Captive (Eve Duncan)
“Action is the attraction, with dollops of sex and romance.”
Jane MacGuire (Eve Duncan’s adopted daughter) is in a primary relationship with an MI6 agent, Seth Caleb, who specializes in hunting and terminating international criminals. After Caleb kills the villainous General Rozkov in the Congo, the general’s sadistic second-in-command, Hugh Bohdan, seeks revenge on Caleb, as Caleb seeks to find and murder Bohdan. Because Caleb believes Jane might be a target, he sequesters her in a castle at MacDuff’s Run in Scotland, which is protected by its laird, John MacDuff, and his small army.
As in most thrillers, the protagonists roam the globe and have bottomless resources to draw upon: expendable soldiers, unlimited cash, and supernatural intelligence about their adversaries’ whereabouts. No one ever has to recharge a cell phone even in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands, and everyone is adept with firearms and traveling from place to place via planes, helicopters, yachts, horses, trains, and other modes of transportation—all of which are at the immediate disposal of the two antagonists, as well as others in their employ or connected to them, such as Jane or Caleb’s ally, Sean Rodland, who is assigned to protect her. The impediments most would encounter do not slow characters in thrillers. Action is the attraction, with dollops of sex and romance.
While ensconced in MacDuff’s castle, Jane itches to be with her lover and to be involved in the fight against Bohdan (her parents trained Fiona in weaponry). But when MacDuff shows her a painting of his ancestor, Fiona, who bears an eerie resemblance to Jane, Jane rebuts his belief that she is her kin, although she knows nothing of her roots. However, after she studies the portrait and reads Fiona’s journals, Jane becomes intrigued by the possible connection and by Fiona’s mysterious disappearance in the later 1800s. Did she abscond with her lover, Farrell MacClaren, who painted the portrait? And what about the myth of missing treasure? This secondary plot entwines with the ongoing confrontation between Bohdan and Caleb when their fight is transported to Scotland.
The novel incorporates two predictable tropes: the damsel-in-distress situation, i.e., Jane is semi-captive in a besieged castle, and the more modern plot of the invincible hero teamed with the plucky heroine, one wishing to protect the other against an evil villain. Stylistically, the dialogue is replete with jaunty attitudes and banter that fall flat, and the text is stuffed with shopworn phrases and an epidemic of adverbs. Those attached to dialogue tags are particularly egregious: “he added roughly/curtly/ruefully [a favorite word]/ironically” appear within a little over a half page. This tic tells us about tone rather than demonstrating it through behavior.
Some plot errors also pepper the story. While in the Highlands countryside, Jane’s horse suddenly is no longer present and then reappears on-scene a day later. At one point, she inexplicably knows Caleb is forty minutes behind her, though he isn’t in sight. And weapons are always available regardless of circumstances. The genre allows for some of these leaps of logic, but the reader may wonder if the author truly forgot about the horse.
Captive is fast-paced, packed with location changes, battles, a cast of fearless characters, and a sprinkling of steamy interludes between Seth Caleb and Jane MacGuire, though sometimes these scenes feel plugged in. Committed fans of Johansen’s work will enjoy this 29th novel in the series, but readers dipping in for the first time may wish to start with the first title, The Face of Deception, or research other thriller/suspense authors who may offer a more rewarding experience.
A note of explanation about the subtitle, “An Eve Duncan Novel.” In this book, Eve is absent except for a brief appearance in the epilogue and on a few pages. In addition to Eve, the series structure allows for three other rotating primary protagonists, including Jane MacGuire, who is featured in eight previous titles.