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Monday, October 19, 2009

Long Run Home by Lynn Romaine

Long Run Home by Lynn Romaine
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (346 pages)
Heat: Spicy
Rating: 3 Books
Reviewed by Edelweiss

SAMANTHA NEALLY is in hiding. Abandoned by her mother at eleven, she was implicated in an ecoterrorist firebombing at eighteen. Since then, she’s been living in the Nevada desert, lonely and afraid. But all that is about to change when undercover FBI agent Joe Roper turns up. He insinuates himself into her world and sends her to jail. Forced to turn state’s evidence, Sam goes to work with Roper. Laying a trap for her former friends, she’s unaware that the real danger to her life lurks in the desert, someone ready to commit murder to keep her quiet.

Long Run Home by Lynn Romaine has one of the best mixes of opening qualities you’ll find in a novel. It starts as a paragon of suspense, plot tension, and characters who stand out for being fresh and intriguing. Unfortunately, these qualities, so vibrant at the start, flatten out as the story progresses, and the book does not quite live up to its potential. The prose, however, is of high quality throughout. It is spare, fluid and energetic—another strength for cementing reader interest. Samantha (Sam) is a former eco-terrorist—someone who made a youthful mistake, forcing her to live as a cottage recluse, and still technically a fugitive, in the North Nevada desert. Roper is the FBI agent who goes undercover to apprehend her and get her to turn state's evidence. Other elements of Sam’s past complicate the plot and contribute intersecting elements of suspense. These are fascinating characters to meet on any page. Sam especially stands out. She is independent, resourceful, strong but relaxed and free of bitterness. She is philosophically composed about her ongoing limbo state, but not without hope for the future. And she retains a subdued degree of feminine sensuality, or at least enough potential in this area to multiply her appeal as a candidate for romance. Roper seems all that you would expect in a top FBI field agent: experienced, commanding, confident, and dedicatedly inured to the long hours and travel. Yet he is softened by the easy sex his good looks give him access to, and by a young son he is raising as a single parent—albeit with a majority assist from his mother, surely one of the most compliant characters imaginable.

At this point you’ll be wondering whether you’ll ever be able to put this one down. But then the descriptions of Sam’s life in the desert run too long and provide too many details relative to the interest we have in seeing the story unfold. Roper’s repeated mutterings about the deceitfulness of undercover work quickly wear thin as well. These hiccups in the plot momentum do not break the book’s spell, and the arrest scene is brilliantly crafted, a trial by fire for Sam that brings out the sterling qualities the author has invested in this character. This scene simply sizzles, and I found myself trembling as it progressed. This is the book’s high point. After this, Sam and Roper do a sting operation together, and the details of their work slow and weigh the story down. At this point the story becomes bogged down with details, repetition, and excessive use of dialogue to convey information.

But the biggest letdown is that the characters we admire so much in the early chapters go off in strange directions relative to the story’s needs. Roper, driven by simple lust and sexual curiosity, has an affair with Sam while he is undercover, an ethical breech so serious it risks his career. This is surprising, but not really inconsistent with the character the author has constructed. And it’s credible that undercover work could offer such opportunity. But then, after Sam’s arrest, Roper falls for her in an emotional swoon that’s not realistic for the plot situation at that time. He simply loses his head and all sense of proportion.

Sam’s difficulty is that she doesn’t change at all. One result of this is that she seems incapable of reciprocating the love offered to her. She calmly lusts for Roper early on and takes steps to have him. As the plot progresses, she gets somewhat attached to him. What’s missing is that she never seems to fall heart-stoppingly in love with him. Instead of falling in love, breathing it in, and shouting it out with joy, she stays calm and detachedly agrees to each step suggested by Roper in a progressing relationship steered entirely by him. It’s as though she’s a spectator with little will of her own. Stronger content editing would have greatly strengthened this book.

Despite these difficulties, Long Run Home delivers a successful story, one that entertains, and one that a reader can be satisfied with.