In many ways, Patricia Potter’s second contemporary novel, Broken Honor, is a major improvement over her first, The Perfect Family, especially in the area of character development. However, a thin suspense plot weakens the story, bringing it back down to the “acceptable” rather than “recommended” level.
On the surface, Lieutenant Colonel Lucien “Irish” Flaherty and history professor Amy Mallory have nothing in common. Irish is a career Army officer with an exemplary record. Amy’s flower-child mother nurtured a distrust in her daughter for the military, and Amy is happy with her stable, safe life in Memphis. But both Irish and Amy share a link to a 50-year old mystery that now threatens to become a dangerous scandal.
In 1945, Irish and Amy’s grandfathers were part of an Army regiment that captured a Nazi train full of riches stolen from Holocaust victims. Now, a Presidential commission is investigating charges that Generals Flaherty and Mallory, along with chief of staff Colonel Eachan, stole some of the loot for their own personal profit. Amy is shocked and saddened at the thought that these allegations might ruin the reputation of her late grandfather, with whom Amy had a sometimes tense but ultimately respectful relationship.
Before she can explore further, her house burns down and she is assaulted by an unknown assailant. When Irish appears on the scene, her initial reaction is mistrust, but that turns to gratitude when he saves her life. The two take off on a road trip to keep Amy safe and to find answers to numerous questions. Are the attacks on Amy’s life related to the accusations about her grandfather’s involvement in the Nazi train scandal? If so, why hasn’t Irish, whose grandfather was also named in the report, been targeted? Why should this story suddenly surface after more than 50 years, and who stands to lose if the facts come out? What about Dustin Eachan, the grandson of the Colonel involved in the train’s capture - is he in danger too? Or is he protecting his diplomatic career by trying to squelch the truth at any cost?
The constant danger eventually causes Amy and Irish to find solace in each other’s arms, but their relationship is likely to be short-lived. Amy can’t overcome her lifelong distaste for the military, and her job keeps her in Memphis, where she is close to achieving tenure. Irish can’t forsake the only career he’s ever known and can’t imagine Amy being happy as an itinerant Army wife.
In my review of The Perfect Family, I noted some major concerns with the hero’s clichéd behavior. Broken Honor’s Irish Flaherty is a fairly standard alpha hero, but he’s much more appealing. He’s a loner but not a bitter one. He is initially driven to protect Amy because of his innate sense of honor, but comes to admire her and feel a unique connection with her. For her part, Amy is intelligent and plucky, but she resists the temptation to display ditzy heroine behavior and doesn’t put herself in any more danger than necessary. Her loyalty to her woebegone dog, Bojangles, is both touching and humorous. Best of all, once the danger is over, Irish and Amy waste very little time bemoaning their differences. In a very touching and romantic scene, all is quickly settled.
The problem with Broken Honor is the long-winded but aimless suspense plot. Amy and Irish flee Memphis, the bad guys find them and try to hurt them, then they flee again. Repeat as necessary for 400 pages. Very little progress is made towards the mystery of the Nazi train until the very end, and much is revealed through an exasperating deus ex machina twist. Also, I wanted more reminders of the victims whose possessions were looted by the Nazis. The true tragedy was the horror of the Holocaust, not the potential slander of three military officers’ careers.
Dustin Eachan and the first cousin he pines for in secret are intriguing, well-developed secondary characters. The quick scene shifting between the four main protagonists propels the book along quickly, but hinders emotional involvement with any one individual.
Broken Honor will appeal to fans of Suzanne Brockmann, Lindsey McKenna or Rachel Lee. As for me, I’m willing to try one more contemporary romance novel by Patricia Potter, but I just might have to admit that she’s not my cup of tea.