The best thing I can say about The Untamed Hunter is that it wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it was going to be. It’s a reunion story, and I’m not a big fan of those because it usually seems like the couple in question had a pretty stupid reason for breaking up in the first place. I’m really not a fan of reunion stories where the couple’s old relationship is described as “wildly passionate.” That usually means the two are going to spend most of their new relationship sniping and hurling accusations at each other.
That’s what I expected from Dr. Maggie Harper and Shep Hunter. They met and began their wildly passionate affair in college, and they did, indeed, fight “like cats and dogs.” Their main problem was that bullheaded, arrogant Shep wanted to control feisty, independent Maggie -- he never listened to her and always thought his way was best. I could well believe this was infuriating, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Maggie often threw large objects at his head.
I was, however, surprised to learn that their relationship lasted Maggie’s entire freshman year. What could she possibly have seen in him? To answer that question, I’ll give you Maggie’s own unsettling words: “He was everything I’d ever dreamed of in a man, but he treated me like an idiot with no brains.” Hmm… yes, I can see how he would be irresistible.
Anyway, they’re being thrown together again almost twenty years later. Maggie is a world-class virologist working for the Office of Infectious Diseases. She’s a daredevil, an expert marksman, and a real adventurer, often going out on dangerous field missions to help stop deadly outbreaks. Shep, an ex-Air Force man, is now a mercenary working for an ultra-secret government entity called Perseus. The two will be teamed to stop a terrorist group, Black Dawn, from getting its hands on a genetically altered strain of anthrax that could devastate the world’s population.
Shep is looking forward to seeing Maggie again -- in fact, he only accepted the mission because he knew she would be his partner. Normally, he insists on working alone (a haunting incident with an old partner lies in his past, naturally). But Maggie isn’t so thrilled -- she only accepted the mission because she knew she was the best for the job, and she had no say in the choice of her partner.
From their first meeting, Maggie predictably turns flustered and weak in the knees, while Shep swaggers around trying to stir up fond memories of their past while thinking things like “Maggie was going to have to bend to his way of doing things.” I was ready to find this guy and throw a large object at his head, myself, and I began to despise Maggie for “aching to be with that man once again.”
Luckily, things improve. As it turns out, the two have actually managed to mature a bit in twenty years, and their interactions are mostly civil, with only some light teasing and bickering thrown in for good measure. Fairly early on, the heart-to-heart talks start, and Shep begins to mellow a little, and I began to hope that maybe he wasn’t a completely hopeless, lunkheaded jerk.. But while they’re remembering all the good things about their old relationship, the same old problems are cropping up. It’s not exactly inspired conflict, but it’ll do.
Meanwhile, don’t forget that these two are on a dangerous mission -- although they certainly seem to forget it whenever they get the urge to have a serious relationship discussion or make out in a parking lot. They also find time to soak in a little local scenery in the cities they visit, which the author describes as though quoting from a travelogue. (“Along the freeway… grew kudzu, a weed from Japan that had been brought to the States as an ornamental bush and, due to the humid conditions in the South, had spread like the plague.”)
The book picks up when the mission gets serious. Action scenes abound, and the author does a fairly good job of making them visceral and attention-grabbing. I was really more interested in finding out how Maggie and Shep would worm their way out of each new calamity than I was in whether they’d find true love, but there’s something to be said for a good action story, even when it’s supposed to be primarily a romance.
All in all, the book floats by with an “acceptable” rating. There’s nothing particularly original or dazzling about it, and the writing seems awfully dashed-off and unpolished. But it’s not outstandingly bad, and heck, it could have been a lot worse.
-- Ellen Hestand