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Defensive Tactics
by Steve Westover
Reviewed by Jeff Needle
9/7/2010 9:35:35 AM
Meet Paul Stephens, agent for the FBI and loyal Latter-day Saint. Emily Mathews is likewise an agent for the FBI and a loyal Latter-day Saint. The attraction is immediate, but they're careful to maintain their standards. Jimmy Younger is a childhood friend of Paul's. He's fallen on hard times, losing one job after another, his life aimless and purposeless. Coincidentally, he also knows Emily from his earlier life. Hmmmm, I smell a problem here.

When Jimmy shows up at Paul's workplace, looking for a place to stay for just a few days, Paul is unsure how to approach Paul's problem. He finally decides to let Paul stay in his apartment with him, but just long enough for him to find a job and a place of his own. When Emily visits, she recognizes Paul, and tension begins to build between Paul and Jimmy as they compete for Emily's affections.

When Emily is assigned a dangerous undercover job, she finds herself captive of a dangerous and elusive industrialist who has connections to a corrupt politician and his corrupt brother, a prominent law enforcement official. She is also finding herself harassed and tested by Agent Stark, a stereotypically awful male superior who has little use for women in the FBI and even less for Emily herself.

The rather pedestrian way in which I describe this book reflects one level of my judgment of the book. Westover is a pretty good writer, and he knows how to keep things going. And he's really good at drawing characters out, giving us a pretty complete picture of each of the main players. But it seems to me that this storyline has been done before. Yes, there's a creative twist here and there, but the story is substantially the same as so many other books I've read.

I'm guessing that it's hard to come up with something completely original. The founding premise of the book -- two LDS FBI agents fall in love, a third man enters in and is known to both of these agents -- well, the word “contrived” comes to mind. And I suppose that, when you're writing for the LDS market, you can't help but build a premise that is, on its face, out of the orbit of believability. And this transcending of the real world continues throughout the book. You never really feel that any of this could happen in real life.

Westover does a few innovative things with his work, including an ending that just screams that a follow-up is on the way. You're left with an unresolved situation that, in fact, constitutes the most believable of the plot elements. The plot moves along at a frantic pace, leaving the reader wanting to catch his breath and let the characters catch up with themselves. As the book steamrolls to its (admittedly predictable) conclusion, we find ourselves cheering for the good guys and hoping the bad guys finally get what's coming to them.

It will surprise no one when I complain about typos in a book. “Cubical” should be “cubicle,” of course. And you don't step on someone's “heal.” Gosh, is it that tough to proofread a book and get this stuff right? I guess it is -- it happens so often. I wish editors and publishers would understand how adversely all these typos affect a reader's opinion of a book.

“Defensive Tactics” is one of those books you read when you want to suspend your rational facilities and get lost in one heck of a good story. Yes, I actually enjoyed the book, despite my misgivings about predictable plotlines and contrived coincidences. Just remember to turn off your rational processes. It is, after all, fiction. Its intention is to distract and entertain, and this book does both.