Into the Night

Suzanne Brockmann
2002, Contemporary Romance
Ballantine, $6.99, 480 pages, Amazon ASIN 0804119724
Part of a series

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Warm

Into the Night is a tough book to grade. On the one hand it's Brockmann. The humor, action, and snappy dialogue are all present. On the other hand, the book has problems. None of its problems make it a terrible read, but all of them, taken together, make Into the Night less than totally satisfactory.

As usual in the books in this series, there are three story lines interwoven together, all reflecting similar themes. Front and center are Mike Muldoon and Joan DaCosta. Joan is a White House staffer in charge of keeping Brooke Bryant, the president's adult daughter, in line. In a few weeks the president and his daughter are scheduled to visit Team Sixteen's military base and while there, present them with an award. It's Joan's job to make sure that everything goes smoothly and that lots of good publicity is generated. The president is looking at re-election, and everything better go as planned.

Lieutenant Commander Tom Paoletti is nervous about the visit. He has a bad feeling something may go wrong, but he doesn't have the authority or a specific reason to stop the president from coming. He assigns Mike Muldoon to Joan. Mike is to give her access to the base, but not too much information. Mike takes one look at Joan and falls for her. She's exactly his type - strong, authoritative, and self-confident and (bonus!) she has enough meat on her bones to make her a cuddly handful. And Mike's got a couple of big, empty hands.

The problem is, Joan is horrified at the thought of hooking up with Mike. Sure, he's gorgeous, and he seems really nice, but he's seven years younger than she is, and Joan is sure everyone would snicker at her if they were a couple. Mike makes it his personal mission to change her mind.

The second story line involves Joan's grandparents. Charlotte Fletcher DaCosta lost her first husband in the attack on Pearl Harbor and spent the war years working in a senator's office. She met and married her second husband, Vince DaCosta, toward the end of the war, and they have had almost sixty happy years together as a couple. Unfortunately Vince has always felt a little guilty for taking James Fletcher's wife and living his HEA.

The third story involves Sam Starrett and his wife, Mary Lou. Their marriage is unhappy, and neither of them knows what to do about it. Sam can't stop thinking about Alyssa and what he sacrificed to marry Mary Lou, and Mary Lou can't help wondering why she isn't happy when she now has everything she wanted. She has a house, a gainfully employed hunk of a husband, and a darling baby, but it's all she can do to keep herself from crying and drinking.

There is a lot to like about this book. It's well written, quite funny in spots, and the stories are more seamlessly woven together than they have been in previous books. Perhaps this is because the flashbacks are kept to a minimum. The characters are all enjoyable, and the men, with the exception of Sam, seem terribly sweet.

But Brockmann has taken a different tack with this book. Those of you who believe she doesn't write female characters well should take note. In Mary Lou she has created a most compelling female protagonist, very likely her best, most fully fleshed female character yet. If you have read the other books in this series, you know that Mary Lou is almost universally loathed; she's the other woman in the Sam and Alyssa story. So it's quite an accomplishment on Brockmann's part to have made her into a fully sympathetic character. In Into the Night, we see Mary Lou's side of the story. She's trying, struggling to make something of her marriage and to be a good mom to Haley, despite the fact that she had a hellish childhood and no real experience with functional families. Watching her trying to keep it all together, with absolutely no help from Sam, was the most interesting and affecting part of this book.

The most annoying and aggravating part of this book also involves this story line. Sam Starrett got on my very last nerve. Either Mary Lou brings out the absolute worst in him, or he's just a jerk, and I'm inclined to believe the latter. Now, I'll confess I'm one of the few readers of this series who is only marginally interested in the relationship between Sam and Alyssa. I haven't found them to be particularly compelling and have in fact have felt slightly manipulated by their story arc. But even I felt sorry for Sam when, two books ago, Mary Lou announced she was pregnant. Poor, poor Sam, I thought, trapped in a relationship with a white trash SEAL groupie.

Well, after reading this book, my sympathy lies completely with Mary Lou, who is the only person in the relationship trying to make things work. Frankly, Sam is a lousy husband and an uninvolved father. On the rare occasion he is home he spends his time either 1) sitting in front of the TV or 2) making Mary Lou's nonexistent self-esteem plummet. Mary Lou, for all her faults, is a good mother and a decent wife. She deserves better, and Sam should have at least tried to make his marriage work. No one put a gun to his head and said he had to marry her. He made the decision to commit to her of his own volition. So he should commit.

Honestly, I have no idea how Brockmann will make a hero out of Sam. A hero is supposed to look adversity in the eye and stand up to it with patience and grace. A hero is not supposed to sulk and feel sorry for himself and take his frustrations out on those around him.

Okay, 1-2-3, Dr. Laura moment over.

When it comes to the other stories and characters, compared to Mary Lou, none of them are that interesting. Joan is kind of a stick. We never learn anything important about her background except that she has a mentally ill brother and some residual anger toward her father. Muldoon is similarly undeveloped, though his childhood and motivations are a tad more explored. Joan's grandparents' story is pleasant, but rather unmemorable. All three romances in this book seem rushed, and the logistics of how Muldoon and Joan are supposed to make their bi-coastal, high-powered-career, never-see-each-other marriage work are left up to the imagination. And somehow the whole thing drags on a bit too long.

Finally, there's an aspect of neediness and miscommunication in all three relationships. It was most bothersome in Muldoon's case; he seemed insecure all the time. This was not all that attractive in a SEAL. In some ways Muldoon was more impressive in Over the Edge when we didn't know him quite so well.

Into the Night is a book that engenders strong reactions. Some may read this review and wonder why the grade wasn't any lower than a C+, but Brockmann is a good writer and knows how to keep a reader's interest. The fact that I did have such a strong reaction to it, albeit a frustrating reaction, lets me know the book "got" to me. It made me frustrated, but it also made me want to read the next book in the series even more, if that's possible.

I think fans of Sam and Alyssa might not be pleased with the direction Brockmann seems to be taking Sam and at this point I don't care if Sam gets his happy ending, I'm so disgusted with him. But I do care about Mary Lou, so I'll be picking up the next book to find out how things turn out. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

-- Rachel Potter

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