Series: Web of Lies by Kathleen Brooks
Age/Genre: Romance/Political Thriller
Preferred Reading Environment: Your favorite noisy bar!
Reading Accoutrements: Rum with fresh pineapple…or bourbon on the rocks if that’s more your speed.
Content Notes: Lots of loss of loved ones in this series.
You guys, there is an author I have been dying to talk to you about since this blog started. Her name is Kathleen Brooks and she writes a series of my favorite kinds of romance novels – a small town hero plus their love interest take down major crime syndicates in the middle of nowhere. I’ve read all of the books in her series about an improbable small town in Kentucky where an unlikely number of former spies, special operations soldiers, and federal agents settled in among frying-pan wielding grandmas and gun-toting PTA presidents, then proceeded to fall in love while thwarting major terrorist organizations or crime syndicates and their plots.
I read Whispered Lies, the first book in the Web of Lies series, because I discovered it was written by the author of one of my favorite guilty-pleasures series. These books take place in and around Washington, D.C. and pretty much all of the characters are government employees. Web of Lies is a little different and a lot darker than the Kentucky series; it falls into the genre of political conspiracy thriller and romance. I thought it was an appropriate genre to review, seeing as how we just had elections a couple of weeks ago.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the plots of each book:
Former FBI agent Elizabeth James has been recruited by the President of the United States to stop the sale of government secrets. The catch? The entire operation must be kept off-the-books and nothing can point back to the president until the enemy’s network is dismantled. Together with her team of clandestine misfits, Elizabeth will have to untangle a complicated web of lies while protecting those she loves.
Tate Carlisle and her team are slowly unmasking the terrorist organization that has been manipulating governments and economies from the shadows for their own personal gain. Tate, in her new job as White House press secretary, is deeply embedded in a secret world of payoffs, affairs, and a battle for the soul of the United States. And she’s falling for her boss…
Fired from the DEA as part of a cover-up when she discovered illegal activity within her own organization, Valeria McGregor is now part of a team fighting a terrorist organization that uses their power and influence to control governments from the shadows. She secretly left her team to go undercover and find the source of the organization’s funds. Now she is alone and on the run from very dangerous people, and she’ll have to trust her team to help her fight for her life.
This series will take you all over the country – and the world – on high-stakes adventures. And the characters you’ll meet will keep you on your toes. Joined by a deep-seated distrust of a system that has betrayed them – and little else – the team struggles to trust each other enough to work together. Each of the characters is so independent in nature that it can be quite grating. Their independent streaks have helped them stay alive in the past, but can lead to their collective downfall this time around. This can, occasionally, make the drama seem a bit forced. I mean, these characters have supposedly been trained to communicate and act as a team, yet they all seem to ignore their training and drama ensues.
There are a few other things about these books that had me squinting my eyes in irritation. The first is that deaths of anonymous civilians are addressed a lot like they are in action movies: they aren’t. While the team is actively trying to stop the deaths of a lot of innocent civilians, any civilians who die in the course of the plot are brushed over or barely acknowledged. Peripheral characters who die are handled slightly better, although – and this is really something that bothers me about the character of Elizabeth James – the main character is not the one who acknowledges the consequences (emotional and otherwise) of someone else’s death. Brooks makes a big deal about Elizabeth compartmentalizing her emotions in order to get the job done (and, I think, write off the fact that Elizabeth doesn’t really feel anything unless she – or someone she loves – is about to die). Yet the male lead, Dalton, acknowledges the emotional trauma of losing so many people and still gets the job done.
Along those same lines, there are some problems with the way the characters all ignore the fact that the President of the United States is doing something against the law. You guys, the President can’t just create a secret spy agency and give them carte blanche to go against dozens of international laws – on American soil, no less – and everyone just accepts that “it’s what had to be done.” Ummm…no. Elizabeth James tortures people because it’s an expedient way to extract information…and because these people hurt her personally…and the remaining cast of characters don’t try to stop her. It’s something that action movies and books today do a little too cavalierly, in my opinion. Maybe the good guys in popular culture should follow the rules every once in a while!
Oops. Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now, y’all…
While Web of Lies clearly has some flaws, I will say that this series does address the institutional treatment of emotional issues in an interesting way. Elizabeth James is kicked out of the FBI because she was considered “overly emotional” about the death of her boyfriend. Okay, the FBI is a unique situation and I do not believe that someone who just lost a loved one in a terrorist attack should be trusted to investigate terrorists. However, there are a lot of organizations that do not have options in place for those who have lost loved ones. Taking time off of work to grieve can be financially difficult, and some workplaces don’t offer enough time or support for those going through the grieving process. For example, instead of firing her, the FBI could have offered her counselling until a mental health professional cleared her for duty. Brooks even makes it clear that Elizabeth went to counselling herself.
Web of Lies has some dark moments, loss, betrayal, and heartbreak. It will have you seriously considering our systems of government and economics and how they work. That said, some of the quirky supporting characters and improbably scenarios had me giggling when I least expected it. It’s a roller coaster ride, for sure, and it’s one that I’d ride again. So check out the first book, Whispered Lies, and let us know what you think in the comments!