Rules Of Engagement
by Selena Montgomery, contemporary (2001)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-224-X


Dr Raleigh Foster (codename Chimera) is a secret agent. At the start of the story, in a literally explosive prologue, she hears from a dying comrade (whose death she blames herself for) that the "next target" is someone called Merlin. Merlin is the codename for Adam Grayson, who is now retired. He blames Raleigh for the death of his best friend/comrade, whose death Raleigh too blames herself for (see a pattern forming here?). Now, Raleigh needs Adam to pose as her lover while they infiltrate this terrorist group called Scimitar. Mission objective? To recover some chemical formula for something called Praxis. Instead of adding more jargon to this paragraph, let me just say that Praxis is a chemical that has equal potential for Good as well as Evil.

I know this is Selena Montgomery's debut, and I hate to puncture her enthusiasm that just bubbles infectiously from her afterword as well as in her prose. The author knows what she is writing about - the scientific description/explanation of Praxis can do a first year chemical engineering student proud. But really, let's face it: why is it that in a romance novel, whenever Great Crisis looms, the solution seems to be to have two ex-flame agents work together, posing as lovers?

I mean, really.

"Yo, Boss Chief, we have a crisis looming in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is being naughty again."

"No problem, we'll just send Agents Spat and Bicker to Iraq, posing as happily married lovers for our afternoon spying mission. Now what's for lunch?"

And excuse me, but I think Raleigh and Adam must be the worst secret agents in the entire organization. Adam blames Raleigh for the death of one Phillip who doesn't actually die then but Phillip does die later anyway... but still, Adam blames Raleigh anyway even though it is by Adam's hand that Phillip "dies" the first time around. And yes, I am still trying to figure that one out, and the author doesn't actually clear things for me. Aside from the still rather incomprehensible reason for Adam and Raleigh to be at each other's throat, there's also our two agents' tendency to let their emotions override their common sense.

I mean, these are two agents who actually, in front of their boss, rip at each other's throat, bringing up most vocally all their personal misunderstandings that would rightfully earn themselves a dismissal from the boss. I can easily see Adam and Raleigh screaming at each other as World War 3 erupts around them. Who cares about saving the world? They'd rather scream and shout at each other like two ill-mannered fishmarket ragamuffins.

And they also have this tiny weenie problem with communication. Oh, they scream and yell at each other most passionately, but take away the gusto, they don't actually tell each other things that can prevent a lot of headaches. Both think they are in the right, and hence almost caused their mission to go down under with their mulish antics.

The thought of Agents Chimera and Merlin saving the world sends shivers down my spine. I have more faith in Inspector Gadget. Selena Montgomery has created a story with lots of fast-paced action and alas, also with many lil' misunderstanding episodes just because Raleigh and Merlin just won't talk.

Phillip once compared his and Adam's adventures as a "black Rocky and Bullwinkle story". He got that right. And the world trembles with fear as Agents Rocky and Bullwinkle here dash to save the world from the forces of evil, only to stop halfway in their heroic posture to scream and argue, their mission derailed by whatever misunderstandings they are having that day. Eh.

Rating: 66


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