Thursday, September 18, 2008

Smoke Screen by Sandra Brown

Title: Smoke Screen
Author: Sandra Brown

Type: Suspense
Published: 2008

Blurb: When newswoman Britt Shelley wakes up in bed with the handsome and hard-partying Jay Burgess, a rising star detective in the Charleston PD, she remembers nothing of how she got there...or of how Jay wound up dead.

Five years earlier, Jay was a hero of a disastrous fire at Charleston's police headquarters, which would have been even deadlier if not for the bravery of Jay and three other city officials who led others to safety. Firefighter Raley Gannon, Jay's lifelong friend, had been assigned to investigate the fire, but the investigation ended in a scandal that shattered Raley's world, and forced him to surrender the woman he loved and the work to which he'd dedicated his life. For five years his resentment has festered, but he was helpless to set things right. That changes when he learns of Jay's shocking death.

As suspicion against Britt Shelley mounts, Raley realizes that the newswoman might be his only chance to get personal vindication -- and justice for the seven victims of the police station fire. But there are powerful men who don't want to address unanswered questions about the fire, and will go to any lengths to protect their reputations. As Raley and Britt discover more about what happened that fateful day, they realize that they're not only chasing after the truth but running for their lives. Smoke Screen is Sandra Brown's most intense novel yet.

Why: Sandra Brown is an auto-read for me. My first Brown title, Slow Heat In Heaven, remains one of only a handful of books on my keeper shelf. I can still remember its characters and many of the pivotal scenes.

Thoughts: Far from the heat of that first title, Brown’s last two releases have been more cold-thriller than hot romance. It is the whodunit and ever-present threat to the lives of its protagonists that propel Smoke Screen. That they turn to each other sexually, and later, emotionally, is secondary.

I’m not sure if this worked for me. Nor can I say whether Brown achieved her desired effect. Reading it, my mood was subdued, my spirits definitely dampened. In turn, that seemed to slow the pace, make the book seem endless. Now, was that because Brown deftly pulled me into the same hopeless circumstances as her characters? I can’t really say. Given the relatively short sections and numerous, numerous pivotal moments, this book should have read faster. It should have felt more edge-of-your-seat. But it didn’t. Instead, reader and character alike make it to the end through pure, and very grim, determination. When you consider that the hero isolated himself for five years before seeking justice and the heroine faces a real possibility of life in prison—where life just stops, that dragging pace may be calculated; that may be what Brown intends. I don’t know.

Brown’s characters lead the action. Teamed up to solve multiple murders and expose a cover-up, they trip and trigger events in quick succession. But because each lead ends at the proverbial brick wall, they and the story feel…stuck. It all seems hopeless and circular. Discouraged and not unaware of the danger they face, Britt and Raley find release in some hard and fast sex. It is not a simple, attraction-based itch they scratch however. He in fact loathes her, or wants to, because she played a significant part in ruining his life five years ago. At the same time, her life has become surreal and despite being in a terribly vulnerable position, she doesn’t spend too much time regretting her role in his public downfall. She’s too busy fighting for her life and her own reputation. That, and she seems the type of person to acknowledge a mistake, apologize, and move on. So these two are not a natural fit from the start. Brown does however, bring them together emotionally in a believable, moving way. It just doesn’t sink in until the end. Throughout the book, there is no romance the reader can ride.

So, there is page-turning action—even though you turn each page dreading another dead-end. And there is strong characterization and relationship building—despite animosity and stress. Looking back, it all worked to create a tightly woven, realistic suspense novel. As for the barely-there romance, I have to say Brown was clever—expert even—in portraying a man and woman drawn to one another. It was a bit gritty, but interesting and ultimately moving. Reminded me of her rank or status among my ‘known’ authors—no way would Brown resort to formulaic tumbles between a hero and heroine on the run from danger. JUST to add romance to her suspense.

Hmmm, maybe one of those reads that feels better days after you finish.


  1. I feel much the same as you on Brown's latest releases- she once was autobuy for me, but no more.

    (Btw, Slow Heat in Heaven is one of all time fav's by her too! Def. a classic keeper!!)

    Sadly many of my old autobuy's are going much the same route with me ...

  2. Zeek, I agree. I'm having trouble with a lot of my auto-buys as well.

    I stopped auto-buying SB when she moved from romance into suspense. At first her suspenses were more romance-oriented, but now they just don't do much for me, even in the suspense arena. Which is strange, because I'm an RS junkie.

    Go figure.

  3. I've read one SB book and I wasn't too impressed with it so I never tried her again. Should I?

  4. Slow Heat In Heaven...awesome. :-) But aside from that one, none stand out that I can recommend to you Rowena. Dunno. This is an old auto-buy author for me that just isn't the same. Lost the Wow factor. And I'm like Lori, I love RS. It's just that Brown doesn't do much of the 'R' in 'RS' anymore.


Have you read it? What do you think?

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