The Outcast

Joan Johnston
July 2009, Romantic Suspense
Mira, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0778325741

Grade: D
Sensuality: Warm

I live in Washington, D.C. I do not find badly plotted romantic suspense novels featuring a bioterrorism attack by Al-Queda on my city to be amusing. Or suspenseful. Or the stuff on which badly plotted romantic suspense novels should be based. Ever.

This novel is touted as the first in the new Benedict Brothers/Taggert Men series. God help us, there are 14 Benedict siblings. And, in case you don’t get the point, we are told over and over again:

  • Ben Benedict is really, really rich.
  • Ben Bendict has a “Georgetown row house” – always referred to with exactly those three words.
  • Ben Benedict has many brothers and sisters.
  • Ben Benedict’s many brothers are military boys.

With so many siblings in this Brady Bunch family, the level of info-dumpery in the book’s first 40 pages is mind-numblingly complicated. Add in the marital misadventures of the parents – which I think you’re supposed to care about – and it takes w-a-a-a-a-y too long to introduce the heroine and the basics of the plot.

When we finally do get to it, we meet Anna, the 29 year-old heroine, who is a practicing psychiatrist with several years experience under her belt. Now, how she managed to finish college, med school, and a residency and still have time for a professional modeling career before hitting the big three-oh is beyond me, but okay. If that’s the way the author wants it.

Anna and Ben meet cute (though this is totally not a cute book) at the vet where her cat is delivering kittens and he rescues a dog injured during some kind of operation for his work with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement division of Homeland Security. (Note to Anna: Spay or neuter. That way when your adorable kid cat sitter somehow lets the cat out, she won’t get knocked up.)

Soon enough Anna is treating Ben for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the two are hitting the sheets (while she’s sort of still treating him), and they’re working together to bring the terrorists to justice. It's all very serious - and very, very trivial, too.

Frankly, such an overwhelmingly trivial book dealing with such overwhelmingly untrivial matters as PTSD and terrorist attacks strikes me as phenomenally bad taste. But, if you want more reasons to question the author’s judgment, how’s this: Ben’s 18 year-old sister is marrying a 30 year-old cop. And Ben approves.

On the positive side, the author generally gets her D.C. local information correct, though there are no “high rise” office buildings in the city (nothing can be taller than the Capitol Dome) and nobody would travel from Georgetown to a “Chevy Chase mansion” (and those three words are always used) by driving through Columbia Heights. Three more words for the author: Rock Creek Parkway.

As for positives, that's about all I can manage. Something we hear over and over these days is the truism that people are looking for escapism now more than ever. I can’t think of a book less likely to fulfill that desire than this one.

-- Sandy Coleman

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