’s a SEAL!’ while Shayla is ‘just a writer.’ The irony almost killed me. We are reading a book with a complicated plot written by a woman who has written many successful books just like it, but the female character should defer to the male character the writer created? Because SEAL? Dude, becoming a SEAL doesn’t make one a good detective, or a good father, or a good cook, or a good reader, or a good anything else. Becoming a SEAL makes you a SEAL, with very specific skills. None of those skills include ‘how to track a fifteen year old runaway whom I don’t know.’ Writing suspense, though, and being an involved mother to two teenagers? I trust her chances a lot more. /ranty aside

Did I mention that I really like Shayla? She is written very realistic as a woman–at one point she thinks, “even though, like most women, she could list her flaws and imperfections on a full page, single-spaced” and I giggled. Yes, even the most self-assured among us has a mental list of flaws. “Knowing” our flaws (whether these be real or perceived) doesn’t mean we wallow in despair over them every second of every day, but boy, we are very much aware they exist.

There was, however, one thing about Shayla that I found a bit wearying as the novel progressed. See, she’s a successful writer, albeit who is dealing with writer’s block, so no books out for several years.² I am perfectly fine with this, and fine with her being resourceful, witty, quick on her feet, etc. What threw me was having one of Shayla’s own characters show up as a voice in her head. The third interlocutor in a two people conversation, as it were.

I don’t know, as I don’t write, whether this actually happens for writers, but it’s the one thing that sets Shayla apart; the one thing made her ‘weird’ rather than quirky. For me, as a reader, this felt gimmicky and unnecessary, as I didn’t feel that this pseudo-character brought anything to the story, the plot, or the character development.

Now, about Peter.

One of my deal breakers regarding what makes a hero, is a man who fathers children, then doesn’t have a fuck to give about them. Having been a fan of Ms Brockmann’s for a long time, I was pretty confident that, as the story unfolded, Peter’s apparent negligence would be explained to my satisfaction. I’m very happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed; it made sense, in the way life makes sense. Not perfect, not even close to ideal, but realistic and understandable.

Even better, Peter doesn’t give himself a pass; he realizes that he not only should have made a stronger effort to maintain contact and develop a relationship with Maddie, but that he could have. He owns his decision to take the path of least resistance, and doesn’t pile on the rationalizations to excuse himself; not to himself, not to Shayla, not to Maddie.

That, right there, makes him a helluva lot more heroic in my eyes than getting through SEAL training, or becoming an officer after being a lowly enlisted sailor. Which, let’s be honest, is pretty impressive.

Maddie is also a great character. She’s not ‘a great kid’ but rather a real kid. She’s struggling with her grief over her mother’s death, and she’s also a teenager. Maddie turns her grief over losing her mother into resentment about being forced to live with her father, the man upon which she has heaped all the responsibility for everything wrong in her life.

Maddie knows well that her mother was far from perfect, but Lisa was all Maddie had for most of her life; certainly, for all of her memories, it was only Lisa and Maddie. It’s natural and believable that she would resent that now she’s forced to live with the father who, for all intents and purposes, abandoned her.

So while Maddie makes some questionable decisions, she’s neither stupid nor a plot moppet; she’s a very well written adolescent trying to cope with what life is throwing at her.

Which leaves us with Dingo. Out of the four main characters, he’s the one that is least explored. There’s a bit of shorthand–abusive father, submissive mother, not particularly motivated or brilliant in school, kind of shiftless. He is, however, a decent human being, who is pretty much smitten with Maddie. What makes him decent is that he’s determined not to take advantage of someone who is basically still a child–a five years age difference matters here, while it would merit barely a blink if Maddie were twenty instead of fifteen.

The way the story develops, Dingo surprises himself by what he’s willing to do, not only to help Maddie, but to keep her safe, even from himself.

Ms Brockmann always populates her novels with communities. Her characters always have families–be they by blood or found/created through life’s struggles. This book is not an exception. The cast is large and diverse, in all meanings of the word.

Shayla has two sons from her previous marriage, and they are very much the center of her life–which means that her ex, and his current live-in girlfriend, are part of Shayla’s life too.

