Despite having issues with men and guns on the covers of my romance novels, this spy/intrigue romantic suspense with an enemies to lovers/forced proximity element and a cover model with an undercut prompted me to give it a try. However, I would liken my reading experience to watching a pulpy action movie. Sure, it’s fun, but one look at the details and it all falls apart.
If you’re a reader who prefers their romantic suspense on the lighter side, this book will not be for you. It is graphic in its descriptions of violence, and there is a body count that includes more than just the bad guys.
London Calling opens with Liam Macknight and his two MI6 partners, Owen and Lucy gearing up for a mission that goes horribly wrong. They’re meeting operative Edward Ross, who is supposed to put them in contact with a potential spy. Liam’s best friend and close partner, Lucy, ends up assassinated when a bomb goes off at the meeting place. Ross has disappeared and Macknight isn’t sure if Ross has double crossed them or if he’s been captured.
Emma Ross (Edward’s daughter) is a small town cop in New Hampshire. When British authorities contact her about her father’s disappearance, she flies across the pond to figure out what’s going on. But MI6 doesn’t want her help. Instead, they want to use her to figure out where her father potentially could have gone. She’s kidnapped by MI6 and sent to a safehouse to keep her away from any potential dangers, while Liam susses out how much she knows.
Emma knows nothing. Seriously. She thought her father worked for BP, but it was just a cover for what he was doing for MI6. He’d travel under the guise of “oil business,” but he was really networking to find spies for MI6, with an emphasis on finding people willing to give up Russian government secrets.
Liam automatically dislikes Emma because she’s related to the man he thinks murdered his partner. Throughout the book, several of Liam’s colleagues speculated that he loved Lucy, but never acted on his feelings, and I definitely had that impression too. Sure, Lucy and Liam had been working together for years and a high stress job can breed close relationships. But the severity in which he mourned Lucy throughout the book seemed more than platonic and was, for me, an insurmountable obstacle for a romance fresh after Lucy’s murder.
At times, Liam daydreams about Lucy and the memories they shared, which I think is perfectly normal when it comes to grief. Owen is the one who makes me question the romantic versus platonic relationship of Lucy and Liam. Owen was injured in the blast that killed Lucy. The three of them worked closely together for years. But we don’t get to see Owen’s processing and grief because he isn’t the hero. And when I compare what I know of Owen/Liam’s relationship to Lucy/Liam and Owen/Lucy, there was a lot more detail I needed to know before buying the “we were just friends” explanation from Liam. I felt this, even more so, when Lucy becomes the standard to which Liam compares Emma.
When it comes to the details of the plot and ensuing action scenes, a lot of important things are just accepted as fact. Emma doesn’t question who the hell the people who called her to England are. She just walks in, wanting to know what’s going on with her dad. There’s no “wait a second” moment, after traveling to another country to meet three strangers who her father has literally never mentioned.
There are explosions and car chases and gun fights. All of which seem to happen in a bubble. It reminds me a lot of superhero movies, where a city is destroyed by the hero’s fight against a big bad. It’s all very exciting, but there’s this small part of me wondering, who is going to pay to fix all this damage. Surely the media would be curious about gun fight and car chase happening on a busy motorway. Right? RIGHT?!
As I mentioned in one of our recent discussions, one of my favorite tropes is “enemies to lovers.” I love the snarling antagonism that gives way to angry pants feelings. There was none of that here. It was more of a fizzle to lovers, if that makes any sense. Less than twenty-four hours after being kidnapped to a safehouse, Liam and Emma are trying not to ogle one another in darkened hallways. It almost becomes slapstick-ish in a way, with Emma frequently slipping or tripping on something and Liam reaching out at the perfect second to pull her into his arms.
The repetition of scenes like that was at “oh boy” levels, and it wasn’t good repetition.
When it comes to a book with a lot of characters or moving parts, I’d be okay with reiterating the tangled web of MI6 relationships, of who reports to whom, their roles, and the like. Instead, there are consecutive mentions of superfluous details (emphasis mine):
“I [Emma] was born in Greenwich. We moved to the United States right after my mother died,” she said, her answer whispered and her gaze off somewhere, lost in memories.
“You sound American.”
“Kids are mean. I was bullied and mocked so much, I adapted. Better to blend than be beaten down.” Her focus drifted back to the contest of the bowl on the counter.
He nodded, trying to seem sympathetic. “How did your mother die?”
“A car accident. We moved after she died.” Her thumb played with the gold ring on her finger.
The death of a parent is a huge event in someone’s life and can often be a defining moment for a character, but it’s not something a reader is likely to forget. Especially after learning it a few sentences prior.
Though there was nothing egregious about either main character, both were so steadfast in their convictions. Their constant butting heads, usually about one singular issue, became tedious. Emma insists her father would never lie to her or hurt anyone, despite evidence that he was a secret British agent. Meanwhile, Liam is certain Emma’s father is responsible for his partner’s horrific death, making Emma an enemy by association.
Do I have any good things to say about this book? I know I’ve done a lot of complaining, but I don’t really know if I have a definitive answer because overall the book was just kind of…fine. Those are always the toughest to talk about. There were secondary characters that I truly enjoyed, like Grace, an older woman who runs the safehouse. I would read an anthology told from Grace’s point of view about all the people who have come and gone under her care.
If I could have turned my brain away from nitpicking, this would have been a better reading experience. But since my anxiety is rather high at the moment, all I could see were the missed opportunities and half-baked scenarios. I thought way too hard about all the little things. By the time the story reached peak romantic suspense climax, I didn’t have enough interest to care.