I’ve spent some time listening to Linda Howard’s Burn on audiobook. I generally like her books, and this is no exception. The characters are believable and most are likeable. The premise is plausible enough. I’d give it a 7 of 10. I enjoyed the story, but probably won’t reread it. It had several good story lines, any of which could have made an excellent novel in themselves. They were dealt with in enough detail to cause the story to drag in places, and were left behind a bit as the main plot line developed.
The story revolves around Jenner (yes, Jenner), a working class stiff who hit a huge lottery jackpot, and Cael, a US government agent (sort of) who needs the use of Jenner’s stateroom on a charity cruise to spy on the bad guy. The use of the stateroom is assured by kidnapping her and her friend Syd and insisting that Jenner play the part of Cael’s lover. The urgency underlying the spying on the bad guy, Mr. Larkin, has to do with the possible sale of cutting edge arms technology to the North Koreans. However, has the tale unfolds, Cael and Jenner become aware that Larkin’s evil plots run not only to treason, but to mass murder as well. He plans to destroy and sink the luxury cruise ship with all passengers and crew aboard. The good news is that he plans to die in the destruction as well.
As the story progresses, Jenner and Cael fall in lust followed quickly by love, Cael and his group foil the treasonous arms sale and discover the plot to sink the ship in the nick of time to save most of the crew and passengers from death. Not bad for a couple week’s work.
The beginning of the story tells the tale of Jenner’s rise to wealth, and the fear and frustration of having a winning lottery ticket, but being required to wait weeks for the payout. Linda Howard describes in vivid detail the joy, frustration, fear and devastation of going from a hand to mouth existence (Jenner doesn’t even have a bank account) to becoming one of the world’s ultra-rich. The heartache of losing everything familiar from her dead-end job to her best friend as a result of the acquisition of money is rendered beautifully. The first several chapters are devoted to this transition and are wonderful to read.
Then things shift to Jenner’s new life, her one true friend Syd and their time spent on the charity circuit. Ms. Howard works hard to make Jenner’s life among the idle rich seem less idle and more rich. The next section of the story is spent describing how Jenner and Syd met and became friends which leads to their plans to travel on the maiden voyage of the luxury liner on which most of the story takes place.
The next portion of the story deals with Cael and his group planning the necessary surveillance on the cruise ship and the kidnapping of Jenner and Syd required to affect the task.
Next, the story deals with the details of the surveillance of Larkin, and Jenner’s growing understanding of Cael and his group. She begins to comprehend that while they’ve done some despicable things, they are the good guys. A lot of time is spent on the details of watching Larkin and trailing him to the treasonous data transfer. And during this surveillance, Cael begins to believe there is more afoot than weapons sales.
Finally, at the eleventh hour, Cael’s group discovers Larkin’s plan to blow up the ship. They have less than an hour to avert complete disaster, and there is simply not enough time. While most of the passengers and crew are driven to the life boats and escape, too many are killed in the first round of explosions. On the upside, Larkin’s plans for instant, painless suicide fall apart when the bomb he perches upon fails to go off and he is burned alive in the flames from other bombs that explode as planned.
It seems to me that this story is either longer than it needs to be, or not nearly long enough. The transitions in the story line seem a bit rough. The abrupt and devastating changes to Jenner’s life upon winning the lottery are described in heartrending detail, and then she is suddenly in Florida seven years later. And that’s okay with me. You can get away with one big jump in a story line – two if you use the prologue/epilogue device, but several chapters are too long for a prologue. The treasonous weapons sale is dealt with in great detail and then disappears until the epilogue. Even then it is not brought to a real conclusion – although it is safe to assume the good guys triumph in the end.
Jenner’s tight friendship with Syd is not dealt with in a way that pleases me. Syd keeps popping up in the story for brief moments. There is enough detail to leave me wanting to know her better; there is too much detail for her to be a bit character in the tale. I am left feeling unsatisfied.
And, the thing that keeps Linda Howard off my list of favorite authors is my inability to truly despise her bad guys. Larkin, a mean-spirited, rude, treasonous mass-murderer has a brain tumor. It leaves him in constant pain and warps his thinking. I have to feel a tiny bit sorry for him – and I don’t want to. I can’t help but think that maybe he is not in complete control of his actions. I want to hate his guts, but can’t quite get there. That annoys me.
All in all I liked it. I probably would have preferred it had I read it instead of listening to it. Reading aloud takes much longer than reading the written word. Perhaps my feeling that the story dragged in spots was exacerbated by the time it took to listen to it. I’ll get a hard copy of her next book or at least a Kindle copy and probably enjoy it just a bit more.