Dead Giveaway
Grade : B+

In Dead Giveaway, Brenda Novak pulls off a romantic suspense novel that keeps the reader on the edge of her chair while providing characterizations that make one care about the fate of her protagonists.

After a messy divorce and a long career as a cold-case detective in Chicago, Allie McCormick returned to her hometown of Stillwater, Mississippi. She joined the local police force where her father is chief. Allie and her young daughter live with her parents. She tries to adjust to the stress of being a single parent while working at a demanding job, but adding to her already full plate is her old friend, Madeline Barker, who asks that she try and determine who killed her father nineteen years before.

Allie is intrigued by the mystery surrounding Madeline’s father’s disappearance. He was a respected and much loved minister who just disappeared one night. The town always blamed Clay Montgomery, the Reverend’s step-son, for his murder. Since no body was ever found, no one was ever prosecuted. Madeline believes her step-brother is falsely accused and wants Allie to get to the truth. Madeline is devoted to her step-siblings, but she knows nothing of her father’s true nature and her actions puts them in terrible jeopardy.

As the story opens, Clay is ending an affair with the clinging Beth Ann, who doesn’t take rejection well. She calls the police and claims that Clay tried to kill her and also that he confessed to the murder of Reverend Barker. Allie immediately knows Beth Ann is lying, but she is forced to take her statement. Clay’s enemies take the report as the gospel truth and demand that the police reopen the Barker murder case.

Allie immediately finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Clay; she is experienced at recognizing the bad guys and knows that Clay is not one of them. Allie is also surprised by her father’s reluctance to open the Barker case. She begins to suspect that her father is having an affair, and, sure enough he is - with Clay’s mother. He is trying to protect Clay by keeping the case closed. Part of the fun of this book is that the reader knows all of these messy loose ends very early on, and it is enjoyable watching the very intelligent Allie put all of the pieces together.

Clay Montgomery is a wonderful hero; it is a hard-hearted reader indeed who doesn’t just love him from page one. He is vilified unfairly in his hometown for a crime he didn't commit - although he knows what happened to Reverend Barker. Clay is protecting his sister Grace, who was horribly abused by her father when she was thirteen (Grace's story is in book one of this series, Dead Silence). After the reverend was killed, Clay was stuck with disposing of his body. Reverend Barker was so revered they knew that, without proof, no one would believe them about his horrible perversions. Clay will sacrifice anything for Grace’s happiness because he blames himself for not being there to stop the abuse, even though he was only sixteen at the time.

What I really liked about Novak’s characterization of Clay is that it would have been so easy to make him an embittered beast who lashes out at the world and anyone with the nerve to love him. But Clay is a likable guy, good-looking, and willing to take a chance on love with Allie, even though he fears that his past will ruin everything.

At one point a description of pictures of the Reverend Barker’s victims is revealed. Novak handles the revelation with sensitivity, but it is still upsetting to read. The Reverend Barker is perhaps the nastiest villain (even though long dead) I have read in a long while. I was extremely glad the descriptions of his perversions were confined to a couple of paragraphs and done as sensitively as possible given the nature of the abuse.

Brenda Novak has succeeded in creating a story that, while a terrific suspense novel, is also character-driven. I read this in one sitting as the high level of tension just kept me turning the pages. I was pleased that Clay and Allie’s romance did not get lost in the mechanics of the plot, something that happens too often in romantic suspense novels. Fans of this sub-genre should be very pleased with Dead Giveaway.

Reviewed by Linda Hurst
Grade : B+

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : March 10, 2007

Publication Date: 2007

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Linda Hurst

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