Into the Fire
Readers of romantic suspense often complain that books tend to have either a believable romance or a good suspense plot, but not both. Though it has its flaws (especially in the second half), Jessica Hall’s latest thriller offers some of both. While the mystery plot is stronger than the romance here, the book’s hero and heroine certainly share a chemistry that is not contrived.
Isabel (Sable) Duchesne, a young Cajun woman, is rescued from a New Orleans warehouse fire that is far from run-of-the-mill since Sable was found alone with the dead body of Marc LeClare, the candidate favored to win the upcoming gubernatorial election. The deceased’s connection to Ms. Duchesne is unclear, and her own reticence in speaking to police leads many to question why she was with him.
The fact that J.D. Gamble is heading the police investigation doesn’t help Sable since she and J.D. were in love ten years earlier as Tulane students. J.D., however, came from an aristocratic Creole family who looked down on Sable and discouraged the relationship, while fellow students mocked Sable’s background. Though the circumstances are not fully explained in the beginning of the book, it is apparent that pressures from college days drove the two apart when Sable was only nineteen. In the face of Sable’s apparent abandonment all those years ago, J.D. is ready to believe the worst of her. As she comes back into his life, he finds himself facing those old feelings of betrayal all over again, even though he cannot help being attracted to her.
Though J.D. and Sable are still suspicious of each other, the time they spend together has both wondering if perhaps this old love affair is not over after all. However, there are lots of hurt feelings to overcome and, in addition to the romantic complications, there is the also the matter of the unsolved murder. Every clue in the case seems to lead back into the bayous and into Sable’s past, adding not only to the excitement of the story, but also to the tension between the hero and heroine.
At first the romance between J.D. and Sable is basically a good one. The fact that their great love affair was originally ended by what appeared to be a stupid college-kid mishap was not so surprising. However, that they never tried to talk out the silly college hysterics and instead let things rot for ten years does seem a little immature. Still, the two have good chemistry and it is easy to get drawn into their story.
However, later problems with the romance in this story arise from the lack of respect that the hero sometimes displays toward the heroine. Much is made of J.D.’s good looks and charm and the fact that Sable is swept away by both throughout the book. However, without spoiling the plot, it is fair to point out that J.D. seems to have trouble deciding whether he wants Sable’s love or whether he wants revenge – old-fashioned, make her come crawling on her knees for me revenge. This aspect of J.D.’s character manifests itself in ways that some readers may find disturbing.
The suspense story, however, was quite good. Many romantic suspense tales spending a lot of time developing romantic chemistry seem to end up with weaker mystery plots and this one is a quite entertaining change from that pattern. The mix of old personal secrets and political intrigue makes for lots of excitement, not to mention lots of suspects. While some of the secrets surrounding characters in this book will probably be correctly guessed early on, the full answer to the mystery is a bit harder to discern. Its twists and turns will keep readers turning pages.
The suspense plot in Hall’s latest novel is a real page-turner and certainly worth a read. Were it not for some of the unsettling aspects of the conflict between the hero and heroine, this book would likely land somewhere in the B range. However, the hero’s treatment of the heroine led this book to fall quickly into the average range for me. If the romantic chemistry had been as solid in the second half of the book as it was in the first half, it would have complemented the suspense very nicely and the end result would have been far more memorable.
I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.