Niema Burdock, electronics expert, was married and widowed within 6 months. CIA Agent John Medina was there when a job went awry and her husband gave up his life to complete the mission. Five years has passed and even though Niema never blamed John, she hasn't forgotten him or the part he played in her husband's death. John hasn't forgot Niema either - but for different reasons. When an opportunity to work with her again on another operation arises, he doesn't hesitate to use all his skills in gaining Niema's cooperation.
Niema has spent the last five years in a predictable, sedate Intelligence position working with electronics. It's a far cry from her days of adventure and thrill seeking but she paid the ultimate price for her love of that life and has vowed not to be pulled into that world ever again. When John shows up in her life again asking for her help in stopping the manufacturing of a deadly explosive, she finds herself drawn by the lure of the excitement and danger. She easily justifies her decision to help by reasoning that if she doesn't, innocent people could die.
The assignment takes Niema and John, undercover as a couple, to France where a billionaire arms dealer is believed to be the supplier of the explosive. John is so convincing that Niema has a hard time distinguishing how much of John's act is make-believe and how much is real. She doesn't want to become involved with someone who might not even be alive the next day and is a part of the life she left far behind after her husband is killed; but the allure of him is even stronger than the enticement of danger.
The action was nonstop and there wasn't a moment of rest in All The Queen's Men. The down side to all that adventure is that because there was so much going on, Ms. Howard didn't have much of a chance to really delve into the characters' personalities and feelings. For instance, we never learn why John chose a profession where he could never have any close friends or a real home. Also, I would have liked to know more about the difficulties of having an emotional relationship with someone as elusive and private as John and what attracted Niema to him besides his similarities to her first husband.
The "villain" in All The Queen's Men was the most interesting, complex character of them all. He isn't your typical "bad guy" that does things just because he is evil, but actually has a legitimate and convincing reason for his actions. Despite being the one that Niema and John were after, you couldn't help but feel sympathetic towards Ronsard and hope he would come out OK in the end. Ronsard's character is definitely worthy of his own story and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Ms. Howard has one is in the works.
Although there was an undercurrent of sexual tension throughout the book, there wasn't a lot of sex. But what little there was in the story was very hot and intense and made up for any lack. The romance aspect of All The Queen's Men wasn't focused on, as much as the suspense side of the story which seems to be a continuing, but rather disappointing, theme in most of today's "romantic suspense" novels.
Some might find the ending to be a bit rushed and although it would have been nice to see how Niema and John resolved some of their issues, I found the conclusion to be a nice change from the usual "sitting in the back yard with the 2 kids" epilogue that usually ties things up. Ms. Howard lets the reader decide for herself how things turned out instead of having to be told.
All in all, I found All The Queen's Men to be a very entertaining, worthwhile read but unfortunately not up to Linda Howard's usual exceptional standards.