I got Dee Henderson's latest in the mail (thanks to Bethany House for providing the ARC) and thanks to some sleeplessness due to allergies, devoured it within 24 hours. I came away enjoying Dee's writing, as usual (I do own all of her books), but I was somewhat dissatisfied with the actual story.
The phrase that echoed in my mind while reading the book was: self-indulgent. I'll explain more about that in a bit. Also, this is based on an advance, uncorrected copy - I don't know what changes were made in the final published version.
This is Dee's first book in 5 years, due to neck trauma. (Side note: why didn't she tell her readers that was why she wasn't writing? Yes, perhaps she wanted some measure of privacy, but when people buy hundreds of thousands of your books, you should at least give them the courtesy of a brief explanation as to why you suddenly disappear in the middle of two series of novels.) After that long of an absence, I suppose it's natural to prefer to just write what you want to. But Dee crafted something that seems equal parts intrigue, memoir, want ad, and fantasy.
The intrigue was classic Dee. Murders, puzzle pieces, law enforcement procedure - most of her books have this. The suspense element that usually appears was missing. Neither of her two main characters were in harm's way during the current events of the story; both were far enough into their careers that they mostly called shots and figured out thorny problems.
I read an interview that mentioned that Dee had a lot in common with Ann, the heroine of Full Disclosure. And the more of the book I read, the more I realized that Ann IS Dee - fictionalized, of course, with an added career as a cop and some past trauma to serve the storyline. And that's where the self-indulgent part comes in.
The O'Malleys appear in this book, only they're not the O'Malleys. They're Ann's friends who asked her to write their stories, so she changed their last names and some details, and published The O'Malley series. "Ann" also wrote other books, including one focusing on Paul's (the hero of Full Disclosure) brother and his wife (that would be True Honor) and Paul's cousin, Luke Falcon (True Courage, later published as Kidnapped). And yes, they use the real titles of the novels. Ann also shares a bunch of other details with Dee - engineering background, age, love of big dogs, etc.
This fiction-within-fiction lends a sort of Inception quality to Dee's work as a whole, but also kind of destroys the fictive dream within the O'Malley series. The best stories feel real as you're reading them. For one book to claim the others really didn't happen as they were written forces you to choose one world as false. And Full Disclosure isn't a good enough story for me to prefer to live in that world rather than the world of the O'Malleys.
Paul Falcon seems a little too perfect - great job, well-off, awesome family, and a willingness to bend over backward just to get Ann to let him into her life. She tells him she can't handle being a mother, so if he wants kids, he should find someone else. Once they start talking about marriage, she tells him that for this to work, he needs to give her 4 hours of alone time every day, and a week when she can disappear every month, just so she can function as an extreme introvert. Knowing that Dee Henderson is single, the way Paul is written almost seems like she's saying, here's what it will take to win my heart. Be this guy.
As a single, introverted writer myself, I have wondered if I would have trouble adjusting to married life. But throwing down a gauntlet like that makes Ann seem out of touch and selfish. Especially since Paul doesn't get the option to put any of his own requirements on the table. Yes, Ann does quit her job as the MHI to get married, but it's her own choice because she doesn't think she can add marriage to her life without taking something out.
In some ways, Ann is similar to Sara from Danger in the Shadows - writer, nightmares from past trauma, wary of letting a guy into her life, and not wanting to have kids. But in Sara's case, the last two items tie in strongly with her past and a very real threat. Adam's high-profile life could lead a dangerous man right to her, and her childhood kidnapping makes her afraid to have children she could one day lose in the same way. Ann, on the other hand, is extremely private and just doesn't want kids.
But Paul slowly breaks down her barriers and caters to her whims, and she reluctantly lets him in. There's not really much emotion to their love story - it's full of fascination and respect, building trust and working together. They get married several months before the story ends, so it's atypical in that respect as well.