Reading this book so soon after reading the latest J.D. Robb was a bit of a revelation. I still stand by the B grade I gave to that one and the one I’m giving this one, but have to say that Chasing Darkness is worthy of a comparison that in some respects puts Danielle Girard ahead. Perhaps, since the Olympics are fresh in my mind, a better way to describe it is to think of Michelle Kwan vs. Irina Slutskaya. Robb, like Kwan, specializes at artistic romance supported by generally strong technique. And Gerard, like Slutskaya, offers technical excellence supported by ever improving artistry. In any given competition between the two skaters either can win. Of course this isn’t a competition, but if it were, Danielle Girard’s Chasing Darkness would be a strong competitor.
Sam Chase is a special agent with the Department of Justice in San Francisco. Eight years ago she took on the role of mother to her orphaned nephews. Because of those new responsibilities she gave up the danger and unpredictable schedule of a homicide detective for the DOJ’s safer, more stable environment. That stability and safety is threatened when her last homicide case comes back to haunt her.
When Sam gets a late night call to the scene of a murder, she’s puzzled. Since leaving the homicide division, late night calls had become a thing of the past. Knowing that the woman killed was someone she’d been investigating for child abuse makes the call a little more understandable. But Detective Nick Thomas’ reasons for calling her in are a little more complicated then that. The woman has been killed in a manner very like that of a series of murders that were part of Sam’s last investigation in homicide. And Sam was responsible for finding the killer who was tried, convicted and recently executed.
Though Sam is convinced that she found the right killer eight years ago, she can’t deny that this killing seems eerily similar. More troubling still is the connection she had to the murdered woman. When a second woman is killed, Sam is again connected and may even be implicated. Suddenly she finds herself a suspect instead of an investigator and she’s scrambling to clear her name and keep her job. Just as concerned is the detective in charge of the investigation. Nick Thomas is a longtime friend to Sam and her nephews. Lately he’s been hinting to Sam that he’d like to be more then a friend. The danger she’s in, personally and professionally, is forcing her to rethink their relationship.
Notice it took three paragraphs (one in the Robb review) to describe the plot. Part of that is the shorthand that can be used because Robb’s book is part of a series. But part of it is due to the fact that this mystery/suspense is written through a mystery lens. Fear not, the romance is not neglected. It is built slowly but is very well-constructed and, in fact, more believable in this one. Nick’s desire for Sam is longstanding and what’s standing in his way, though he doesn’t know the details, is Sam’s abusive past. Sam, like Eve, has unspeakable events in her past that have shaped who she is. Unlike Eve, she isn’t able to ignore them quite as easily while trying to develop a physical relationship with Nick, no matter how much she’d like to.
Girard’s latest is not flawless. A misunderstanding that develops between Sam and Nick didn’t really fit their otherwise down-to-earth dealings. And the pacing is just right until the last few chapters of the book when things take a turn that stretches credulity a bit. The mystery and how Sam deals with it are realistic, but the wrap-up doesn’t live up to those believable beginnings and this protagonist. One twist too many I guess. Or should I say that she over rotated her plot? Like Michelle and Irina, both books have their primary and secondary strengths. Girard has demonstrated her mystery technique admirably and supported it with a romantic relationship that works. Robb has written a romance series that keeps on drawing even while the mysteries have become rote. Both are capable of 6.0’s but didn’t quite achieve it this time around. Perhaps there’s a Sarah Hughes story out there. If so, the author who writes it will join these two on my autobuy list.