When a woman is found brutally murdered on Austin’s lakeside hike-and-bike trail, investigative reporter Bailey Rhoads turns up on the scene demanding access and answers. She tries to pry information out of the lead detective, Jacob Merritt. But this case is unlike any he’s ever seen, and nothing adds up. With the pressure building, Jacob knows the last thing he needs is a romantic entanglement, but he can’t convince himself to stay away from Bailey.
Bailey has a hunch that the victim wasn’t who she claimed to be and believes this mugging-turned-murder could have been a targeted hit. When she digs deeper, the trail leads her to a high-tech fortress on the outskirts of Austin, where researchers are pushing the boundaries of a cutting-edge technology that could be deadly in the wrong hands.
As a ruthless hit man’s mission becomes clear, Bailey and Jacob join together in a desperate search to locate the next target before the clock ticks down in this lethal game of hide-and-seek.
Romantic suspense fans Caz and Lynn read Laura Griffin’s latest novel and got together to discuss their thoughts.
Caz: Hidden is the first book Laura Griffin’s new Texas Murder Files series I’ve enjoyed, a number of her books in the past, particularly some of those in her long-running Tracers series, which centered around the staff of a high-tech, high-end forensics facility and the various LEOs they worked with. Fast-paced and action-packed, they delivered exactly what I look for in romantic suspense; a complex, well-executed plot, characters you can root for and a romance that has as prominent a role to play in the story as the plot. Have you read any of Laura Griffin’s books before, Lynn?
Lynn: I’ve actually read quite a few of them. I tend to give authors a second chance or two because I know sometimes a particular book just might not click. Griffin is a key example for me of that mindset paying off. I read one of her early books and it really did not work for me. However, I picked up the Tracers series and really started to get into her writing. I haven’t read that entire series yet, but I’ve liked the ones I read, and I think her writing keeps getting stronger and stronger. I’ve enjoyed seeing her voice develop as an author. So, what was your favorite part of Hidden?
Caz: The best part IMO was when the plot opened out in the second half when Bailey’s investigation leads her to a cutting-edge tech company. I don’t want to be too spoilery, but the idea of a private company pioneering biometric security techniques that could be used to compromise even the highest levels of security (such as those afforded to people in WITSEC) was mind-boggling and frighteningly plausible. When I think about it, some of my favourite romantic suspense novels have done that; dreamed up a scenario that, while it hasn’t happened, COULD happen, and have certainly given me something to think about.
Lynn: I really enjoyed that aspect of the story as well. I thought the author did a fabulous job of explaining how her scenario could happen without bogging the story down in info dumps. The reveal is done in such a way that the reader can connect the dots a bit. I always like when authors do that rather than spoon feeding everything to the reader. I think it shows a respect for the audience’s intelligence.
Another thing I really appreciated was the pacing in this story. From a suspense perspective, it really worked for me and I definitely had that ‘on the edge of my seat feeling.’ The romance definitely took a back seat to the action in this book, though.
Caz: I thought there were places the plot was a bit overly drawn out, but I definitely agree with what you’ve said about the way the author explains things; that’s one of my favourite things about her books, she explores some interesting concepts and always manages to communicate them to the reader in a way that keeps things moving. I agree about the romance, too – although it worked better here than in her last couple of books (which I reviewed HERE and HERE), I thought the relationship between Bailey and Jacob progressed in a way that made sense – their respective professions get in the way a lot, and there’s a lot of secrecy and lying by omission – but then suddenly they go from tentative steps to full on ILYs by the end, and that jarred. I love a good HEA, but there are times an HFN is a better fit.
Lynn: I agree with that last statement in general, but I could buy an HEA in this book rather than just HFN. It’s true that the romance definitely takes a backseat to the suspense portion of the plot and that this balance definitely fit the story. However, I felt like the intensity of the story lent itself to that intense jump in emotional connection. Things were understandably tentative at first, but given the way that Bailey and Jacob were thrown together at the end, I could see where an emotional bond would develop quickly. Were there any other aspects of the book that stood out for you?
Caz: I liked the way that Bailey and Jacob are shown to be working the case from different angles, yet were uncovering the same information in different ways and at different times, and I thought that their professional relationship – as a cop and a journalist – was well done; it was natural that they were both wary of giving away too much information. The trouble was that their caginess impinged on their romantic relationship and their lack of open communication on that front was frustrating. Did you like them as characters?
Lynn: I really did like them. Sometimes Bailey infuriated me a bit because of her tendency to rush headlong into things without looking at the big picture. However, I was talking about this book with a reporter friend and in that conversation, I came to the realization that some of her impulses made sense given who she is and what she does.
That conversation also made me see part of why these characters clicked with me so much. They have different professional training and as a result, somewhat different views of how to run an investigation. However, instead of constantly bickering and trying to dominate each other, they try to understand each other. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t arguments, but I kept getting the sense that they were trying to find solutions rather than destroy each other.
Caz: Bailey came perilously close to being TSTL on a number of occasions; she was a bit too much of the stereotypical feisty-journalist-out-of-central-casting for my taste. Jacob, on the other hand, was far easier to like; he had to play by certain rules for reasons that were clearly explained and his viewpoint was easier to relate to as a result.
Lynn: I’ll give you Bailey veering into TSTL territory, but I think I gave her a pass because I see people outside of law/law enforcement do things like that in real life. I know we talked a bit in general terms about the revelations in the second half of the book, but what did you think about the underlying mystery?
Caz: I found it a bit slow to start but I thought it was really well-executed once it got going. The different angles and the way it gradually opened up to reveal something far more complex than originally thought worked well.
Lynn: That gradual broadening of the story really worked for me as well. The opening, which put us into the victim’s head, drew me right into the book and I read almost all of it in one sitting.
When I put my analytical hat on, I can see that the suspense very much overpowers the romance in this book. However, as a reader, I felt so engaged with the story that the balance didn’t bother me. This book had an unputdownable quality for me that I haven’t had with a lot of romantic suspense, and for that reason, I give it an A-. Readers who want more romance are likely to disagree with me, but if the imbalance doesn’t bother you, I think you’ll love this one. It’s definitely a DIK for me.
Caz: The suspense plot was the big draw for me here, and was by far the best thing in the book – I read a lot of romantic suspense, both m/f and m/m, and right now, the majority of the m/f RS I read isn’t balancing the two plot elements all that well. Sadly, that’s true here. While the romance worked better for me than in some of the author’s recent books, there’s no real romantic development or sense of a strong emotional connection between the leads (hence my issues with the HEA, above). That, together with Bailey’s almost-TSTL antics means I’m giving Hidden a B-; it’s a decent romantic suspense novel and I’ll probably pick up the next in the series, but it’s far from the best I’ve read from this author, or in the genre as a whole.