I opened Cover-Up with a great deal of anticipation. It looked like a nice change of pace from many recent SIM titles. The hero is a novelist, not a soldier, cowboy or lawman. The heroine is a doctor and there are no children or pregnancies involved. The cover made it look mysterious and suspenseful. It’s a decent sort of read that passes easily enough. But it’s also simple, shallow, and as, a suspense story, downright lazy.
The book is the first in a four-book series about the Brennan sisters of Devil’s Cove, Michigan. The Brennans are one of those perfect romance novel families, with four perfect, overachieving daughters, a loving mother, doting grandparents and a bossy housekeeper. Emily Brennan is a doctor who returned to Devil’s Cove at the deathbed request of her father. The former town doctor, he asked her to stay there until she could find a replacement for him. So Emily left her promising big-city career to help the people of Devil’s Cove.
Soon she’s not the only one returning to the small town. When her grandmother, a beloved English teacher, decides to retire from the local high school after forty years, the town decides to throw a weeklong celebration honoring her. Many of her former students return, including Jason Cooper, Emily’s former love. They met as children and became involved as teenagers, until Jason abruptly left town without an explanation.
He went on to become a successful novelist, although his latest book made some of the locals uncomfortable. He claims the book was pure fiction, but it bears a striking resemblance to Devil’s Cove and several murders that took place there. In real life, the murders of three local girls were ruled unrelated. In the book, the similar crimes are the work of a single killer. Some people are upset by the implication, but no matter. That doesn’t stop Emily and Jason from falling back in love.
If that shift seemed a little abrupt, it accurately reflects how the story plays out in the book. There’s the occasional vague reference to Jason’s book and to how people are upset, but for the most part it remains firmly in the background. The back cover mentions that Emily becomes endangered, possibly because of the book. This element arrived so late in the story I thought the back cover blurb must be wrong. The killer couldn’t be more obvious if he or she was doing cartwheels in front of the main characters. It’s not surprising that Emily and Jason don’t figure it out though, since there’s no reason for them to even think they’re in a suspense story for most of the book. Finally, the killer gets tired of waiting around with nothing to do and pops up to threaten them. This is one of those books with the chatty killer who spends several pages explaining everything that happened, not to clear up the plot, but to prove that there was a suspense plot at all.
Most of the book is spent on the characters, which wouldn’t be bad if they weren’t so hollow. Jason’s father was a drunk who beat him and his mother. Emily’s family was perfect and she was involved with a guy back in the city. That’s all we know about them. The story does get off to a sweet start by showing Jason and Emily’s first meeting as kids. But none of the rest of the book is as touching or interesting. The reason Jason left is obvious and I couldn’t figure out if the author was trying to keep it a secret. There are plenty of scenes showing how beloved Emily’s grandmother is by one and all. Jason bonds with old high school friends. Jason and Emily fall in love as if nothing happened or changed.
It all passes easily enough, but the author never really bothers to dig past the surface of either her characters or her story. That makes it hard to form more than a passing interest in either. Without a strong romance or characters, Cover-Up is mostly a forgettable read.