Title: Her Last Mission (A Better Late Romance)
Author: Michelle Knowlden
Genre: Romance, Mystery/ Thriller
Sandra Baak (Sandy) has spent her life periodically impersonating her twin brother Sanford (Ford) in order to make sure he got ahead. When she was seventeen, Sandy spent a year playing Ford while attending a prestigious private school, where she met Mark Orlando. Sandy fell for Mark early on but never had the courage to tell him her true identity.
In the intervening years, Sandra has led a full life as a single woman. In addition to her work as an engineer, she uses her skills in technology to conduct counter-espionage missions--again, in the guise of Ford. When her handler suspects that Mark Orlando, the CEO of Orlando Tech, is involved in peddling government secrets, Sandy finds herself once again in the presence of her old flame. Can she continue to keep her identity under wraps while she conducts her last mission? Or is it time to let her disguise go and tell Mark how she feels?
I know Michelle Knowlden, and I like her stories, the Abishag Mysteries being my favorite. Her latest book came out early this July, for only 99 cents. I was excited, since this is the first full novel of hers I’ve read in a long time. Being a friend may create a bias; however, I will try to be as honest in my review as I can.
Her Last Mission is a light and wholesome riff on Twelfth Night with an industrial espionage mystery thrown in. It has its romantic moments, but I would not exactly call it a romance. The love story comes across less like a journey or an experience, and more like a problem that needs to be solved. Between romance, family drama, and mystery, there were a lot of plot threads flying around. The set-up slowed down the first half of the story, but it picked up in the second half.
What grounded the story and tied the plot threads together was the character of Sandy, a single older woman who has spent her life fulfilling family and career obligations and now finds herself considering a very different future. She tries to reconcile these different aspects of her life and understand what brought her to this point. I found Sandy’s journey very relatable. For me, it made the book a worthwhile read.
Her Last Mission begins with Sandy looking through her brother’s apartment and wrestling with her feelings for Mark. Her longing is apparent. But as we learn about Sandy, it's clear that she is an accomplished woman and has had a fulfilling life, even without being married or involved in a major relationship. As someone who is single and older-ish (I’m 35), I was able to connect to Sandy from the start. I liked Mark, too, and I was intrigued to see how the dynamic between them played out. There were some nice moments of awkwardness, yearning, jealousy, and old feelings re-awakening.
However, I started to feel that every time the romance was hitting its rhythm, Sandy got pulled away from Mark and was forced to deal with her family’s crazy drama. Ford, her brother, has gone missing. At the same time, his ex-wife Catherine grieves a double tragedy. Ford’s semi-estranged daughter Linda, a single mother who won’t reveal the father of her child, thinks there may be shady dealings connected to Catherine. This forces Sandy to impersonate her brother in front of his ex-wife. It definitely feels very Twelfth Night, but the complicated web of relationships was a lot to keep track of and it distracted from the main story line, of Sandy and Mark.
At least, I think Sandy and Mark were the main storyline. And here is my main critique of the book. Her Last Mission was meant to be a romance, and it tried, but I don’t think it got there, because I never really got to see the main couple falling in love. On Sandy’s part, she fell in love in the past, and we get glimpses of it. There is a lot of longing in the first half, but longing can only take one so far. In the middle, a twist is revealed, and the relationship progresses quickly… almost too quickly. To me, this abrupt shift made the like romance feel like a problem that needed to be solved, and once solved, everyone could get on with their lives. It works well for a romantic subplot, but not for a romance novel, which is what the book is billed as.
Whereas family drama distracts in the first half of the book, solving the mystery of corporate espionage takes up the bulk of the second half. It was a fine little mystery, and it concluded in a way I found satisfying. Between solving the mystery and resolving the family drama, Sandy and Mark do have some romantic moments and we get to see them working as a pair, which is nice. I found the second half more exciting and read through it without stopping.
With so much plot going on, it’s hard to know what the actual story, but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that Her Last Mission is about Sandy transitioning to a new era of her life. This causes her to reflect on the past and think what about her life choices and why she made them. Sandy’s past, present, and future, as well as her work, family, and love all collide on one another and get worked out. I was happy to see Sandy grow and realize that she could look forward to a future without regret. This was what I ultimately connected to and enjoyed the most.
So, would I recommend buying and reading it? Her Last Mission is only 99 cents, so it’s not a huge commitment of funds. If it sounds interesting to you, it’s worth checking out.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.