Posted in: AztecLady Reviews, I love that bitch like a fat kid loves cake
Tags:Suzanne Brockmann, Troubleshooters
Into the Fire, by Suzanne Brockmann
Into the Fire is lucky thirteen in Ms Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series. Unlike many series, most if not all of the installments in this one can be read as single titles without really missing necessary background information on ongoing story arcs. Ms Brockmann is uniquely talented, in my opinion, in giving new readers enough information to understand everything that is going on, without overloading her books with backstories from previous novels. At the same time, she writes quite a bit of foreshadowing for a number of story arcs in every book—à la Joss Whedon in Buffy—which increases the enjoyment of each successive novel for long time fans.
Ms Brockmann’s novels typically include large casts of characters, many of them recurring from previous novels, with anything from two to five story arcs running through. Most often, only one or two of these will be resolved in any one novel, with the rest left open-ended for future installments.
There are also a number of ‘point of view’ characters who carry the story in alternate chapters—or even alternate sections within a chapter. This works extremely well mainly because a) Ms Brockmann writes from what she calls “deep point of view”—which means that the reader is looking at any given scene or event from that particular character’s point of view, with his memories and feelings coloring his interpretation of whatever is going on (unreliable narrators, anyone?) and b) her characterization is so deft, that the reader has no problem identifying each narrator.
From the very first book, The Unsung Hero (June 2000) the Troubleshooters series has been set in the counterterrorism/military world, as well as in ‘real time’—meaning that the action in the novel is dated at the time of publication, i.e. Into the Fire, which was released on July 22, 2008, is set in late July 2008.
The three main pools of characters in the series are: the Navy SEALs of Team 16, based in Coronado; an elite FBI counter-terrorism unit, headed by negotiator and strategist extraordinaire Max Bahgat; and Tom Paoletti’s security company, Troubleshooters, Inc. All three groups contribute characters of varying degrees of importance to Into the Fire, with the main plotline being about Vinh (Murph) Murphy and Hannah.
Here is the (much hated, as usual) hardcover dust jacket:
Vinh Murphy—former Marine and onetime operative for the elite security firm Troubleshooters Incorporated—has been MIA ever since his wife, Angelina, was caught in a crossfire and killed during what should have been a routine bodyguard assignment. Overcome with grief, Murphy blames the neo-Nazi group known as the Freedom Network for her death. Now, years later, Freedom Network leader Tim Ebersole has been murdered—and the FBI suspects Murphy may have pulled the trigger. To prevent further bloodshed, Murphy’s friends at Troubleshooters scramble to find him and convince him to surrender peacefully.
Murphy himself can’t be sure what he did or didn’t do during the years he spent mourning and lost in an alcohol-induced fog. He does know he occasionally sought solace from Hannah Whitfield, a former police officer and the very friend who introduced him to his beloved late wife.
But finally, Murphy is ready to rejoin the living. As always, he find himself knocking on Hannah’s door, and as always, his longtime friend welcomes him back into her home. Yet even as Murphy slowly rebuilds his splintered life, he continues to fight his growing feelings for Hannah. Then he learns of Ebersole’s murder and comes to believe that the Freedom Network has targeted him—and Hannah—to avenge their leader’s death. Now Murphy must face the terrifying prospect of losing to violence another woman he loves.
As the Troubleshooters desperately search for him, Murphy races toward a deadly confrontation with the Freedom Network and the ultimate choice: surrender his life in hopes that Hannah will be spared, or risk everything to salvage whatever future they may have together.
The setup for Murphy’s story is part of the main storyline of a previous book, Hot Target (December 2004). Murphy’s wife, Angelina, is shot in cold blood while a number of employees from Troubleshooters, Inc. were working to protect a client from what seemed to be baseless death threats. Tragically, the threats proved to be based in fact, with all the characters still dealing with the effects of those events today, more than three years later.
It is very difficult to review such a complicated novel without giving spoilers for one or another of the different threads, but I’ll do my best.
As mentioned before, Into the Fire is set in the present. However, there are a number of chapters at the beginning of the book that are set a few months earlier than that, as well as a few flashbacks further in the past, which help set up both the external conflict and the main characters’ mental and emotional state as the action starts.
While there are more than a dozen key characters, who contribute to both the action and the background of this ‘universe’, there are only seven narrators (i.e. where we read from their point of view) with four intertwined main stories being told. The main narrators are Murphy, Hannah, Dave, Decker, Sophia, Izzy and Eden, all of whom are introduced in the first two or three chapters. The relationships between all these characters are complicated, though they all find themselves involved in the search for Murphy and the question of whether he killed the Freedom Network’s leader or not.
The writing is fast, heavy on the dialogue and with very sparse descriptions. Usually, places, people and things are described through a character’s point of view, using that person’s language quirks, which brings the reader into the scene in a way that few other writers manage. Depending entirely on whose point of view we are in, the language can be coarse, poetic, funny, graphic or insightful (or several in combination) but always true to each character’s background and personality. In many ways, reading a Brockmann novel is like reading an action movie screen play, with quick scene cuts between storylines—the only real difference being that the reader knows what the character who is ‘narrating’ is feeling, and therefore why she does and says whatever it is that she does and says.
Contrary to many romance novels with secondary storylines, Ms Brockmann doesn’t automatically give her characters that mythical happy ending simply because they are narrators in one of her books. In fact, she is famous for stretching some of these relationships through five or more books. Some readers feel cheated by this, arguing that they lose interest in that particular couple/relationship; for others *raising hand* this is a perfect way to let those characters grow and ‘earn’ their own happy ending—whatever it may turn out to be.
Into the Fire is no exception; out of the four main storylines, only two are definitely solved. Well, perhaps two. One for sure, though. The great thing is that those threads that are left loose, with an implied “to be continued”, are not forced—there are still external and internal conflicts for those characters to work through, and any resolution by the end of this book would be contrived, whereas leaving their stories open feels organic to the characters.
Ms Brockmann’s treatment of her characters is very ‘true to life’ in this sense; some of these people have a long way to go in dealing with personal issues—from PTSD to substance dependency to dysfunctional families to hero complexes—before reaching a place where they can be content, let alone happy, with themselves. It only stands to reason that shoving another person into the equation would spell disaster, instead of happiness, for both.
More than one person in the military has said that one of Ms Brockmann’s strengths in this series is that she gets the military mentality—team work, chain of command, language. For my money, what she gets best is human nature.
Into the Fire is a full 9.5 out of 10 for me.