The Thing About Love by Julie James
Published by Penguin, Berkley
Publication Date: April 18th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Romance
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Two undercover FBI agents can hide who they are from everyone but each other in the latest novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Suddenly One Summer.
FBI agents Jessica Harlow and John Shepherd have a past. The former lawyer and cocky Army ranger clashed during their training at Quantico, gladly going their separate ways after graduating from the Academy. Six years later, the last thing either of them expects is to run into each other again–assigned to work as partners in a high-profile undercover sting.
For both of them, being paired with a former rival couldn’t come at a worse time.
Recently divorced from a Hollywood producer and looking for a fresh start, Jessica is eager to prove herself at her new field office. And John is just one case away from his dream assignment to the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team.
In order to nail a corrupt Florida politician, they’ll have to find a way to work as a team–a task that becomes even trickier when they’re forced to hole up at a romantic, beachfront resort as part of the investigation. Suddenly, the heat behind their nonstop sparring threatens to make the job a whole lot more complicated. . .
It’s actually been a loooong while since I’d read a Julie James book, but something about this one sparked my interest, so I picked it up. Good choice, Past Jen!
Jessica Harlow (which, incidentally, is a super cool name for a heroine, no?) recently transferred to the Chicago FBI office. Her first case is to go undercover posing as an investor to catch a corrupt politician. The problem is, she’s paired with John Shepherd, her arch rival from the FBI Academy. John has been groomed to join the ultra-elite Hostage Rescue Team since he was first recruited to the FBI, but he’s been dragging his feet on applying. When his current relationship blows up at the start of the book, he decides it’s time to finally to do what he was groomed for and sign up for HRT. Jessica wants her first case in the new office to be a success to impress her new colleagues, and John wants to go out with a win. The problem is, neither one can stand the other. They have to figure out how to put aside their differences, and a pesky case of attraction, to get the job done.
I really loved the “he said, she said” premise of the conflict in this book. While Jessica and John share a history, they definitely did NOT experience that history in the same way! Hearing them each tell their own version of their time at the Academy was funny and very illuminating. Jessica obviously had a bit of a chip on her shoulder, but it felt very justified because she was a woman in a world dominated by hot shot men. She had to be tough, and it’s easy to see how that would make her seem standoffish and unapproachable. John has a very different take on the situation, and to him he was just trying to be friendly while she was the one being condescending. For example, both Jessica and John recall an incident from their very first meeting, where John makes a jokey comment and winks at Jessica. He meant it as a friendly, welcoming introduction, with no other agenda. She interpreted it as flirting and patronizing her. Yes, Jessica seems harsh in that scene, but to me it was such a clear example of how a man might not even consider that a gesture like a wink could seem off putting to a woman used to dealing with misogyny and harassment. For his part, John tries to be open and friendly with Jessica, until she starts obviously competing with him, which triggers his own insecurities about being all brawn and no brain. Both of them had perfectly understandable interpretations of the past, and both of them were very wrong about the other.
As usual, James does a wonderful job making the investigation details seem realistic. Jessica and John are both scarily good at their jobs, and both act like actual investigators would act (or at least how I imagine they would act!). While there’s a little bit of light action at the end, for the most part this book is all about the well-planned white collar investigation, not shoot-em-up high stakes battles. What James does so well, though, is blend the competent job performance and the intriguing personal relationship into an engaging story you want to keep reading.
There were a few missteps, though. First, I felt like the conflict with John’s friends and the kerfuffle over his girlfriend never really went anywhere. There was never any real resolution there, so I didn’t quite understand the point. Also, John leaving to do HRT seemed a little forced. I mean, that was sort of the point because he clearly was clearly conflicted, but I felt like his conflict went on a little too long. I also wanted Jessica to be more honest with John. Some of the end drama would have been resolved by both John and Jessica just having a solid conversation earlier, instead of dragging out the angst.
Still, this story had a unique perspective and characters I liked getting to know.
Grade: 4 out of 5
*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.