So often, the problem with romantic suspense is that it usually leans one way or the other – either the book is primarily romance with a token suspense plot thrown in to keep the conflict going (and you can see the resolution or villian a mile away) or it’s a killer suspense plot with only occasional smooching or a tossed in smoldering look. Either scenario, the reader is left feeling a little crankypants for the book not living up to her expectations.
Catherine Mann’s books will not leave you crankypants.
In fact, speaking as someone who has read (according to my Goodreads account) over 50 romantic suspense novels in the last couple of months, I think Catherine Mann is one of the few authors on the market who has the perfect balance of romance and suspense in her books, particularly those in her Elite Force series.
A major reason for the strength of her writing is Mann’s familiarity with her material. A military wife of many years, Mann’s husband is an airman, a detail which lends a great deal of veracity to her writing about pararescuemen. In a world of vague allusions to SEALs and special forces, it’s a pleasure to have the details of training, weaponry and large equipment sussed out with such authority. Based on how smoking hot the love scenes are in her books, I’m guessing her marriage is a pretty happy one, too!
In Cover Me, Pararescuemen Wade Rocha and his team are stationed in Alaska, ready to respond to just about anything. When they receive a call that some people are stranded in the wilderness, they head out to an Aleutian Island. While other team members rescue a couple of hikers, Wade spots another hiker in a different area and jumps down to help.
The only problem is, Sunny Foster really doesn’t need Wade’s assistance. In fact, she’s as competent in the wilderness as he is, a fact he quickly realizes with more than a little chagrin. But they are stuck with each other as Wade is stranded until his team can come back for him, and when he gets a good look at how beautiful Sunny is under all her gear, he’s willing to not have an immediate extraction.
Sunny fights her attraction for the great-looking pararescueman who seems as kind as he is competent, because she has a lot to hide. There’s a reason she is such a terrific wilderness guide – it’s her job to escort departing members of her off the grid ecological community from their sequestered existence to civilization. She knows, all too well, that there are people in her isolated town with good reason to not come to the attention of authorities and Wade constitutes an authority.
When the two of them stumble across a crevasse filled with the dead bodies of the people Sunny has previously helped and bullets start flying, Wade and Sunny realize that they have stumbled on something that endangers them both. Wade knows that there’s no way he’s leaving her alone and Sunny wants to stay with him, even harboring a secret that might make him leave.
What had me reaching for the next book in the series was not only Mann’s page-turning writing, but the fact that her female characters register pretty high on the badass scale. Sunny is amazingly competent and a strong match for Wade, despite her untraditional upbringing. The love scenes are outstandingly hot but emotionally intimate, and you’ll find yourself snapping at loved ones who attempt to interrupt your reading for such mundane topics as financial questions or “what’s for dinner?” inquiries.
Mann also deserves major kudos for her fully fleshed out minor characters. Not only does she lay the foundation for future books by focusing on a couple of other squad members who are bound to have stories themselves, but she always includes a subplot (in Cover Me‘s case, Sunny’s sister and the man she’s been in love with for years) of a couple who are also brought together in the same timeline, having their own bumps along the road to happily ever after. The fact that she can do this and manage to not detract from the larger story is nothing short of tremendous.
In Hot Zone, our wonderful pararescuemen, now stationed in Florida, are coming to the aid of victims of a big earthquake in the Bahamas, but they don’t find an island paradise. Master Sergeant Hugh Franco is crawling through rubble to a trapped woman with a baby. Captivated in the dark and dust by a beautiful pair of eyes and brave soul, Hugh finds himself drawn to a woman in a way he hasn’t been since the loss of his wife and child years ago. He’s acquired a deserved reputation for being an adrenaline junkie with a death wish, but suddenly there is something else, a lot more frightening, he’s running toward.
Lawyer Amelia Bailey is terrified and in a lot of pain but is managing to keep it together for her newly adopted thirteen month old nephew fitfully breathing alongside her. When the gorgeous pararescueman arrives to save her, she chalks her startling feelings of attraction up to the situation and his kindness. She’s sworn off relationships after her cheating ex and, right now, her focus is on the new baby and finding her brother and his wife. As Hugh and she find reasons to see each other in the disaster zone while searching for her new nephew’s parents, what’s between them grows rather than diminishes. When Amelia finds herself and her nephew in mortal danger from an unforeseen enemy, Hugh faces the knowledge that this is one woman who he will not let go without a fight.
