by Judith Leon, contemporary (2004)
Silhouette Bombshell, $4.50, ISBN 0-373-51318-6
It is probably easier to write camp compared to actual high-octane thriller that has some hold in reality, I guess, but I can't help wishing that Judith Leon's Code Name: Dove isn't this campy. The heroine Nova Blair is a novelty in that she is a secret agent and she actually behaves like one. Readers who complain about the characters being amoral are seriously missing the point, if you ask me, because a spy who displays scruples on the line of duty is a dead spy. Ms Leon doesn't compromise Nova by making Nova some weepy, overly-emotional birdbrain who just wants to have and save kiddies.
But unfortunately, Ms Leon also subscribes to the theory that a female character cannot be tough unless she's saddled with baggage of abuse and what-not. Code Name: Dove is a rather bewildering mix of romance novel compromises and sparks of defiant originality, which is unfortunate as ultimately romance readers unaware that this book has so little conventional romance may not like the surprise they will get when they open the book. Why try to compromise when it's not needed?
Nova is a photographer as well as a secret agent for a secret division of the CIA (ahem). She is called to investigate when Foreign Scumbags (they are always foreigners, of course) start bombing oil lines in Alaska in their latest campaign to force countries all over the world to stop polluting the earth so much. Come to think of it, nah, it can't be the Green Party - they can't quite put together a plan to sell cookies house to house, much less organize such a wide scale campaign. It can't be the PETA or Greenpeace either because they can't do anything unless naked supermodels are involved and supermodels don't like to do all that dirty bomb stuff. It must be the foreigners!
Nova is assigned to get close to suspected eco-terrorist Jean Paul Konig by any means necessary, emphasis on any means necessary. She soon performs a successful Mata Hari stint on the married Jean but she realizes that she's drawn to him despite herself. Then there is her partner who also causes her to feel inconvenient emotions for. What will poor Nova do?
The love triangle isn't too prominent in this story though. Nova and Jean's relationship is fascinating especially as Jean isn't a standard evil villain. He's quite a fascinating character, to be honest, because he is a two-dimensional character with enough fascinating depths to keep me intrigued. Nova is nearly as interesting - she starts off as a one-dimensional Too Beautiful Too Kick-ass heroine with standard Too Tortured angst, like some parody of Alias, but Ms Leon nearly humanizes her throughout the story. As I've mentioned, I love that Nova doesn't stop to whine about having to do sordid things in the line of duty. She doesn't pull out some Stupid Helpless Me card so that the hero can save her and make this story more "romantic". I'm not saying that she's intelligent - none of the characters here are intelligent, if you ask me, because the author isn't above making her characters do really stupid things - but she is at least consistent as a character.
But everything else about this book is like an over-the-top parody. The mad scientist. The villains so psychotic that one wonders why no one has incarcerated them in a lunatic asylum long ago. The Blame It On The Woman When A Man Goes Evil plot device. Some of the plot developments are just too cartoonish for the words. And there's the disappointing sputtering-out conclusion to the Nova-Joe-Jean love triangle that fizzles out in an "oh, well" manner.
In the end I'm quite confused by this book. I don't know what it is trying to be. Is it an over-the-top parody? Should I take this book seriously? Ms Leon sends out mixed messages in her writing. This book isn't a typical romance novel and shouldn't even be treated as one, but at the same time some aspects of the plot and characters are hopelessly contrived romance novel formula that only weaken the story. I find this book intriguing in the sense that I can't make out what it's trying to be. Sure, there's a satisfying pleasure to be had from reading about a heroine who makes no apologies for doing what she has to do, but at the same time the story is just too much, too exaggerated, and too uneven to qualify as a good book. It's interesting, but I wish it can be more than that. Nova Blair deserves better than this.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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