A Whisper In The Dark
Likable characters and a fast moving story make A Whisper In the Dark an enjoyable romantic suspense novel. No, it doesn’t break any new ground, but I’ve read and enjoyed several of Linda Castillo’s prior books, and had a wonderful time with this one too.
One evening during a takedown, Officer John Merrick shot a man who turned out to be an undercover DEA agent. Although he was cleared, John couldn’t go back to work. He suffered from crippling guilt and something even worse for a police officer – hoplophobia – a fear of guns. He literally could not look at a firearm without suffering panic attacks. So John packed up and headed to his hometown, New Orleans, with no particular goal in mind.
Julia Wainwright owns an antique book store in the French Quarter. Business is good and all should be well with her, but she’s been getting threatening letters calling her a strumpet and a succubus. The threats have escalated and the last letter was hand delivered and put under the door to the store. The writer evidently knows Julia’s secret, she writes Erotica (think Black Lace type books) under a pen name. Julia is worried for her safety, but she wants to keep her authorship quiet so as not to bring scandal against her father, a minister, whom she loves and respects.
Julia’s father finds out about the threats and also learns that John Merrick is in town. He’s known John for years and asks him to guard Julia. John doesn’t think he’s going to be much help since he can’t use a firearm, but he agrees to at least check out Julia’s locks and alarms. John remembers Julia as a skinny geekish girl and is amazed at what a lovely woman she has become. He soon changes his plan to turn over guard duties to someone else, and moves into her store. The letter writer continues to harass Julia and escalates into kidnapping and killing a woman. John swears he can protect Julia, but he has more problems than just his fear of firearms. John has been drinking himself to sleep every night, and what use can a man who is sick and hungover be?
Linda Castillo has used the burnt-out cop as a hero before and she does a good job with the character. John is a mess. He drinks to the point of passing out and then wakes up and pukes in the alley. We know that John abuses himself out of guilt and shame. To John, being a cop was not a job, it was a calling. His father and brother are cops and John honored the profession. To kill a fellow cop was to him an almost unforgivable sin, and since the department would not punish him, he’s been punishing himself. When the chance comes to redeem himself by protecting Julia and catch the man threating her, it is a source of salvation for him.
Julia is not quite as vivid a character as John, but she is quite likable. She’s smart and pretty and loves her work. Her qualms about being outed as a writer of Erotica are believable. Her father is a well-known minister, and while he is no caricature of a religious nut, he is the kind of man who would be uncomfortable with the idea of his daughter writing that kind of fiction. Julia loves and admires him and doesn’t want to embarrass him. Kudoes to Linda Castillo for making Mr. Wainwright a well rounded character and not a censorous fanatic.
I had a couple of quibbles though – the climax of the book takes place in a church called Our Lady of St. Agnes, which is a silly name. (I have been thinking of offering myself as a consultant for writers who need to come up with believable names for churches). Also, there are times when I wondered if the person stalking Julia could read her mind since he seemed to know her innermost thoughts. But those were minor quibbles and I didn’t let them bother me.
The ending is realistic. Things do not automatically get all better for John, but we get the impression that he has begun to look toward rehabilitation and with the love and support of Julia, he will find his way back to the good man he is inside. Like I said, A Whisper In The Dark is no ground breaker, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable romantic suspense novel.