Karen Robards and I broke up recently, but when I realized Hush was not part of her Dr. Charlotte Stone series I was eager to read it. Declaring an author’s latest work a return to form is a cliched reviewer trick that praises and condemns equally. Hush is a total return to form for Karen Robards. I loved it even as I was bored silly. Hush is the best book Robard has written in years but it’s one with few surprises in store. This is classic romantic suspense as the Agent Ready To Come In From The Cold meets the Girl Caught In Something Bigger Than Herself and discovers that to keep her alive he will betray anyone, Even His Own Country. What sets Hush apart is Robards’ considerable talent. Riley is not a pawn. Unlike your standard romantic suspense heroine Riley is five steps ahead of the rest of the board. Sure, a late in the game wrong move trips her up, but until that point it’s Riley’s game and the spooks of the world are caught playing it.
As the formerly poor former wife of a thinly veiled take on a Madoff son, Riley is working two jobs to keep her destitute in-laws fed and several angles to keep them alive. The jobs are a welcome touch of realism, even as they fall seamlessly away when the plot demands. (Riley doesn’t quit, she just never goes back.) Finn is the government agent assigned to watch her in the hopes that she can lead him to the lost billions. Finn is pretty interchangeable. He’d rather be home on his ranch but he’s been called out for One Last Job. His backstory is mom and apple pie, complete with picket fences and in-the-dark siblings. His partner and he double cross each other without much concern. Everyone is on a need to know basis and Finn figures the only person who truly needs to know things is Finn.
Robards resists the impulse to make this a terrorism tale. While terrorists (of multiple countries) are alluded to the bulk of the drama takes place between conflicting loyalties and good old fashioned corruption in financial circles. Keeping Hush from a higher score was the predictable nature of the Big Bad and some technological failures that could have been avoided by googling the phrases “What does an iPhone sim chip hold” and “How do I remove an iPhone battery.” Our heroine takes the battery out of iPhones without special tools, advance planning, or personal experience. She can also pop them back in faster than you can say Android User. Major plot moments hinge on an iPhone sim card containing photos, emails and other items not found on iPhone sim cards. Characters repeatedly assert that sim cards are the brains of a phone. (Well, I suppose for cellular access, but not really much else.) It’s made clear these are iPhones by the repeated use of iCloud as their storage mechanism. Could the character holding the sim card gain access to the information in the cloud simply by putting the sim in their phone? Nope. Could the phone be rendered useless and the cloud information on it irretrievable by removal of the sim card? Nope. Could all the plot holes be explained away with a fifty step flow chart and the desire to Make It All Okay? Yes, probably. Why bother? If the character knew how to do that, they didn’t need the phone or the sim card to access the iCloud account. (I’ll leave the rest of the tech stuff alone, one rant per book.)
Like Riley, Hush is better than it had to be and ultimately done in by it’s lack of foresight. I’m beyond elated to see Karen Robards move beyond serial killer heroes and Will E. Coyote level of stamina heroines. I far prefer a spy vs spy tale to a woman killing stalker as the set up for romantic suspense. Hush was a pleasant diversion and I hope Robards hangs out in this end of the genre for a long time to come.
*This post originally appeared at Love In The Margins.