Lieutenant Tom Paoletti received a serious head injury while on a mission with his Navy SEAL team. After being released from the hospital, he heads to his small home-town near Boston for what was supposed to be a month of recuperation, but no sooner has he arrived at the airport than he spots a man who he believes to be a presumed dead terrorist known as The Merchant. When he contacts the Washington brass about his sighting, they think it is nothing more than paranoid delusions brought on by his injury. Even Tom begins to doubt what he saw, but when the man turns up around town a few more times, Tom becomes more and more convinced it is The Merchant and that he's there to plan a bombing. Tom sets about putting together a rag-tag strike team to take The Merchant down while romancing his old flame.
Dr. Kelly Ashton is now a successful pediatrician, but in her teen years she had been crazy in love with Tom. Even though Tom was a bit of a hell-raiser in his youth, Kelly had always been the nice girl next door that he respected and cared for as a friend. That is until one night when they shared a passionate kiss which left Tom scared to death and skipping town with virtually no explanation. Kelly had been heartbroken, but she never forgot her first love. They haven't seen each in over sixteen years, but now she is also back home caring for her ailing father who is dying of cancer. When she and Tom see each other again, the old attraction is still there, and Kelly decides it's time for the "nice" girl to live on the edge and have the summer fling with Tom that she was denied all those years ago. Neither one of them thinks it can last any longer than the month that Tom will be in town, but maybe after resolving an old argument between his uncle and her father, dealing with Tom's errant niece, and stopping a terrorist attack, they'll find the strength they need to make their relationship work for good this time.
For quite some time now, I've been seeing rave reviews for Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooters series, so I finally decided to pick up The Unsung Hero. Unfortunately, when I finished reading it, I was left with very mixed feelings about nearly every aspect of the book. Rather than being a romance in which there is one primary hero and heroine with secondary characters to support them, it felt like there was an ensemble cast. The book has three separate "love" stories going on at the same time written from no less than six points-of-view (POV). The narrative alternates between the three plots with a fourth suspense thriller plot and a few other minor points tying the trio of stories together. Normally, I don't have a problem with multiple plot-lines, but I usually prefer for them to be part of a larger story arc within both the book and series. In this case, the ties between them were so minimal that I felt each story could have been told independently of one another. I would no sooner be getting into one storyline and then it would switch to a different one which made the book feel rather choppy to me. I also typically have no difficulties with following multiple POVs, but some of the scene transitions were written in a way that was confusing to me. I occasionally found myself several paragraphs into a scene before I even realized in whose POV it was being told.
Another thing that bothered me about The Unsung Hero was the dreary, depressing overtone that permeated nearly the entire book. I usually enjoy emotion-laden stories with characters who have difficulties to overcome on the road to finding their HEA, but in this case, there were, in my opinion, too many characters going through challenging circumstances with an overabundance of repressed emotions and virtually no humor to ever lighten the mood. I also prefer for the characters to grow and change while overcoming their challenges as the story progresses rather than making peace or having an instant epiphany at the eleventh hour. Even the ending was pretty bittersweet and didn't exactly leave me with warm, fuzzy feelings.
Tom and Kelly were the supposed "main" hero and heroine, but in my mind, they never emerged as such, but instead were just 1/3 of the whole picture. In many ways, I didn't feel like I ever got to know them well enough for them to truly stand out. For me, they ended up being mostly likable but rather bland characters in spite of Tom's profession. Tom is a Navy SEAL in charge of an elite special ops force who received a serious head injury while on a mission. He is now on leave and has returned home to recover. Kelly is a caring pediatrician, but she had a lousy role model in her dad who was an alcoholic that shut out everyone, making Kelly feel like she couldn't express her emotions around him or anyone else. Her dad is now dying and she has moved home to care for him, hoping that perhaps they can reconcile before it's too late. Tom and Kelly were teenage friends who fell for each other, but when things started to heat up between them, Tom skipped town to join the Navy with hardly a word of explanation to Kelly. Now that they're back together in such close proximity, they realize that their love for one another never died, but rather than embracing those feelings, they fight them tooth and nail for the entire book which is always frustrating to me. The thing that annoyed me the most though was that Kelly decided she was going to live on the edge and have the summer fling with Tom that she had wanted all those years ago. Once things heat up between them, she flat-out tells him it's just about the sex, but then gets upset when he reacts badly to that declaration. As it was, Tom and Kelly had few enough scenes together to rebuild their relationship, but then they had to go and have some serious communication issues on top of it all. In some ways, I thought they still acted like the teenagers they once were, dancing around one another and being too afraid to express how they really felt which just aggravated me to no end. I can't even say that I was left with 100% certainly that this couple was going to make it for the long haul.