When I say this book is heart-stopping, I mean it. The scenes of Amelia and Hugh trapped in the rubble with aftershocks happening around them as the toddler’s condition worsens had me stopping reading to go gulp a glass of water and control my nerves. While Amelia is not the survivalist Sunny is in the previous book, she has her own brand of bravery that is incredibly appealing. Our secondary couple is Amelia’s brother and sister-in-law who, despite being in the Bahamas to adopt their son, are going through some serious marital problems. We get to see their journey to resolution while also getting a peek at the burgeoning romance between Major Liam McCabe and the sassy canine search and rescue worker who intrigues him.
Because of my love for Liam, I was ecstatic when I discovered that the third book in the series would focus on him. Liam and his overwhelming attraction to Rachel Flores, the canine search and rescue handler in Cover Me, was a subplot that I enjoyed as much as the main couple. In Under Fire, Liam is still smarting from six months of unreturned phone calls to Rachel, who has clearly decided that the thrice-married and divorced Liam is too much of a risk.
Liam has always known he falls in love too easily and for the wrong reasons, and right now he’s trying to get Rachel Flores out of his mind and heart and concentrate on his upcoming retirement. His 38-year-old body has taken way too much punishment and it’s beginning to put up a major protest. When he gets into his jeep after an exhausting training session, he’s astonished to find Rachel huddled in the back, her arm around one of her rescue dogs. Her terrified expression kicks him into protection mode and he hustles her back to his place to find out what’s going on.
Rachel knows she doesn’t resemble the confident rescue worker who attracted Liam months ago. The earthquake burned her out and she has since turned to using her animals to help former military personnel suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). One of them confessed to her that he had overheard treasonous information on his last assignment, but when she champions his cause and tries to get this shattered man’s information taken seriously, she finds herself under attack. With no one to turn to, she knows that Liam is the one person she can trust, if he can stand seeing her again after she’s ignored him all these months.
Liam is initially not sure if Rachel’s friend is telling the truth or deluded, but he knows that someone has it out for her. Turning to the authorities on his base has them put in a safe house, but Liam gets a tip that the danger is much closer than anyone realizes and is told to run. With the help of his team members, he takes Rachel into hiding where the attraction they’ve both denied for so long becomes an unstoppable force. But Rachel knows the three garters hanging from Liam’s rearview mirror is a reminder that he might not be a good romantic chance to take. Despite acknowledging that he’s previous experiences at falling in love didn’t feel anything like what he feels for Rachel, Liam believes he’s just going to stand in her way when she realizes she’s ready to go back to the search and rescue work that is her first love.
This was my favorite of the series so far, possibly because the dogs make such good minor characters! Liam is smokin’ hot and he and Rachel are perfect for each other, even when you do want to bash their heads together for being so damn difficult about it. Rachel’s friend with PTSD has the great minor romance plot with her dogsitter and we get a view of happily married Wade and Sunny that just makes your heart sing. Please, please let the next book be Cuervo!! He’s so dark and fabulous and want to see him find his happily ever after.
One of my criteria for an author I admire is that I insist they have some kind of presence on the web so I can indulge myself between books. As an author, Catherine Mann appears to have a strong platform, complete with an informative website, active Facebook and Twitter accounts, and you can usually find her giving a live interview in case you want to pepper her with questions about those green foot tattoos on her heroes. Her Goodreads page is a great place to get the order of the books in her various series.
Since her recent books have been published by Sourcebooks, I thought I’d mention the bargain I got in buying Under Fire. Sourcebooks has begun their own reader’s club, Discover a New Love, and while I usually don’t indulge in these types of offers, this publishing house has enough authors I read to make it worthwhile. For a $9.99 six month membership, I get one featured title free each month and a super discount off the list price of other books. I got Under Fire, the latest Kathryne Kennedy book and a new cowboy romance for something like three dollars! (They were ebooks, so no shipping.) I just downloaded them from the website in the Kindle format and sent them to my Kindle account. (Did you know you can do that? Anyone with a Kindle or Kindle app – I use my iPad – has a email address to send items to your Kindle. It’s your amazon email@example.com and just embed the pdf or mobi file in the email and wait a few minutes. Voila!)
So if you haven’t read her yet, check out Catherine Mann and this fabulous series in whatever format that floats your boat. You’ll find that the Elite Force series is definitely at the top of the romantic suspense genre.