January 2013, Romantic Suspense
Carina Press, $5.99, 390 pages
As a romantic suspense debut, Wrongfully Accused comes on strong. Set in Washington DC, the plot involves a convoluted string of events involving everything from political maneuvering to adultery to terrorism. A likable heroine and intricate plotting carry the book and even if the events described sometimes seem rather fantastic, the author lays out her story in a way that kept me flying right through it. When I finished, I realized that I really wanted to see where this author will go next. The romance has its weak points, but the plot action keeps the pages turning.
Poor Kate Franklin has not had an easy time of things. Her first husband died tragically when she was only in her early twenties. Though he left her in a comfortable financial position, Kate longed to live again. This led her to marry Congressman Drew Franklin. As the book opens, we learn that a private plane carrying Drew Franklin and several other members of Congress has exploded. The tragedy occurred on the eve of a vote that could have possibly led to passage of law giving the government vast, sweeping powers to monitor its citizens for purposes of security, so authorities wonder if the act could have been that of terrorists. However, some also wonder if the wealthy and twice-widowed Kate could have had something to do with this turn of events.
While the FBI is involved as well, the lead detective from the DC police force is Gabe Hugo. Gabe and Kate have quite a past. While they enjoyed a night of passion some eight years ago, Kate went on into her first marriage - to Gabe's brother. Following that man's death, Gabe blamed Kate and led his family to treat her as an outcast as well. However, Kate's position as godmother to Gabe's son complicates things. Gabe may resent Kate, but his son loves her more than almost anyone in his world, so Gabe ends up having to spend plenty of unwanted time around her. Adding the investigation of the plane crash and the parties' unresolved feelings from their night together into this dynamic creates all kinds of believable tension.
The action doesn't slow down on the suspense front either. While the death of Kate's husband Drew dominates, there are other strange doings afoot as well and it's not always obvious whether every bad act is being committed by the same villain. In fact, one of the great things about this book is that there is no eeeeevil mastermind. Instead we get to see shades of gray and varying degrees of culpability. Even the most evil of the players here has a soft spot of sorts. While it may be easier and perhaps even more comfortable to separate characters into categories of good and evil, Barrons' approach tells a richer story.
Some aspects of the suspense plot felt a bit off and pulled me right out of the book, though. For instance, the author paints a picture of conservative lawmakers working furiously to pass a bill that would give the government added security powers. I can see some lawmakers going for such a bill, but many on the far right currently in the United States already come out against the security precautions (TSA, Patriot Act powers, etc...) already in place. I just don't see the "Don't tread on me" crowd going for the law that so many of the bad guys in this book seemed to favor. Even so, these were fairly minor irritations and I kept flying right on through the book, looking forward to the moment when the various evil plots would all unravel.
And the romance? Well, the chemistry between Kate and Gabe definitely feels real. However, Gabe doesn't always think with the head that is on his shoulders and this leads him to behave like a major jerk through the early chapters of the book. Not only does he jump to conclusions about Kate and hold a grudge for far too long, but his repressed attraction to Kate also has a tendency to come out in pretty creepy ways. There's a cycle of, "You're a terrible person. But I want to grope you and all but have sex with you because you're just so hot. But I still don't trust you." Having lost two husbands over eight years, Kate's in a pretty vulnerable state emotionally, but I still thought she let Gabe get away with way too much horrible behavior. He does come to his senses, regret his awfulness and do a bit of grovelling later on in the book, but not quite enough to make up for some of those uncomfortable early scenes.
Even with my frustration at Gabe, I still enjoyed this book quite a bit. The mystery at the heart of the book held my interest and I also rather liked Kate, so even though the romance had some weak points, I just didn't want to put this book down. If you like political thrillers, I would definitely give Wrongfully Accused a try.