Flawless by Jana Richards

Flawless

France, 1942. The world is at war. The Nazis have stolen the infamous blue diamond, Le Coeur Bleu, intending to barter it for weapons that will destroy the Allies. Jewel thief Hunter Smith is given a choice: help the French Resistance steal back the diamond and avenge the death of his best friend, or stay locked up in an English prison. He chooses revenge.

Resistance fighter Madeleine Bertrand’s husband died when he was betrayed by Hunter Smith. How can she now pretend to be married to the arrogant American? How can she betray Jean Philippe’s memory by her passionate response to Hunter’s kisses?

Neither is prepared for the maelstrom of attraction that erupts between them. To survive they must uncover the mysteries of the past and conquer the dangers of the present. But first Madeleine must decide whether her loyalties lie with her dead husband and the Resistance or with the greatest love of her life.

Rating: B

Flawless is an engaging little novella set in Occupied France in 1942.

American diamond-trader Hunter Smith has been imprisoned in London’s Pentonville Prison after being found guilty of jewel theft. When he is approached by the head of the SOE (the Special Operations Executive – the precursor of MI6) to steal a valuable diamond out from under the noses of the Nazis, he is dismissive – but when offered his freedom in exchange for his participation, it’s too good a deal to resist.

Following a few weeks of intensive training and briefing, Hunter is dropped into Northern France where he meets with his contacts from the French Resistance. Among them is Madeleine, who he is surprised to discover was married to his best friend, Jean Philippe Bertrand (whom Hunter refers to as JP). He and JP practically grew up together in France; Hunter is the son of a former American ambassador to the country, but his parents were too busy with their own lives to be bothered bringing up their son. So Hunter spent most of his time with Jean Philippe, whose mother Hélène practically raised him.

Madeleine is highly suspicious of Hunter for reasons of her own, but they have to work together on this mission, which is to locate and then steal Le Coeur Bleu (the Blue Heart), a fabulous diamond of unique quality, which the Nazis are believed to have hidden away at Chateau de Maisoneuve near Lille. The Resistance has discovered that General Dietrich plans to sell the diamond to a wealthy South-African businessman who is the one man prepared to sell the German army the equipment and materials needed to build plants for the manufacture of synthetic oil. Such plants could reduce the Germans’ reliance on oil from Eastern Europe and could fuel many more aircraft, tanks and missiles – which cannot be allowed to happen.

The book is slightly longer than a standard novella, and Ms Richards packs quite a lot into her story. It’s very well-paced, with the faster moving action sequences never allowed to force out the quieter, more introspective moments. The action takes place over a matter of days, so the romance that develops between Hunter and Madeleine does happen rather quickly, but in time of war when people never knew whether they’d be alive from one day to the next, I can buy that two people could form that deep a connection in such a short space of time.

I was caught up in the story and read it in one sitting. Ms Richards’ writing conveys a sense of real threat where necessary and although she paints her characters with fairly broad strokes, they are believable in their assigned roles. I do have one criticism – it seemed that the General was one step ahead of Hunter and Madeleine almost the whole time, as each time they were trying to make a search or an escape he was there to thwart them, and towards the end of the story, I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking “Oh, not him again!”

But other than that, Flawless is a well-written romantic adventure yarn, the central characters, while not perhaps fully developed, are nonetheless engaging, and all in all, it’s a very entertaining read.

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