Ties That Bind

Natalie R. Collins
August 2012, Romantic Suspense (Utah)
St. Martin's, $7.99, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312941994

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Subtle

If our heroine had a life quote it would be the following: “You can bind my body, tie my hands, govern my actions - you are the strongest and society adds to your power; but with my will sir, you can do nothing." George Sands originally said this, but Samantha Montgomery lived it.

Three suicides in three months. The teens of Kanesville, Utah seem to be lining up to off themselves. Is it a suicide pact? Or something more sinister? Detective Samantha Montgomery thinks it is something more. The execution of each death is flawless. There is no hesitancy - and no sign that any sort of mental anguish led to the decision. The children who've died are cheerleaders and a star quarterback. They are popular, solid students, each of them seeming to have a bright future. So why are they all lying dead?

To Sam, the obvious culprit is the Mormon church. Much of life in Utah centers around the wards and temples and she is certain that the answer lies hidden within the patriarchy of the Priesthood. She knows that the bishops and presidents governing Kanesville are hiding secrets. For her it is confirmed when key evidence is found at a religious teaching facility. But what does it mean? And who or what is the "vengeance" referred to in the slides showcasing the murders?

Let me just start by saying why I didn't mention hero Gage Flint in my little description of the book - it's because he is not an important part of the story. Honestly, I don't even know why he is thrown in there except to show us that our gal has a past and that past includes someone who really cares about her. Why? Don't know. We never really see them create a relationship. We are told that Gage is attracted to her and that Sam is furious with him because she is certain he sabotaged her undercover work in Salt Lake City, forcing her to take a job in the sleepy bedroom community of Kanesville. We watch them spar and give in to physical attraction, but we don't see dates. We don't see much tenderness. We see declarations of interest from him, and from her, bitterness over her inability to really connect with a man.

This is just one of the many things Sam is bitter about. She is bitter because one of her siblings died and her mother cracked under the pressure, never really speaking or functioning again. She is bitter because the Mormon church is male oriented and she has to deal with that all day, every day on the job. She is bitter because she can't leave Utah because she wants to be there for her failing parents. She is bitter because her eldest sister Susannah had the nerve to want her own life and left young Sam to be cared for by her father. Honestly, not one part of Sam's life isn't tinged with bitterness and that includes food since she has an eating disorder. The woman is a raw, aching wound and we have to spend all our time with her.

While I am on the subject of bitterness I must warn you that this book seemed to me to be one big pamphlet about the horrors of the Mormon church. Not one positive, happy Mormon is presented in the whole thing. Not being Mormon myself nor knowing any Mormons, I can't speak to the accuracy of the rants against the faith. I can say that is what this is - a rant. We are told, ad nauseum, that women are a repressed community within the church. They are not allowed to dream and achieve. One wife speaks of the severe depression that kept her from caring for her child as being the result of just that fact - not being allowed to achieve. The priesthood that the male members hold seems to be a source of anguish for our heroine - it speaks directly to the oppressive, patriarchal nature of the society. Had this been a consistent thread throughout the book it would have troubled me. However, it is far more than just a thread - it comes close to being the whole darn piece of cloth. Much more page time is given to the evils of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints than is given to the romance between Gage and Samantha. I grew increasingly uncomfortable with Sam's hatred for her former religion. By the time the book ended, that horrified and worried me more than the murder of several teens.

Speaking of the murdered teens: The mystery itself was confusing. The killer spoke of vengeance, but what really drove the murders was retribution. To me, the terminology was confusing and had me looking for clues that didn't exist.

What I did find positive was the character of Sam's mother. We knew something was there and finding out what it was might not have been fully satisfying, but it was intriguing. Watching Sam slowly recapture her own memories of her childhood, things she had kept buried deep within her psyche was good too. When Ms. Collins lets go of her vitriol long enough to write her mystery, she does a great job with it. Her writing style is good and she manages to create several memorable characters. There is a poignancy to the tale that gives it some real emotion. The problem is, she rarely manages to let go of her virulence.

I am not sure what happened here, but in the end this story was a caustic mess. An acidic look at a people that our lead character obviously hated. In spite of some positive factors I just can't recommend it on any level.

-- Maggie Boyd

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