Cindy Gerard’s Taking Fire is fourth in the One-Eyed Jacks series, which sprung from her seven-volume Black Ops. Miss Bates admits to reading most of them (with the exception of the peculiar, unreadable Long Way Home). Though the elements of Gerard’s books should feel overdone, and while they’re not “fresh,” their familiarity and the genuineness she brings to them satisfy every time. Thinking about what Gerard did in Taking Fire, Miss Bates ventures to say it’s because Gerard mitigates her heroes’ alpha-ness with portraits of men who know what they’re feeling and feel it deeply. She endows her ultra-feminine heroines with steel and smarts. She skirts demonizing the Middle and Near East with a deep sympathy and positive portrayal of, in this case, Afghanistan’s people. She manages to turn Miss Bates’s reader’s distaste to page-turning sympathy. Taking Fire is of this ilk.
Miss Bates has written elsewhere of the theme of betrayal in romance. Gerard’s Taking Fire works with the same, except in Gerard’s case, heroine betrays hero. Taking Fire is tripartite: hero Bobby Traggert and heroine Talia Levine’s initial affair in Kabul; their reunification in Oman six years later; and, Oman events’ aftermath in Washington D. C.
Miss Bates will focus on Bobby and Talia’s Kabul meeting to avoid spoilers. However, each and every part had Miss Bates in thrall; indeed, she read the novel in one day … okay, and one night. 😉 In Part I, Talia is in Kabul ostensibly working as a journalist. She is actually a Mossad agent. Her target, Mohammed al-Attar, is in contact with an American military contractor, Bobby Traggart. Talia goes to Bobby’s watering-hole to seduce and use him to find al-Attar, but her plan is foiled by feelings. Bobby disarms her: “He had the look of a hard man, and everything she knew of his background said that he was. Yet when he smiled, there was nothing hard about him.” Therein is Gerard’s power: creating a “hard man” who’s “soft,” sensitive, sympathetic. When Bobby meets Talia, he’s been discharged from American special forces unjustly not-quite-honorably. Working as a military contractor is the only way he can continue to do what he thinks right and honourable. He feels a connection to Talia beyond physical desire: “And for the first time in a very long time, he felt empathy. Not the sympathy he felt daily for the Afghan people who were besieged by this endless war but compassion for a single, fragile soul.” In seven days, betrayal destroys their bonds of affection, connection, and tender desire.
Bobby is a man betrayed in so many ways, by his military and the woman he fell in love with. Talia had entered his life at a point when he was sick of everything that had gone into it: “Maybe it was time he had something good in his life. Something like a woman who entertained him with her wit, engaged him intellectually, and made him remember a part of himself he thought he’d lost in the murky fog of year after year of war.” Talia abandons and betrays Bobby just as he came alive with hope and love. But her sacrifice for her country costs her as much as it does Bobby. She is in love with the man she hurt. Her sacrifice also costs her Mossad’s protection.
When Bobby and Talia meet again six years later in Oman, their fortunes are reversed. Bobby was exonerated; his military honour restored. He works covert ops for the American government and has been sent to the American embassy in Oman to conduct an investigation into the efficacy of its security … when he encounters the woman who made a fool of him. Talia is on loan to the American embassy from the Israeli. Talia and Bobby stare at each other, shocked, viscerally aware of their still fiery attraction. As Talia and Bobby are rocked by the memory of ” … this nest they’d made of passion and deception and tangled sheets”, a bomb rocks the embassy. There have been further repercussions to Talia and Bobby’s brief, unforgettable Kabul affair, repercussions that betray Bobby all over again, and who are now in terrible danger. Bobby and Talia must work together to recover something more precious than pride.
Miss Bates loved Bobby. He was strong, honest, affectionate, and honorable. He’s one heck of a weeper and unashamedly so. There’s a wonderful moment when he realizes how his absence into mysterious, dangerous work makes his mother feel and resolves to visit and offer his presence more often. Talia’s actions were more difficult to comprehend. Not initially, her Kabul Mossad mission and subsequent actions were understandable. Later, when she was no longer Mossad, she could’ve sought Bobby, offered an apology, revealed what their affair had wrought, given to Bobby what she hadn’t in Kabul, the truth. She doesn’t, not until she is left without a choice. Her reasons? Flimsy at best. Nevertheless, Talia’s humble-pie is pretty impressive; the novel’s action, relentless; the tension, attraction, anger, regret, and love in Talia and Bobby, unrelieved until, phew, a most satisfying HEA. (One warning note from Miss Bates, Talia and Bobby are cool characters when it comes to weapon-wielding and killing. They take human life, albeit in justified circumstances or self-defence, without a qualm.) Miss Bates loved every minute of Taking Fire. With Miss Austen, she says Taking Fire is evidence of a “mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Cindy Gerard’s Taking Fire is published by Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster). It was released on February 23 and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Pocket Books, via Netgalley.