I’m always on the look-out for series romances that sound a little different from the norm. Concealed Weapon earns points in that respect, but that’s really the only aspect I can recommend about it.
Sheriff Zach McCoy was wary when a religious group arrived in his small town in upstate New York. Led by the fanatical Reverend Daniel Mercy, the group remains isolated in their compound, New Jerusalem. When Zach spots a fire on the grounds, he uses the opportunity to barge his way into their fortress and investigate. He’s shocked to find his college girlfriend Teagan Kennedy among Mercy’s followers.
He immediately deduces that Teagan, an ATF agent, must be undercover. Mercy’s followers have been stockpiling weapons, and Teagan’s mission is to find out why. Years ago she left Zach without a word of explanation, breaking his heart. She can’t afford to let him distract her now. But Zach is determined to horn his way into her case, and Teagan may need his help to stop a madman’s plans.
The cult aspects are all convincing. The author covers all the bases: the food deprivation, the mindgames Mercy plays with his followers to keep them under his thrall, his fire-and-brimstone sermons. It’s very chilling stuff, and Mercy is a palpably evil villain.
But the problems with this story are numerous. The biggest one is what terrible law enforcement officers Zach and Teagan are. Teagan is completely incapable of maintaining her cover. She’s supposed to be posing as a docile, brainwashed disciple, but she continually and openly challenges Mercy and behaves in ways that should bring suspicion on her. Mercy is obviously a creep, but she can’t manage to fake obedience until she’s already gone too far and has to back off. In order to let her get away with this, the author has to portray Mercy as a complete idiot who somehow doesn’t catch on that Teagan doesn’t act meek and quiet like every other woman in the camp and maybe, just maybe, isn’t under his power like everyone else, even though her act isn’t remotely convincing. Mercy is clever enough to scam people out of all their possessions and get them to come live with him in an isolated compound, but he’s not smart enough to see through Teagan, the world’s worst undercover agent. Right. She does so many things that should give her away, and there were so many moments when she’s taking stupid risks I was positive she was going to get caught. After a while, I started to hope she would.
Zach’s not much better. After he knows Teagan is in the compound, he decides to go back and try to figure out what’s going on, ignoring that he could be jeopardizing a federal investigation and putting her life in danger. The final straw came when Zach and Teagan finally get a clue and figure out what Mercy’s ultimate plan is. “We should have realized,” Zach proclaims. Yes, they really should have. There are several points in the story where some glaring clues present themselves, things that would have raised serious questions in the minds of any competent investigators. But it became clear much earlier that there wasn’t much going on in the minds of these two boobs.
Besides being unbelievable law officers, they’re simply flat, boring characters. Their romance amounts to Teagan confessing her reason for leaving all those years ago and presto, everything is fine and they’re back in love. Other than that, all they do is kiss and/or have sex at inappropriate times. This is one of those romantic suspense books where the suspense plot is so dark and grim that the story isn’t romantic at all. The couple’s main sexual encounters come at times when they should not be doing these things, because they’re only likely to get caught and seriously compromise the investigation. These instances only lowered my opinion of their professionalism and competence further.
The story moves very slowly. Worst of all, the author dilutes the suspense by revealing too much from the villain’s perspective. Several long scenes take place from Mercy’s point of view, where we unnecessarily learn things before they happen, which kills any surprise that might have been generated when they finally do.
Concealed Weapon is not poorly written. Peterson’s style is smooth and engaging. But the plotting and characterization are weak. This is a book that deserves to remain concealed.