Originally posted on The Rainbow Reader Blog at [...]
Book: Damaged in Service
Publisher: Affinity E-Book Press
PTSD is a tawdry, insidious, undiscerning little bitch.
She doesn't care who you are or how finely tuned your sense of logic or emotional balance is. It doesn't matter to her if you've survived a war zone, walked away from a car crash, been physically or sexually assaulted, faced a devastating illness, said goodbye to a lover, friend, child, or parent, or even if you tried like Hell to keep someone else's business from going up in flames.
She's a trickster for sure. She knows how to find your secret backdoor, piggybacks her way into your internal control room, then resets all your psychological, rational, and coping dipswitches until up is down, right is wrong, and haywire is your new steady state.
You can't sleep, but you're exhausted. You're angry about things that have never bothered you before. Your heart races, your head throbs, your hands shake, and your left eye twitches wildly with any sudden noise. Parts of your body suddenly start hurting, and nothing makes it feel better. You isolate yourself from family and friends, and it takes all day to screw up the courage to dial a phone or write an email. Maybe even, you're afraid to drive over a patched pothole on your street, or you order your groceries over the Internet because the dairy section is too much commitment for any given Sunday. Some days are definitely better than others. Then again, some days are worse, much worse.
Yeah, she's a sadistic bitch - the stronger you are, the harder you fall. Just the way she likes it.
Damaged in Service by Barrett takes us on the journey of FBI Special Agent Zeke Cabot, who's recovering from both a head injury and months undercover as a homeless woman on the mean streets of Chicago. The sadistic serial killer has been caught and placed into custody, but not before he managed to brutally kill one of her closest friends. The FBI knows she faked her way through the psychological assessment, but they hope as much as Zeke does that an extended vacation will give her the time to recover physically as well as mentally. Zeke heads off to the Land of Enchantment, but first stops to visit her biracial parents in Mississippi. She's always felt some disconnect with her dad, but adores her mom. However, as much as she wants to ignore it, it appears that mom is slipping into some form of dementia or Alzheimer's, and dad is in complete and utter denial.
Almost immediately upon touching down in New Mexico, Zeke is bowled over, quite literally, by the beautiful nurse, Anne Reynolds. Anne is navigating the waters of a failed sham of a marriage, and not feeling any desire to get back into the game any time soon. The Fates conspire to bring Zeke and Anne together time and again, until Anne rescues Zeke from a hiking mishap, and takes her home like a stray puppy to make sure the lonely visitor has proper medical care. Both women sense something happening between them, but struggle mightily to brush it off, understand it, and then embrace it. However, the Fates are cruel, and the women are unexpectedly pulled back into the collateral horror of Zeke's serial murder case. Anne is good for Zeke, very good, but the damage from Zeke's PTSD runs deep and wide. Besides, Anne is still healing from her own emotional traumas, and new love is fragile and easily shattered by assumptions, miscommunications, and fear.
Initial impressions can be frightfully deceptive, yet I've always been a firm believer that the first page of any book is the strongest argument to continue reading. And, it's true, I squeed like a piglet on a red-eye gravy drip after finishing the first page of Damaged in Service. Barrett is masterful in grabbing the reader, and invoking an immediate flight or fight response through raw visuals and sentences that fly off the page at a heart-pounding pace. She hooks you, and before "the ominous scene fades to black . . ." you're invested in Zeke Cabot and more than willing to follow her anywhere she goes.
Best. First. Page. All. Year.
But, the story continues on with near perfect pacing. As readers, we're given a chance to meet Zeke and Anne, to learn their stories, and figure out the basis of their characters before the romance picks up speed and hits the highway of love. I don't mean to knock love at first sight, but Barrett's approach adds a healthy level of believability and credibility. We see both women feel the initial tug of attraction, argue with themselves over the pros and cons of the pursuit, and finally screw their courage to the sticking-place.
With all due credit to Gary Larson, as the alpha says to the wolf pack surveying a barn lot full of pigs, "I say we do it! And trichinosis be damned!"
The pacing extends beyond the simple romance into the deeper issues both women are grappling over. Anne has always been straight, but she's attracted to a woman who happens to live in Chicago, and is an FBI agent that pursues serial killers. That's not an `oh, by the way' set of problems to reconcile, and we experience her ongoing point/counterpoint. Likewise, Zeke is physically and emotionally traumatized, worn out, and coming to terms with the mortality of one of her parents. Still, we see her reach highs and lows, good days and bad days, and times when she's social as well as times when she retreats deep inside. Again, the author's patience and pacing allows the reader to develop a familiarity with the characters, which in turn leads to a richer, more sustainable relationship between the characters and the reader.
And we all wanna love the one we're with . . .
The mystery and intrigue associated with the men pursuing Zeke took a backseat to the developing romance. At first, this struck me as a bit strange. Of course, I realized at some point that Damaged in Service is the first book in an ongoing series, and the reader is teased into knowing the mystery and intrigue will evolve into something even more sinister and damaging than what we see in this first book.
If that doesn't up the ante (and pressure to deliver), nothing will.
As a reader, my complaints are few and mostly minor. However, I notice that even Zeke refers to Anne Reynolds as "Mrs. Reynolds". While it can be considered correct to refer to a divorced woman as Mrs., the reference feels a bit dated, especially given the animosity of the divorce.
Silly, I know, but it bugged me - I probably would have slugged Zeke the first time she said it.
And lastly, the ending of the book was more of a cliffhanger than a first part conclusion that sets up the second book in the series. To me, it's a bit of a tomato/tomahto argument. However, I can easily imagine any number of readers anxiously flipping the page and muttering, "Oh no you didn't just do that to me!"
Oh yes she did!
Damaged in Service is a fantastic debut for Barrett. The main characters are well conceived and written, the romance is honest and believable, the bad guys manage to shock the reader, and the scenery is as beautiful and lyrical in print as it is in real life. The pacing flies when it needs to, surges when it's called for, and soothes when the time is right.
There are so many delightful things about this book, and Barrett has my anticipation locked and loaded for the rest of the series. It's one of those books that just hit me right between the eyes, and I loved it. I'm giving this solid debut a 5.0 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.