This book came dangerously close to becoming a wall-banger. Unfortunately I bought it as an ebook and, well, I didn’t hate it enough to toss my MacBook.
So here’s the premise. Ben is a homeless kid in love with the lovely young girl who visits the shelter in which he resides with his father, an unlovely drunk. Caroline is everything beautiful, kind and generous; dispensing bounty like a latter day Mother Theresa, and Ben loves her with an unhealthy intensity. The night Ben’s father kicks the bucket, Ben resolves to see Caroline. It’s Christmas eve and I’m not entirely sure what Ben intends to do, but he is a young man of Resolve and so he trudges through a snow storm to his beloved’s house.
Witnessing Caroline from the window, in the loving bosom of her elegant, wealthy family, smooching with a handsome blond stranger, Ben decides to disappear into the night, never to return.
Six years later. Ben is now Jack Prescott, a lean, mean man of war. A veteran of some of the most nasty war zones in the world; Iraq, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone - truly, the trifecta. Jack’s been sorting out a nasty mess in Sierra Leone, killing some bad guys and selling off the security company his late foster father (young Ben found himself a kindly colonel) left him. A free agent, he resolves to find the young woman who so haunted his dreams in the intervening years - the woman he could never forget, even as he fucked his way through countless other women; never committing, but satisfying his manly urges with one night stands (or three nights - if he really liked them) and his best friend, Mr Right Hand.
Life hasn’t been all that great to Caroline, we soon learn. Her parents died, leaving her poor and debt-ridden. Her brother, surviving the crash that took her parents, lived on for six years but as a cripple. Alone now, caroline runs a bookstore - purely on whimsy as it doesn’t get any business (seriously - huh?), and struggles to make ends meet by having lodgers in her beautiful old house - beautiful but falling apart, naturally.
Jack finds out that Caroline is single, poor and in need of a lodger and makes his move. Pretty soon (and I mean, PRETTY SOON), he’s in her home and her bed. There is much sex and angsting. Naturally, Jack tells her nothing of their shared past and his unwholesome obsession with her; he tells her nothing of his more recent past either, so later on there can be all sorts of misunderstandings and ‘tension’ and shenanigans.
Here’s my first and major problem with the book: almost all of it is internal musing, endless retrospection and soul searching. Worse - and SHAMELESSLY - there are pages and pages of info-dumping; exposition on a grand scale. Shameless because - ugh! - it’s lazy! it’s boring! it’s endless! It makes the story drag! We get 2-4 pages of back story, a page of dialogue and then a little sex, to perk things up. That’s the formula, and Ms Rice sticks to it.
Next, the secondary plot. Presumably tacked on to add some element of ‘suspense,’ this revolves around one of the bad guys Jack thought he took care of in Sierra Leone reappearing to steal back the diamonds Jack took away with him. This bad guys gets loads of storytime, but he is a cliched romance-land villain; pure E-vil, so scheming and fiendish and cartoonish I ended up skipping his bits. So don’t ask me.
Some of the writing is overblown and eye-rollingly earnest. Here’s what Jack had to say about the diamond trade:
...An entire country was tearing itself apart because of dull rocks just like these—over eighty thousand people killed over the past year in Sierra Leone. Countless others had had their hands, lips and ears chopped off by the drugged-up baby soldiers fighting in the Revolutionary Army....
No wonder they called them blood diamonds. It was a miracle that no blood oozed from the stones. But no—they were as neutral as they were inert—just rocks, for fuck’s sake. Just rocks...
Yep, Jack’s a deep guy. Here’s some more wisdom.
“It’s a bad world out there, Caroline,” he said gently. “You have to be prepared.”
Fuck, but that was true. He’d seen it, he’d lived it. In the shelters he’d grown up in, a beauty like Caroline would have been raped the instant she’d reached puberty, probably even before. In Afghanistan, she’d have been dressed in a head-to-toe burqa and beaten if a man could hear her footsteps. There, too, she would have been raped, with the added pleasure of being sentenced to death for fornication. In Sierra Leone—Jack’s back teeth ground together. He’d seen the shattered remains of the women who’d fallen into the hands of the Revolutionary Army. Death for them had been a release.
Blimey! Good job she’s a middle class white woman living in the West.
Notwithstanding the nonsensical political claptrap, there’s also the perpetual hard-on Jack carries about in his tight jeans, his inability to tell an emotion apart from a heart attack (“Fuck, maybe he should see a cardiologist”) and Caroline's unremitting Mary Sue-ness. For, of course, Caroline is truly perfect; beautiful, plucky, feminine, gentle, well bred, honest and fair. Verily, an angel come unto the earth to spread her light.
I read the book feeling as though I’d read it all before. Jack is supposed to be a taciturn hard man, a man of few words but great depth, brought to his knees by a beautiful damsel in distress. I found him boring, and so - I get the feeling - did Caroline.
“It was humbling to think that her body wasn’t paying any attention at all to what he was saying, what books he might have read, what his politics might be.”
Good job Caroline has that massive ding-dong to keep her entertained, because the internal Jack is a bit of a windbag.
C- Were it not for the relentless exposition, I think this book would have been a lot better.