I discovered Rachel Grant’s romantic suspense novels less than a year ago, and have been hooked ever since. I’ve read and listened to several of the titles in her Evidence series, all of them tightly-plotted thrillers interwoven with a nicely steamy romance featuring intelligent, sassy heroines and gorgeous, alpha-male heroes. The author makes excellent use of her own background in history and archaeology in her books, which are extremely well researched both in terms of the locations in which they are set, and the technological and specialist detail which add so much interest and depth to the stories. Tinderbox, the first book in her new Flashpoint series is no different. The story opens with a bang – literally! – and the pace never lets up, as our two protagonists are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy in a part of the world which exists on a knife-edge.
Doctor Morgan Adler has been contracted by the Djibouti government to undertake an archaeological survey of the proposed route of a new railway. That particular area, known as the Horn of Africa (on the East coast – Djibouti is bordered by Eritraea, Ethiopia and Somalia) is a haven for terrorists and pirates –as well as being a veritable treasure trove for archaeologists. Morgan has just made what is likely to be the find of the decade – if not the century – in ‘Linus’ a set of three and a half million-year-old remains that could prove to be as significant an archaeological find as Lucy was in the 1970s. But she has been forced to flee the dig by several armed men working for Etefu Desta, an Ethiopian warlord looking to expand his territory into Djibouti. With the American Embassy closed, the only place she can think of that will be able to provide secure storage for the finds she has so far uncovered is the US military base at Camp Citron, and she’s on her way there with her precious cargo when she’s stopped by two Green Berets – Special Forces Operatives – about two miles from the camp.
Acting on a tip-off indicating that Desta is sending Camp Citron a ‘message’ via Dr. Adler, Master Sergeant Pax Blanchard and his colleague, Sergeant Callahan have a good idea what that message is likely to be. They intercept Morgan just minutes before the stack of C4 planted in her truck detonates – and while she is grateful to get away with her life, she’s majorly pissed she wasn’t allowed to rescue the fossils she’d been transporting.
On arrival at Camp Citron, Morgan makes clear her intention to return to the US immediately, but the camp CO refuses to allow her to leave. The project she is working on has a knock-on effect for the base and will lead to its expansion; and his orders are that Morgan leaves her apartment in Djibouti City, moves into the camp and completes her survey. To ensure her safety, she will be accompanied at all times by a military protection detail headed by Sergeant Blanchard. Morgan doesn’t take kindly to being ordered about – a lifetime spent rebelling against her father, a two-star general has seen to that! – but she can’t deny that she desperately wants to continue her work or that that getting to spend more time with the seriously hot Pax Blanchard isn’t an attractive prospect.
The chemistry between Morgan and Pax is intense from pretty much the get-go, but he’s a soldier through and through and certainly isn’t about to let a petite, curvy, kick-ass blonde with a potty-mouth – he nicknames her a foul-mouthed fairy – come between him and his career. Morgan makes her interest in him more than clear, but he’s adamant they keep their relationship a professional one. He’s her bodyguard; she’s his charge, and anything more would be inappropriate.
As Morgan continues work on her dig, it becomes clear that the threats she has received from Desta may be related to more than her archaeological finds. The French geologist who first realised that the site may be of historical interest has disappeared; Morgan’s apartment has been stealthily searched and items stolen; the government is rife with corruption, members of her own team may be spying on her – and to cap it all, the Chinese government is throwing money at Djibouti and expanding their military presence there in order to gain a foothold in what is already an incredibly unstable area – probably with a view to backing whichever warlord stages the inevitable coup. I’m not going to reveal more about the plot which is complex, incredibly satisfying and very topical, other than to say it’s brilliantly constructed and utterly compelling – this was an audiobook I found very difficult to put aside.
I said earlier that Morgan was a kick ass heroine, and I meant that in the literal as well as the metaphorical sense. She’s fiercely intelligent and independent, but she also knows her way around a gun and is a martial arts expert, her father having brought her up as he would a boy. But their relationship is a difficult one because Morgan feels that because he tried to push her in the direction of a military career, he has never taken her choices seriously, whether it be in her career or her relationships. She has deliberately dated soft-spoken, poet types, peaceniks and environmentalists, men as different from her father as possible (and ones bound to irritate the hell out of him) which is why her attraction to Pax takes her completely by surprise – although secretly, she admits to having yearned to date a guy who radiates testosterone.
Fortunately, however, Pax is a lot more than a walking pot of male hormones. He’s a really good guy – dedicated to his job and his colleagues – and his background is pretty much the opposite of Morgan’s; his parents were laid-back, hippy types, so the military wasn’t a natural choice of career, and Morgan isn’t the sort of woman he’s normally attracted to. Pax might be a big, wall of muscle on the outside, but inside he’s still the sci-fi geek who read scientific journals for fun he was when he was sixteen. He and Morgan make a great couple though, as they discover just how much they have in common, and I loved that Pax is absolutely one-hundred-percent okay with her being able to take care of herself. He’s protective, yes, but he respects her abilities and trusts her to be able to do what needs to be done; he never talks down to her or tries to treat her like a damsel in distress. I do admit, however, that I started disliking Morgan when she kept pushing Pax and flirting quite outrageously with him because she wants to have sex with him and he’s trying to keep his distance. It makes her seem immature and selfish, but fortunately, she is redeemed later on when she comes to see how stupid of her that was.
Greg Tremblay is a new-to-me narrator, but I was really impressed with his performance, which is simply excellent on all counts. His narration is very well-paced, he employs a wide range of expression, and his acting choices are all spot on. There aren’t many female characters in the book – just Morgan, and a couple of secondary characters (one of whom is a CIA operative) – but his female voices are terrific; he differentiates mainly through pitch, but never resorts to falsetto or gets too squeaky. He does a great job with the different accents sported by various characters (French, Chinese, East-African) and differentiates extremely well between the numerous male characters. Pax and his closest colleagues, Callahan and Bastian – who has a lazy, southern-sounding drawl – are easy to tell apart, then there is the general (Morgan’s father) who sounds appropriately gruff and authoritarian, the camp commander, Desta and his cronies… there are a lot of men in the book, but only once or twice did I have to rely on textual indicators to tell me who was speaking, and even then, they were only “walk-on” parts; characters who only spoke briefly in one scene. Ms. Grant writes quite raunchy sex scenes that are liberally sprinkled with dirty talk, and Mr. Tremblay performs them admirably, getting right into the swing of things without going over the top. I am going to be seeking out more of his narrations based on his performance and I really hope that his services are retained for future instalments in the Flashpoint series.
Tinderbox is a must for any fans of military/romantic suspense and I’m recommending it highly. I had a few minor niggles with Morgan’s character (hence the A- for content rather than a straight A), but it’s a great listen overall – a superbly paced, action-packed, sexy thriller that you won’t want to put down.
Book Content: A-
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Fighting
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Audible Studios
Tinderbox was provided to AudioGals by the author for a review.