October 2012, Inspirational Romance
Bethany House, $15.99, 473 pages, Amazon ASIN 0764210890
Once upon a time Dee Henderson was the "it" girl of Inspirational romance. Her books were terrific suspense novels that offered an outstanding look at modern day courtship. I have multiple copies of them on my DIK shelf. Then she changed publishers, went through several bad novels and took some time off. This come back novel has been hotly anticipated by many, but we all know what they say about being careful what you wish for.
FBI agent Paul Falcon has been working the case of the lady assassin for many years when he finally catches a break. A lovely woman walks through his door and spins him a tale about a car wreck and a series of coded journals that have dates which coincide with murders attributed to his Lady Shooter. Paul is beyond excited. A meticulous, professional killer is almost impossible to catch unless something falls in your lap and it looks like the break he needed just fell in his. The messenger who brought it looks like a gift from above too.
Ann Silver is more than happy to hand the case of the mysterious car wreck off to the FBI. As the Midwest Homicide Investigator she solves murders local departments can't crack. She has more than enough on her desk to be going on with and doesn't need to be looking for a hired gun. She is happy too, to be in Chicago, meeting up with old friends and getting some down time to attend a ballgame and relax. All too soon she is back in the air and heading to another scene. This time, though, she finds her thoughts filled with the handsome agent on whom she dropped the case.
Paul finds himself thinking of Ann often too. He doesn't have much time to pursue the relationship while his case is hot but he does do the occasional Skype call, followed with flowers and a quick weekend visit. He is anxious to move their relationship forward, knowing a good thing when he sees it. Ann is not anywhere near as ready and is not sure she ever will be. She carries some dark, dark secrets. Secrets that aren't hers alone. And these secrets could destroy everything she and Paul might ever have.
There are good things in this novel, and I want to start off by talking about them. The author is an experienced writer. While she can often be verbose and go off on weird tangents, the skill still shines through. Added to her smooth style is the fact that she writes mysteries that hold your interest. Even as I grew frustrated with the players and the game, I was intrigued. I kept wondering what was happening, what layer I was missing, what I wasn't seeing. That's important. Interesting and intriguing are what make a mystery and keep you reading.
Another plus is that the author does a good job of creating characters. In this one, Paul and Black are the two who receive the author's full character building treatment. We meet a man who is close to his family, close to God, and focused on his job. It was entertaining to read about the difference between being an investigator and being a boss. Paul spends a lot of time giving orders, worrying about budgets, and pulling things together. His job isn't just about the chase. That worked here because we needed someone at a very high level to resolve the main mystery. This wasn't just a case of bag 'em and tag 'em, but required a great deal of finessing; that meant we needed to work with authority and we have it in Paul. I also appreciated the author's little touches about him - he's a root beer loving, ice cream eating, popcorn making man with speed dial set for take out. Paul had a nice sense of calm that went with his authority.
Dogs require a special touch not to come across as fake, and Ms. Henderson has that touch. Black comes out as very real and very fun. I wish we had spent more time with him.
I also loved the opening mystery of the novel. I hear all the time that police work can often depend on catching a break - just one thing that went wrong at the crime or one thing that happened after which blows the whole thing open. I really loved that a mundane thing like a car accident blew open such a large case.
The book had plenty of flaws to go with the pluses, though. The first and foremost of these is Ann. Ann is a wunderkind character who flies planes, solves tough crimes, and writes best selling novels. It seemed like every time I turned a page she was doing some new amazing thing or meeting with some extremely high-powered friend. To add some confusion to the mix, the best selling novels Ann writes are Ms. Henderson's own books. I've read books before where the main character is a writer who wrote books (or columns) about other characters in the novel. But I hadn't read one where the author attributed her real world backlist to a fictional character within a novel. Every darn time I saw the real world title of a book Ann wrote (which Dee actually wrote), I would be yanked back to my own experience of reading the book. This was very disconcerting. It also begged the question if this was some sort of wink to let me know that Ann is actually based on the real life author, if this is meant to be fictionalized auto-biography like the Laura Ingalls' books. All that thinking of things that had nothing to do with the plot distracted me from the story.
It wasn't just the distraction that kept me from liking her, though, it was the personality of Ann herself that did that. She came across as very selfish and controlling. Almost everything had to be done on her terms. This went well with her big secret because she had the personality that said, "I know best," and that made her come across as an unrepentant liar. I felt more than a touch uncomfortable with that, given that the religious level of this novel was high. God is discussed often in context with their lives, and yet she felt very comfortable being part of a large, illegal cover up. The idea that it was protecting someone doesn't change what it was. Nor did I feel the protection was exactly called for - it was the protection of an adult in terms of privacy and a job, not a life.
It's difficult to recommend a book where I so clearly disliked one of the leads. In the end I will say that Ms. Henderson's former works will remain firmly on my DIK shelf. I will keep trying the newer works for several more books and hope that she pulls out of whatever slump she is in.
-- Maggie Boyd
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