In the Cold
Twenty years ago two men kidnapped Ashley Marin and kept her chained in a cave in the Rocky Mountains. College student Chris Judge found and rescued her, and the two kept in touch via holiday cards over the years.
Now Chris is a disgraced former undercover cop who has returned to Colorado after several years in New Jersey. His career ended when he started losing his grip between his true identity and his assumed one. Then there was the investigation into a large amount of money that went missing on his last assignment. His wife also left him and took their young son with her, and his best friend from childhood is in a wheelchair. Chris struggles daily to endure what his life has become.
Ashley is now a divorced single mother still living in Aspen. She still has nightmares about her ordeal, is claustrophobic and can’t be in a room with the doors closed. Her rich ex-husband remarried a younger woman and started a new family. She has money problems, which her ex holds over her as a means of trying to get custody of their teenage daughter. Her mother has Alzheimer’s, and the only people Ashley can get to take care of her are an older Russian couple who are more trouble than help. Her mother keeps getting away from them when they aren’t paying attention. The woman also closes the doors on Ashley when she’s sleeping, which only aggravates her claustrophobia.
Around this point is when I had to shake my head and laugh. There’s a certain point where the amount of baggage an author dumps on the hero and heroine moves past reasonable character development to simply silly. For me, this book crossed it early on. The first chapter is all about the misery of Chris’s life, the second is all about the misery of Ashley’s.
They’re so sad and downtrodden that they’re more a collection of horrible experiences piled up on top of terrible trials to endure than actual people. It’s not bad enough that Ashley is haunted by her kidnapping and her ex is a materialistic jerk and she has money problems and she’s fighting to maintain custody of her daughter. Of course her mother has to have Alzheimer’s. Then she has to deal with these horrible people in her house, which is too cramped and crowded. Then her mother keeps escaping and the horrible people are no help. And this is before Ashley’s daughter is kidnapped by one of the men who kidnapped her and she calls Chris for help. Wouldn’t you know it, Chris is sitting in the dark, contemplating eating the barrel of his gun when she calls.
As romantic suspense goes, this one is heavier on the suspense than on the romance. Stories about desperate women trying to find their kidnapped children aren’t exactly romantic by nature, but the relationship between Chris and Ashley is more convincing than most. They have that bond going back into their past that makes the feelings between them reasonable in the middle of these circumstances. But they aren’t particularly deep or sympathetic, mainly because the author’s idea of character development is showing how brave they can be in the face of all the terrible things with which they’ve been burdened. It’s easy to feel bad for them in that way you would if you saw this story on the news about a mother searching for her kidnapped teen. Chris and Ashley remain strangers defined by their tragedies rather than people I felt I really knew.
Lynn Erickson, the pen name for Molly Swanton and Carla Peltonen, has written a variety of romances – from historicals to series titles to single title romantic suspense. This book reads more like a series romance than a single title, and a mediocre series romance at that. I’ve read plenty of Superromances, for instance (and Erickson wrote several Superromances), that were deeper and more involving than this one. It’s an efficient little thriller. The writing is functional and the story moves quickly, with a couple twists late in the game to enliven an otherwise straightforward plot. But there’s also little substance here for a reader to grab on to, like a compelling love story, memorable characters or a gripping storyline. It’s the kind of book I could feel myself forgetting as I was reading it. In The Cold, which launches the new Berkley Sensations line, didn’t leave me cold, but the effect was lukewarm at best.