Series: Men in Uniform #1
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Published by Berkley on 7 June 2011
Reading Challenges: 2013 In Uniform Challenge
CIA Analyst Julie Severin has been ordered to go undercover as a journalist reporting on a group of scientists heading for the Arctic Circle. Her mission is to search for a SD card that has been hidden somewhere in the bowels of the dilapidated Russian submarine that is taking them there. Her mission gets off to a rocky start as Captain Nikolai Kirill Romanoff is informed that she is a spy and is determined to find out what she is doing on his sub.
Julie is unfortunately a TSTL heroine. Julie oscillated between being this incredibly smart woman who could quote famed Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and assist with complicated military manoeuvring and a terrified ditz who clung to her manly Nikolai. Her TSTL crimes are as follows:
– failed to integrate herself with the scientists at the start or work out where her journal articles would be published and thereby add verisimilitude to her cover
– contacted her ‘boss’ using unsecured lines
– wore high heels on a submarine where they could get stuck in the grating, make climbing the numerous ladders difficult and increase her height in a small and cramped interior
– made the fact she was searching for something really obvious and then took photos of pipes and labels of all things. FYI an SD card would be kept somewhere safe and that’s not inside a water or air pipe where it could be dislodged or on an old label
– was surprised that people were treating her differently because she was sharing quarters with Nikolai, wearing his clothes (coupled with her high heels) and clutching or kissing him at regular intervals
– was shocked that Nikolai might actually betray her because, you know, his allegiance lay elsewhere and he was an ex KGB agent
– disclosed her mission to just about everyone who challenged her even though as she herself stated, to be caught as a spy would mean death
– shared sensitive information with Nikolai and another individual about her mission where others could hear
I liked Nikolai a little more even though he is a walking, talking Russian cliche as he is a distant descendent of the Romonov family and ex KGB. He might be a bit of a rogue and ordered to seduce Julie but he has a sensitive side and he showed this when he signed a note to her ‘kisses, Nikolai’. His way of dealing with the unknown enemy was clever and reminded me of The Hunt for Red October. His success intrigued me as he spent very little time actually running the submarine and most of it following Julie around, dealing with her phobias or spending quality time with her. There is a mystery concerning his deceased mother which unfortunately wasn’t fleshed out enough – I wanted to know more about the mother’s death and the dynamics between his parents. Nikolai says ‘da’ and ‘nyet’ an awful lot even though his American English is nearly flawless (from time spent there when he was younger). It made me wonder if the author was afraid we would forget he was Russian.
You will need to suspend quite a bit of disbelief to get absorbed in the plot but it is definitely worth it for the cat and mouse games that play out towards the end. Julie’s boss at Langley would have known she had no qualifications in the area, was scared of large bodies of water and had a beef with Russians when they sent her on the mission so I’m wondering whether they actually wanted her to fail and they had planted an SD card with fake info on it. A data analyst focussing on China had no business doing field work on board a Russian ship. The relationship between Julie and Nikolai would never have been allowed to occur and if it had, I think there would have been a lot more than eyebrows being raised. Their interactions are often contrived leading to a predictable conclusion.
So where does that leave us? The book felt uneven as I couldn’t get invested in the romance aspect but really enjoyed the suspense component. I also didn’t like Julie but I enjoyed Nikolai. Bruhns’ concept very original but I think the execution could have used a little more polish.