Review: Off the Leash by M.L. Buchman

Review: Off the Leash by M.L. BuchmanOff the Leash (White House Protection Force #1) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: White House Protection Force #1
Pages: 210
Published by Buchman Bookworks on January 26th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

-White House Protection Force Romance #1-

The White House Protection Force Saves the Day! Come meet the behind-the-scenes specialists who keep our White House safe—even while they lose their hearts.

White House Chocolatier Clive Andrews takes pride in the subliminal messages hidden in his State Dinner showstoppers. But there’s more than sensual sweets at risk when his heart begins to melt.

Sergeant Linda Hamlin left the Army after a decade of service. As the newest member of the U.S. Secret Service K-9 Team she expected flak. She didn’t expect to be paired with a misfit mutt named Thor. Together they face down bombers, master spies, and a teenage genius.

All of which might be manageable, if not for the handsome chocolatier who teaches her that a little indulgence can be a very good thing.

My Review:

This was so much fun!

I don’t know what I was expecting when I opened this book, but whatever it was, I was absolutely charmed by the book itself. The opening scenes sucked me right in, where Sergeant Linda Hamlin meets her new dog, Thor, as part of her final exam for the Secret Service K-9 corps.

Linda was just honorably discharged from the Army Rangers K-9 unit after over a decade of very meritorious service. Now she’s a bit burned out and totally at loose ends.

Thor is not what she thought she needed, and neither is White House chocolate chef Clive Andrews.

First there’s poor little Thor. I know it’s difficult to attach the name “Thor” to something little, but this mutt seems to have gotten the name as a very bad joke. He’s a mish-mash of small terrier breeds, and not exactly the prettiest mix of them either. He looks like a purse dog, and he’s not much bigger – maybe 30 pounds. That’s not just small for a police dog, it’s downright tiny.

But he comes with one hell of a training pedigree, if not much of an actual one. Thor and Linda bond instantly, and pass the final exam course with flying colors – much to the chagrin of the exam proctor.

There’s nothing about Clive’s job as a White House chef that should have him watching Linda’s final exam. But when the mysterious Miss Watson, who occupies a hidden office in the White House sub-basement and seems to be on no known org chart whatsoever, says go here and do thus-and-such, people go there and do whatever she said. She “asked” Clive to watch Linda’s final test, so he does.

And he’s instantly captivated.

As Linda gets settled into her new duties as part of the White House Secret Service, she and Thor find themselves in the middle of a case that begins with diplomatic repercussions, but just gets weirder and weirder as it goes along.

It’s possible that two career Japanese diplomats are attempting to smuggle explosives into or near the White House – but that makes no sense whatsoever. And the more that Linda looks into the things that don’t fit about that puzzle, the stranger things seem.

When the likeliest, but oddest, conclusion is that someone is planning to disrupt a state dinner that brings Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian and Philippine diplomats to the table to discuss the real-life situation in the South China Sea, there’s still no clue as to why, who, or what the purpose of the disruption is.

It’s only when Linda, with a bit of help from Thor (and Clive) figures out the who that the why and the what become clear. And in the process, Linda, who has never really felt she belonged anywhere or with anyone, finally realizes that she’s come home.

Escape Rating A-: This was fun. In fact, it was way more fun that I was expecting, and I was certainly expecting good things. This is the second book I’ve received as a member of the M.L. Buchman Special Mission Review Team, and based on the two examples (the other was Big Sky, Loyal Heart) I’m really, really glad I’m in it.

(I received this book in exchange for an honest review. And honestly, I loved it!)

Big Sky, Loyal Heart turns out to be the precursor for Off the Leash and the entire White House Protection Force series, of which this is the first book. But many of Buchman’s series are loosely interconnected, from his first series, Night Stalkers, through Firehawks, Delta Force and Henderson’s Ranch, among others. You don’t have to read them all to enjoy any one of them, but they are all terrific.

There are two plot threads going on in Off the Leash. One is the case that Linda finds herself in the middle of, and the other is her unexpected romance with Clive. Well, it’s certainly unexpected to her, if not to the reader after their first meeting.

While I want to say the romance is a bit of “opposites attract” the more I think about it, the less that feels right. Their careers are certainly nothing alike. Linda has gone from the military to the Secret Service, so effectively into yet another protective role that involves a lot of potential danger. Clive’s career is a totally peacetime operation – he’s a chef! But both of them are driven to be the best at what they do, and both of their jobs, in very different ways, are high pressure, high stress and frequently all consuming. They have similar perspectives on their work, even if the work is very different.

They also have entirely different feelings about love and family and well, feelings. While Clive has not exactly been looking for Ms. Right when he meets Linda, he is very aware that love exists and that families are built upon that foundation. Linda, on the other hand, was a poor little rich girl with a nightmare of a family, and is certain that love is merely a hormonal imbalance that will right itself with time. Their differing beliefs on love and even its existence become the shoals on which their relationship nearly crashes and burns.

The case feels just a bit made-for-television. It was a lot of fun to watch Linda figure it all out, but the resolution was just a bit over the top. We don’t really see enough of the villain or his motivations for the crime to make sense in context. Which didn’t make it any less interesting seeing the whole thing come together.

One final note. That secondary character, Miss Watson, absolutely fascinates me. A long time ago, when I read the author’s first book, The Night is Mine, I said then that the story reminded me of some of the best Jack/Sam fanfiction from Stargate SG-1. Miss Watson, on the other hand, reminds me very much of the inimitable character of Henrietta “Hetty” Lange, the mysterious operations manager in NCIS: Los Angeles. Making the character of Miss Watson tall with her hair in a bun feels like the cosmetic equivalent of filing off the serial number. This is a character I am really looking forward to seeing a whole lot more of. She’ll never be the focus of one of the romances, except possibly in flashback, but she certainly is the proverbial mystery wrapped in an enigma, and I’d love to know more.

I’m also definitely looking forward to seeing more of this series. Off the Leash was both a heartfelt romance and a page-turning bit of romantic suspense. And Thor is a scene-stealer at every turn. I can’t wait for more!

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