Breaking Point

Suzanne Brockmann
2005, Romantic Suspense
Ballantine, $21.95, 371 pages, Amazon ASIN 0345480120
Part of a series

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Warm

Suzanne Brockmann gets Max Bhagat and Gina Vitagliano together in Breaking Point, and ties up some loose ends with Molly and Jones. Jules Cassidy is in the story too, still pining from his break-up with Robin from Hot Target. On the whole I enjoyed the book, but a few pin-pricks kept it from being as strong an entry as some of the other titles in this long-running series.

The opening chapter takes place in 1986 and features young and brash Max Bhagat during a stand-off at a bank robbery. The team leader wants to kill the robber since he will not answer the phone, but Max realizes that the robber is deaf and can't hear the phone ringing, so he goes in unarmed to negotiate. And when I say unarmed, I mean buck naked. Normally Max wears plain white briefs, but that morning he had put on some rhinestone bikini briefs (gift of an ex-girlfriend), and rather than take any teasing, he goes in commando, and quickly defuses the situation. This begins the legend of Max Bhagat, cold, efficient, perfect, and a leader whose team will follow him into hell wearing gasoline suits.

In the book Over the Edge, Max met Gina Vitagliano while she was held hostage on a hijacked plane. He fell hard for the beautiful, brave Gina and was devasted when she was raped and beaten by the hijackers. Gina was rescued, but Max blamed himself for her attack. He also thinks she is too young for him and swears he is a man who cannot love. But they share a sizzling attraction and it's showcased when Gina helps Max during a stint in rehab. Still he still shoves her away, and she leaves for Kenya where she plans to work at an AIDS mission hospital.

At the AIDS hospital Gina meets Molly Anderson (from Out of Control). When a volunteer calling himself Leslie Pollard comes by, he turns out to be Grady Morant, aka David Jones, an expat American soldier mixed up with some very shady characters. He's also the man Molly loves. When Gina, Molly, and Jones try to smuggle a young Kenyan girl to safety (so she will not have to undergo genital mutilation), something goes very wrong, Molly and Gina are kidnapped and Max gets word that Gina has been killed.

Devastated, he and Agent Jules Cassidy go to Germany where they find that the woman who was killed was not Gina. But how did she get Gina's passport and credit card, and where is Gina? Then Jones shows up and they are all enmeshed in a terroist plot.

Brockmann does a very good job of filling in backstory for readers who don't know Max and Gina and Molly and Jones from earlier books. This is good for new readers as it fills in the background, but it also delays the start of the main story, when Gina and Molly are kidnapped by terrorists. Also, it seemed to me that a lot of stuff happened off-stage. I'd be reading along, something would happen, I'd think I had missed a plot point, so I'd backtrack to find out I hadn't missed anything.

I had a couple of other problems with this book. Brockmann's narrative was too lighthearted at times for the seriousness of the events. For instance, at one point the crew are all holed into a secure room and the terrorists are outside. Brockmann's narrative is explaining how Molly and Gina are making sure that all the cracks are sealed up, and at that point we get the phrase "just say no to toxic gas" before the narrative continues to detail how they are securing the building. There are several other instances where we get a light interpolation in the middle of a sentence describing an dangerous situation. I found this jarring.

I was also impatient at times with Jules. I like him and really felt for him in Hot Target. He takes a big part in the rescue and is a true hero, but I got a bit tired of his seemingly constant flirting with potential hotties or brooding over his broken relationship with Adam or Robin. I'd like to see Jules get a stable relationship so he can settle down and just do his job - he does it so well. Also, at one point Jules gives Max a talk about how he has to let his inner child out and love himself so he can accept Gina's love. I'll say upfront that I do not like self-help books, never watch Dr. Phil, and anyway, isn't that inner child stuff old jargon? That talk had me gritting my teeth, and had I been in Max's shoes, I probably would have said some salty words.

Now...on to what I did like. The book moves quickly and gives beliveable closure to the Max/Gina and Molly/Jones stories. All the characters were believeable and likable, and I especially enjoyed the backstory with Gina and Max in the rehab center since it did an excellent job of illuminating their characters.

I loved Jones, a former ranger who was lost on a mission, captured and tortured by a warlord, and then, feeling as though his country had abandoned him, he worked for the warlord. Jones has done some very bad things, he's killed people, and abetted a drug smuggler. Brockmann softens him somewhat by stressing that he has only killed bad men, but there's no getting around the fact that Jones has not spent the last decade doing altuistic deeds. Jones's anger against his country for seeming to leave him to his fate is something I wish Brockmann could have explored in greater depth. While he gets his HEA with earth-mother Molly, I still wish we could have had a book about Jones.

While this is not the best Troubleshooters book I have read, it was enjoyable and fans of the series will lap it up. There are plenty of men on the team and I know they will have stories to tell, and terrorist plots to foil. I can see Suzanne Brockmann continuing this series for a long time. I plan to keep following it.

-- Ellen Micheletti

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