In Harm's Way
I’ve said it before and am glad to admit it again: I’m a location junkie. An intriguing setting listed in the description of a book can draw me in like little else can. In this case the setting was St. Louis, MO. Run of the mill middle America to most but I lived in a suburb of St. Louis for many, many years and was curious about how the author would depict it.
Rachel Sutton is just trying to do a good deed when she reaches out to pluck the Raggedy Ann from the snow and ice. Her response to touching the doll, though, completely unnerves her. Fear, terror, and impending doom hardly seem the things a moppet with yarn for hair should inspire in a woman. Shaken to her core, she is unable to leave the toy in the restaurant lost and found as she originally planned, but finds herself instead discussing it with a friend whose husband is a cop. Even when he tells her she will most likely be laughed out of the office, she takes it to the FBI. They are polite but cynical about the fact that Rachel feels danger and dread whenever she touches the scruffy stuffed plaything. It is thrown into the corner of the assigned agent’s office, where he is trying to decide what to do with it when he finds his hand forced. The media has gotten wind of the story. And then his own research reveals a link to a missing baby. Suddenly, Agent Nick Bradley finds himself at the center of a storm all caused by a calm piano teacher and an unusual doll.
I really liked the triple layer of mystery that took place in this story. Rachel and Nick, neither of whom believe in psychic phenomena, work at finding a rational explanation for her unnatural and intense response to the doll. There is a mystery to both Rachel’s past and the past of the mother of the girl that has to be explored for a full understanding of the present, and then there is the missing child and the mystery of what is happening with her. I am always a happy camper when I have a lot of puzzles to work through, and this story provided plenty.
Another plus to this story was the gentle way the romance was handled. It had a very realistic feel in that no one moved quickly; the relationship built slowly, starting as a simple working relationship, easing into friendship. Nick is an alpha male but not an obnoxious one; he is able to work well with others and be respectful of Rachel. Rachel is quiet and sweet, but has plenty of back bone and is very independent. I liked how basically calm both she and Nick were. It added a good balance to the (understandably) high stress situation of the parents of the missing child and the psychotic nature of the kidnapper.
And while the kidnapper was a disturbed individual, I found them to be almost scarily realistic. I have known many, many people who had that same intense desire to have a child, like it was a need so deep it surpassed your brain’s ability to stay rational.
The inspirational factors were there, but by no means overshadowed the story. Still, since Rachel isn’t a church-going Christian and Nick is, there is some talk of faith and what it means to them as individuals. I just finished a book about Muslims and it had the same amount of religion in it. To me, it was not distracting either time but clearly I am comfortable with other people’s spirituality. If that is something that bugs you even in mild forms, you might want to give this one a miss.
The use of location would probably be discernible only to those familiar with St. Louis. It mentioned local restaurants and surrounding cities and used them very well, so clearly the author did her research. But it wasn’t like the area was a third character. The novel didn’t have to be set there; any city would have worked equally well.
This book is one of those near perfect reads that while not inspiring gushing sends you back to the store searching out the author’s other works. It did have minor flaws though and oddly, those flaws are tied to what I enjoyed about it. The pacing and calm demeanor of Nick and Rachel just keep it from being a thriller – the sense of impending doom and danger are definitely on the mild side. Again, I found that enjoyable, but in a mystery that can move quickly from cozy to boring and this one will probably hover on the edge for some.
This is book three in the series but it stands alone perfectly well. I know several list members over the years have talked about missing Dee Henderson. If you have missed her work, rush out to buy this author’s Heroes of Quantico series. These books are along those same high standards.