REVIEW: Jeanette Murray’s THE OFFICER AND THE SECRET: What Happens When Nothing Happens?

Miss Bates thought Jeanette Murray’s The Officer and the Secret (#3 in the Semper Fi series) one of the most peculiarly non-plotted romance novels she’s read in a long time. Less-than-stellar romances tend to too much plot to mask weak characterization, lack of atmosphere, and rehashed themes. In the case of Murray’s Officer/Secret, the bare-plot consists of the everyday details of ordinary people ambling along, going to work, spending time with friends, and eating a lot of pizza and ice cream. Until the 80% mark of Miss Bates’s Kindle, the sheer niceness of it all made for one boring romance novel. Yet, in the final few chapters, she kinda found herself rooting for the hero and heroine and enjoying the book. Does that make up for poor Miss Bates being trapped in an episode of Friends for most of the novel?

Here’s as close to a non-synopsis as Miss Bates will ever get. Recently deployed Marine, Capt. Dwayne (awful name) Robertson returns stateside, is reunited with good friends (Madison, Skye, Jeremy, and Tim who, Miss Bates gathered, starred in books #1 & 2), and re-acquaints himself with Veronica Gibson, one of their friends with whom he’d  struck a Skype friendship. Dwayne and Veronica are attracted to each other and start a little dating dance which continues till 80% of the book has elapsed. Um, they hang with friends a lot; they attend Tim and Skye’s “re-commitment” ceremony. They watch movies; they work (she’s a waitress). Um, they do have one date, not sure where they’re going, but Veronica decides she’d rather eat pizza and watch a DVD on Dwayne’s big-screen TV … and here silly Miss Bates thought the romance genre was a female fantasy!

Dwayne is obviously the “officer” in the title; but what of The Big Secret? It’s a tad confusing: is the secret Dwayne’s PTSD? It can’t be because he behaves like a mature adult and immediately tells his best friend and then promptly asks for counseling from the chaplain. Whew! This is great … great that Murray acknowledges the problem and points the way to recovery. One can only hope that all our veterans who suffer thus can experience this kind of resolution. But it doesn’t carry any conflict for the novel. Is the secret Veronica’s? Maybe. She was brought up by indifferent missionary parents, who carted her around the world while they saw to others’ salvation, all the while neglecting her. She never received an education and at 26 has to study for her GED. She is clueless … about pop culture and American slang, but she’s studying and  learning so she can be normal! Because globalization hasn’t ensured that American culture permeates even the most remote of regions. Or, as Veronica says, “Coming from living in the jungles or barely populated areas of third world countries didn’t lend itself to modern American social practice. Nobody from the African Zulu tribe was going to ask her to the prom.” Gah. She reads magazines and watches TV and eats ice cream with her friends, Madison and Skye, while learning about pop cultural icons such as Lady Gaga. When we first meet Veronica, she’s dressed in baggy clothes and can’t bear a man’s touch. Miss Bates thought, oh no, sexual abuse, or assault? an eating disorder? … nope, wrong, just hasn’t studied enough fashion magazines.

In this conflict-less romance, Dwayne and Veronica do eventually get it on, though she never tells him she’s a virgin, whereupon we read one of the most idyllic deflowering scenes ever written. (Really, if Woodiwiss could have made that Heather girl enjoy her “first time,” as much, there wouldn’t have been any flame to singe the flower.) They enjoy physical happy times … also watch sports and eat ice cream and pizza with the guys/gals. The friends are in and out of various apartments, giving advise, delivering pizza, tubs of ice cream, having heart-to-hearts that poor Miss Bates didn’t know who was who. This novel has a serious case of series-itis … and that pun is most definitely intended. And no conflict What So Ever. (Watch out! Possible spoilers ahead!) At most, in the last 20% of the novel, the hero and heroine have qualms about being together, largely due to the Other Woman, the oldest line in the book about the mhphmh breaking, and Veronica’s ignorance about basic human biology. Oh, there’s also a bad burrito … but Miss Bates has already neared spoiler territory. Nuff said.

What did endear this novel to Miss Bates? Well, the hero is a real sweetheart. The heroine is, unfortunately, a bit of a nincompoop, but she does have a sense of humour. They both do. They’re also loveably clumsy: pizza bits fly on cheeks, they trip, sprain ankles; they’re adorably goofy, both of them. They’re really quite strong people, which is what makes their socalled issues such non-issues, which makes for the flat narrative. It’s nice to read about reasonable people making their steady way to an HEA. And, unlike Miss Bates’s previous read, the ethos of this novel is quite amenable to her (except for the crack about the developing world): even though you’re a big brawny guy in uniform, you recognize when you need help and seek it; even though life has thrown you lemon-parents, you pick yourself up by the bootstraps, even when your brain-wattage is on the low side, and make the best of life’s lemonade. You love and support your friends. You don’t let past bitterness, regret, and disappointment poison your present or your future. You take responsibility for your actions. You make amends. You say, “I love you” and mean it. It’s a nice read, but it really really lacks tension. If you like your romance novels angst-ridden, this isn’t where you’re going to find it.

Miss Bates says this is a harmless read and you can while away the time with it in “Tolerable comfort.” Mansfield Park

Jeanette Murray’s The Officer and the Secret is available on July 2nd. It’s published by Sourcebooks. Miss Bates received a generous e-ARC from Sourcebooks via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.