Peter is a SEAL, and as such, he’s a member of a large and varied team.

Which brings us to Izzy, and a number of tadpoles (young sailors and SEAL candidates), as well as other friends of Peter’s. Long time readers will be happy to see Lindsay (Into the Storm), Eden (Breaking the Rules), and Adam (Hot Target, Through the Night, “When Tony Met Adam”).

And Maddie has a great-grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s, and a great-great-aunt, who are first generation Americans of Japanese descent. They are also old enough to have survived incarceration in Manzanar, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the xenophobic panic that followed.

Another aside: in previous Troubleshooter books, Ms Brockmann has included a WWII plot thread, which I have always loved.³ In this novel, the closest she comes to it is the inclusion of Hiroko, who still resents the way her family was treated, by the fucking government, during the later years of the war. Some readers have gripped that the mention of Manzanar and the government sanctioned violation of this country’s citizens’ rights, is done simply to cater to Ms Brockmann’s liberal views. Me, I would have been very angry to have a Japanese American character of Hiroko’s age who didn’t remember or didn’t bring up the mass incarceration of her people, and the generational consequences it brought. By gog, have none of these people heard of George Takei?

Beyond which, these books are written in the real world, Yes, of course there is an element of fantasy–hello, it’s genre fiction–but both the characters and their stories are very much influenced by the world around them. And that reality includes Manzanar, and xenophobia, and racism, and ignorance, and how the characters live with these facts of life.

Which brings me back again to Shayla. As the Black mother of two Black teenage sons in the US of today, where cops kill Black children with impunity, her fear for their safety, and her struggle to still let them be themselves, and stand on their own, is very real. I’ll leave to other readers to decide whether Ms Brockmann fully succeeded in writing a Black woman, but for my money, she wrote a believable woman and mother.

Finally, I liked the suspense, and how it’s resolved, though the fact that Peter knows, after four days, that he is going to marry Shayla, strained my willingness to suspend disbelief. Yes, they are now very much in a relationship, and they get to know each other pretty well during those four days, because a) they are intense days, b) they talk a lot, and about important things, and c) they spend almost every moment of those four days together, through rough and rougher. So I totally believe they will have a good relationship. Talk of marriage this early, though? Yeah, not so much.

Some Kind of Hero is a very good continuation of the Troubleshooters series, and a very good novel in its own right. 8.50 out of 10

~ * ~

¹ Which, of course, means that Do or Die is right now languishing away in the TBR ever-growing Cordillera of Doom™ (if you’ve known me more than two months, you cannot be surprised by this).

² Yes, Shayla is dealing with very much the same issue Ms Brockmann was dealing with for a few years. Glad to see she’s overcome it.

³ Mind you, these stories are problematic because they are always told with a strong US-centric point of view. WWII involved many more countries and peoples that the US, in ways that are present today, yet the WWII stories in the Troubleshooters novels are invariably about the US only.

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6 Responses to “Some Kind of Hero, by Suzanne Brockmann”

  1. Lori 23/07/2017 at 4:08 PM #

    I’ve never tried Ms. Brockmann’s writing but this review interests me. Might be my first try.

    • azteclady 23/07/2017 at 6:01 PM #

      If you do read it, please let me know what you think!

  2. Bona 29/07/2017 at 2:17 PM #

    A very detailed review, indeed, Reading it, I think I will enjoy it. I’m so glad this last instalment of the series is good enough to be graded 8.50/10! I still enjoy Brockman’s Troubleshooters books but not with enthusiasm. I will read this one at the beginning of next year.

    • azteclady 29/07/2017 at 10:19 PM #

      I have had some very specific issues with some of the later installments (before the hiatus), but I really enjoy Ms Brockmann’s voice. I don’t really know what it is about it, but I’m sucked into her world usually within a page or two. Most of the time, I won’t surface again until the end.

  3. willaful 02/08/2017 at 3:22 AM #

    I couldn’t get interested in the futuristic thing either. I hope I’ll enjoy this one as much as you did!

    • azteclady 02/08/2017 at 8:24 AM #

      I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but I think if you liked the earlier ones, particularly Out of Control, you’ll like this one.

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