Desert Isle Keeper
Brenda Novak’s Cold Feet is a phenomenal read, full of exemplary story-telling which completely entertains and satisfies as both romance and suspense.
Madison Lieberman is struggling to make her new real estate agency succeed and to maintain stability in the life of her six-year-old daughter Brianna. Her business is not taking off as fast as she’d anticipated, Brianna is getting an “attitude,” courtesy of Maddy’s remarried ex-, and Maddy has just discovered something in the crawl space of her parents’ house that possibly incriminates her father in the string of murders for which he’d long been under suspicion. Add to that a sexy new tenant taking up residence in Maddy’s carriage house, the emotional fall-out from her father’s suicide a year before, and breaking news of another murder with the “Sandpoint Strangler’s” M.O., and it’s obvious that Maddy is in for an emotional roller coaster ride.
No tangible evidence ever conclusively tied Maddy’s father to the 12-year-old killing spree. Former cop Caleb Trovato served on the original law enforcement task force assigned to the “Sandpoint Strangler” case. He later became a true crime writer and moved to San Francisco after his divorce. Though Caleb always planned to write the whole story once the case was solved, it seems any hope of finding answers to the innumerable mysteries died along with Ellis Purcell.
After receiving a call from his distraught ex-wife, Holly, he comes by Maddy’s house to nose around, but impulsively finagles the carriage house rental after realizing she mistook him for a potential tenant. Although Holly is nearly always in a state, she did manage to convince Caleb that her sister Susan’s recent disappearance might have more to do with reports of a “Sandpoint Stranger”-type killing in Spokane than with Susan’s typical impulsiveness and irresponsibility. After considering all the information Caleb reluctantly agreed to fly to Seattle and see whether he could help. Actually married and divorced twice from Holly, he now understands that her emotional neediness keeps them too much at odds to work as a couple, and he’s determined not to give in to his protective tendencies again. Unfortunately, Holly knows just how to make him feel guilty, so the best he can hope for is to stay sufficiently on guard to avoid any emotional minefields.
The other major players in the drama include Maddy’s mother, who remains convinced of Ellis’s innocence and is unwilling to hear anything that might further impugn his reputation, and her two older half-brothers. Tye and Johnny were abandoned by Ellis Purcell (with the complicity of Maddy’s mother) and didn’t become part of Maddy’s family until they were in their late teens and their very dysfunctional, alcoholic mother could no longer control them. Johnny is out of prison again but already enmeshed in his crack addict lifestyle, and Tye’s wife has suddenly picked up and left for parts unknown with their three kids.
Novak is skillful in unveiling each piece of the puzzle until a credible whole gradually emerges that is masterful and absorbing. Her characters are solid, multi-layered creations who are believable and sympathetic in their imperfection, and her story provides a poignant glimpse into how the families of such highly publicized suspects bear the emotional impact of endless police questioning, self-doubts and community condemnation. Cold Feet is less a tale of trumpeted dramatic revelations than it is a story wherein bits of otherwise incidental information take on new meaning when examined in a different light. I did guess the killer’s identity before the end, but only a few pages before Novak began removing the final curtain (Brava, by the way, on the satisfying resolution and for keeping me guessing so long!). Most of all, this book is intelligently written, with dialogue, interactions and relationships that are grounded in the ordinary reality of average people’s lives (well, except for the killer, of course, who has an appropriately twisted mind-set).
Some readers may be disappointed that the love scenes in Cold Feet are fewer in number and less graphic than is typical for much romantic suspense these days. I never felt the least bit shortchanged; but then, I prefer a romance that goes beyond the mere basics of sexual attraction and its culmination. By using innocuous encounters and conversations between Maddy and Caleb to slowly build the anticipation, then cranking up the tension through the lovers’ individual struggles to maintain reason in the face of overwhelming desire, Novak delivers a sexy and romantic story. Which is not to in any way suggest that the window striptease didn’t help.
It’s a good sign when a book makes me eager to turn the pages as rapidly as possible, but just as surely compels me to slow down and savor the journey. Cold Feet managed to do that, keeping me up till all hours too spellbound to do anything but continue reading. It’s storytelling at its best – engaging and entertaining but believable, with characters I came to really care about despite their mistakes and imperfections. It just doesn’t get much better than this.