As long-time romance fans know well, Sandra Brown began her writing career as the author of category romances nearly twenty years ago. (Her first book, Love’s Encore, a Dell Candlelight Ecstasy, was originally published in 1981 under the pseudonym Rachel Ryan.) Although her career has branched out to include longer romances and mainstream fiction, apparently she hasn’t lost the knack of writing the sort of story that would ordinarily be published in the shorter category format. What distinguishes Standoff from the dozens of categories she wrote in the 80's is the hardcover format and the serious price tag.
Standoff is the type of story that you would expect a writer of Ms. Brown’s experience and caliber could write in her sleep -- and possibly did. It’s an easy read with an adequate plot, but it’s not likely to make many keeper shelves, even among her hard-core fans. Call it Sandra Brown Lite.
Tiel McCoy is a stock Sandra Brown character. A hard-driven, dedicated television news reporter in Texas, she has allowed her profession to consume practically her entire life. She is now in her car on her way to a long-overdue short vacation. She is contacted via cell phone by the crusty station assignment editor Gully (another stock Sandra Brown character). Gully informs Tiel that Sabra Dendy, the teenaged daughter of a prominent Dallas millionaire, has reportedly been kidnapped but a high school friend has confided that the girl is actually pregnant and has run away with her boyfriend, Ronnie Davison. Gully directs her to a small town in southwestern Texas where the two teens may be headed.
Tiel becomes lost and stops at a convenience store to ask directions. Other customers in the store are an elderly couple, two Mexican men, a solitary cowboy, and the middle-aged woman minding the counter. A young couple enters the store announcing it’s a hold-up. Tiel recognizes the two as Sabra and Ronnie -- her story has come to her. The intended robbery, however, collapses when Sabra is revealed to be in labor. Ronnie and Sabra are terrified lest her father catch up with them, but Sabra’s condition prevents them from fleeing.
The would-be armed robbery has become a hostage situation.
This synopsis only covers the compact set-up; comparatively few pages are devoted to this section where the major characters and the conflicts are introduced. The major part of the book concerns the action as the hostage ordeal continues and events unfold.
The most successful aspect of Standoff is the sense of tension created as the situation develops. While much of the story is seen through the eyes of Tiel, there are other dramas being played out among the various characters congregating outside the store. Character development, which has been a strength in some of Ms. Brown’s more recent books such as The Alibi and Unspeakable, receives little attention.
Those readers who enjoy an intensely romantic book may be disappointed by Standoff. “Doc” -- the character who most likely deserves the designation “hero”-- is not well developed. There’s little -- if any -- sexual tension between him and Tiel for most of the book. There’s more depth of emotion demonstrated between the immature lovers, Sabra and Ronnie. Nevertheless, few authors write “pillow talk” dialogue as skillfully as Sandra Brown, and there’s one scene that will satisfy many readers.
If you’re the type of book purchaser who doesn’t mind plunking down nearly twenty bucks for a slim book with large type (and there must be a lot because Standoff is on the New York Times best-seller list), then you may not care that this book doesn’t compare favorably to the author’s mainstream novels. For the rest of us, however, I recommend borrowing it from the public library or waiting till it comes out in paperback and saving our money for Ms. Brown’s next full-length novel scheduled to be released in late summer.