I had never read anything by Iris Johansen before (I don’t think I had even heard of her), so I didn’t know that this book was simply a variation on a formula she has used many times. Or that she used to write romance novels and then decided to branch out. I doubt I would have checked the audiobook out of the library if I had known.
In that case, I would have missed out on an entertaining and suspenseful novel. The plot is probably as far-fetched as some reader reviews have noted, but then thrillers tend to be that way. If you write a story about normal events, you don’t have a thriller, because the kind of things that happen in thrillers are by definition far out of the ordinary. And events in the past decade or so have certainly proved that some pretty far-fetched things really do happen in this world.
I also would not have chosen this book if I had been aware of the strong sexual undercurrents that pervade it. If the book were made into a movie, it would have to be R-rated. Now that I know of Johansen’s romance novel background, this is not surprising. I read romance novels for about a year when I was a teenager, then decided it was not a healthy habit for my mind. It’s one thing to get to know a person vicariously through a novel, but I do not want to experience vicariously another woman’s sexual interest, even a fictional woman.
Having finished the book, however, I do have to say that the sexual elements are not gratuitous. That is, you couldn’t take them out and have pretty much the same story. Given the nature of the two main characters Johansen created, and the particular situation she set them in, the story simply would not have developed along the same lines without the sexual elements. Or at least not believably so.
Some readers think it’s still not believable. Since my temperament is so diametrically opposite that of Alex Graham, and I’ve never known anyone like Judd Morgan, I can hardly say whether the relationship between them is true to life. The world is full of men and women very different from me, however, and most of them do end up in sexual and/or romantic relationships, so I had little “unbelief” to suspend in order to accept that aspect of this novel.
As to whether the conspiracy is plausible – who knows? I think I mentioned this in a previous book review: the nature of conspiracies is to be hidden well enough that most people will never know the full truth about them. Even when some parts come to light, who knows how much is never revealed? Who knows how many are going on today in real life, perhaps involving people we rub shoulders with as we go about our lives? So there is no good measure of what constitutes a realistic conspiracy by which to measure a fictional one.
My one complaint regarding the plot is how quickly it ended. I don’t want a long drawn out denouement, but I find it annoying when the bad guys never get confronted with the thwarting of their plans in plain view of the reader. I realize that standing around telling someone why you are going to kill them is a poor idea, whether you are one of the good guys or the bad guys. If the other person is a seriously danger to you, taking time to explain how you were able to get the upper hand just gives time to turn the tables on you. But I still would have liked to see Runne and Bentworth and the other bad guys see doom coming and realize just how badly they screwed up.
According to some of the reader comments at amazon.com, some of Johansen’s earlier books were better. I may decide to try one if I find it on audiobook in the library. Then again, I may not.