Or at least, a former academic. American Dr. Peter Maxwell was once happy to spend his days analyzing language, breaking words into smaller sound components, spending "entire months studying the way different people pronounced a dipthong like the ow in low, and draw all kinds of conclusions about what that meant" (20). But after his family and his fiancee are killed during an attack on a Mexican train, Peter turns his academic skills to tracking the terrorists responsible. So successful does his investigation via linguistics prove that he's recruited by a secret cabal, The Associates, a private group devoted to "keeping the balance of power intact," "keeping World War Three from happening," and "stopping the most despicable crimes" (124). After years of training, Peter Maxwell has transformed himself in Macmillan, one of the smartest, as well as the most dangerous, members of the Associates team.
|If Henry Higgins had turned to spying...|
Laney Lancaster, like Macmillan, has come to Bangkok for motives other than what appear on the surface. Having played a vital role in sending her gangster husband to jail, Laney fled the States to avoid being captured by men loyal to her ex. Hiding in plain sight in Thailand, Laney seems a damsel custom-fitted for being rescued from distress.
But Laney, like Macmillan, is far from the typical romantic suspense heroine. Though the opening scene shows her fleeing and hiding after spotting a man she believes worked for her husband, Laney is determined to protect herself, determined never to allow the abusive Rolly to harm or control her ever again. To never allow another man to tell her want she wants, to make her feel small, to turn her into a victim. Her skills with language, as well as her newfound skills with a gun, will make sure of it.
Macmillan may think he's the one in control during their seduction, but Laney's way with language proves just as disarming as his own. For Laney, poetic language is "about connecting with people, not hurting them or isolating them [as her husband uses it]. The dusty old poets Laney so loved—Keats, Byron—they helped her feel less alone, as though she was linking with another soul across time. That was poetry" (9). Macmillan uses language against others, to hide and deceive, to hunt and track, to entice and seduce. But Laney uses language to forge connection, to delve beyond the commonplaces, to flush out the truth. To pull pieces of the old Peter out of Macmillan, pieces he'd long imagined dead: "Peter hadn't lost parts of himself in the train bombing. He'd gained parts of himself. He was all of these things. Lover. Fighter. Scholar. Hunter. Killer."
Unlike in much romantic suspense, the emotional thrill of this book doesn't stem primarily from watching its heroine be placed in danger. Instead it's from the danger that both Peter and Laney face together. And from the emotional vulnerability each must risk for the other, if their mission is to succeed. For it will be their ability to work together, rather than Peter's ability to swoop in and rescue, that will bring these two "word nerds" to a fittingly happy, and feminist, ending.
Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins: Wikimedia
Word Nerd: Melville House
Off the Edge
self-published by Carolyn Crane