The second plot, and the saddest, revolves around the sixty-year friendship between Kelly's dad, Charles, a wealthy man who is dying of cancer and Tom's uncle, Joe, who works as his groundskeeper. They met each other during World War II in France where they both served in the military and both fell in love with the same woman, Cybele, a member of the French Resistance. A large part of their story is told in flashbacks to the time when they all first met. It was very difficult for me to like Charles at all. He's extremely emotionally repressed and a hardened, grouchy old man who can be very rude and abrasive. He spent most of his life after the war as an alcoholic, ignoring his only daughter, and running through a string of failed marriages. As a young man in WWII, he was pretty cocky and for some reason I couldn't seem to fathom, he didn't want to take credit for anything good he did accomplish. I adored Joe, a caring, mild-mannered man both in the present and the past. He is a loyal friend to Charles, but it took nearly the entire book for me to figure out why Joe would want to hang around with someone like him. Joe was also a very courageous young man to volunteer to be a spy behind enemy lines during the war. I sympathized with Cybele because of the terrible tragedy she endured, but I didn't feel like it excused what she did to Charles and Joe, especially Joe, because he was such a good man who wanted nothing more than to love and protect her. I admired her pluck in going up against the Nazis, but she was a serious psychological mess who sadly, only seemed to be living to see their downfall. I also found it very depressing that Charles and Joe were both still affected so deeply by her actions that they had, in my opinion, essentially wasted their lives. The whole tale of these three friends was an interesting one but also an extremely morose one.
The final romance, and also my favorite, was that of Tom's young niece, Mallory, and a geeky comic book artist named David who wants her to model as his latest super-hero character, Nightshade. Suzanne Brockmann gets a few extra points for writing a true geek hero who actually looks and acts like many geeks I know. Intelligence is sexy to me, and not only is David smart, he's also very sweet and gentle. He takes the time to look beneath the surface with Mallory and break down the walls that hide her vulnerable heart, while behaving like a true gentleman. David was my favorite character in the book, and the only thing about him that I even found questionable was his choice of friends. It took me a while to warm up to Mallory, because she treats David rather rudely in the beginning. With every thoughtful little thing David did for her, I could see the wheels turning in her head, but even after she agrees to model for him, she could still be rather icy and condescending toward him. It isn't until David comes to her rescue that she really starts to see him for what he truly is inside rather than just his nerdy exterior. At least, I can say that Mallory changed throughout the story, but she was the only character who really did, in my opinion. Her romance with David was a sweet, tender one, and although a few days isn't very long to fall in love, I came away feeling like they had as much or better chance of still being together down the road as the "main" couple did.
The suspense portion of the plot involving Tom's sighting of a presumed dead terrorist and his struggle to get anyone in authority to believe him was scattered throughout the book and led to a literally explosive finale. Once again, it wasn't the focus of the story, but it did bring into play a few of Tom's fellow officers, some of whom get their own books later in the series, mainly Sam Starrett and Alyssa Locke (Gone too Far) and Ken "WildCard" Karmody (Out of Control). John Nilsson (The Defiant Hero) and Mark Jenkins (Into the Storm) were briefly introduced in the prologue as part of Tom's SEAL team but didn't have anything to do with the terrorist plot. The one team member who did have a decent supporting role but doesn't appear to have a book of his own yet though, is Casper "Jazz" Jacquette which is a little disappointing, because I thought he was a rather interesting character.
Overall, The Unsung Hero was a decent and worthwhile read. Each plotline had it's own intriguing points, but I felt like they were spread too thin with too little of each one, especially Tom and Kelly's story, to be truly satisfying. It was also difficult to connect on an emotional level with many of the characters because of their intensely guarded feelings. The love scenes weren't as steamy as I was expecting either, although the lack of "hot sex" wouldn't have been a detractor for me if the emotional connection had been stronger. The love scenes also got a little too chatty for my taste which I thought interrupted the flow of sexual tension. Some of the dialog in general, could get a little long-winded too and occasionally repetitive, which made things drag a bit, and the author used some military abbreviations and lingo with which I was not familiar, making me think that perhaps a glossary might have been helpful. I guess the bottom line for me was that sometimes I enjoyed what I was reading and wanted to know what would happen next, while other times, I couldn't muster much enthusiasm for it. The Unsung Hero is the first book in the Troubleshooters series and my first read by Ms. Brockmann. I've heard from other readers though that it isn't necessarily the best, so with this in mind, I do intend to continue with the series and hope that it only gets better from here on out. There are currently fifteen books in the Troubleshooters series, with at least one more in the works. Readers can find a complete list of the titles and their recommended reading order on Suzanne Brockmann's website.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook