Ms. Elliot’s Buried was a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award Winner. In that novel we were introduced to Chris Jacobs, a young man who held the key to an old secret. A creepy, scary thriller, that book was enough to induce nightmares. This latest might not be quite as frightening but it does an excellent job of delivering chills, thrills, and of course, romance.
Chris Jacobs smells smoke. Not the woodsy, homey smell of a fireplace or woodstove but something nasty and acidic. The brutal snowstorm that just passed (and looks to return) makes it impossible to use his truck so he sets off on foot to investigate. He is surprised by what he finds – a teenage girl shivering and crying in an SUV after having dragged her mother out of the burning cabin they had been renting. The mother is primarily non-responsive but Chris is eventually able to wake her. She and her daughter follow him on the grueling trek back to his vacation cabin. This was not what Chris had bargained for on his relaxing trip to the Cascade Mountains.
Their remote location makes it impossible to call the police, fire department or park rangers and the storm makes it impossible to get out and get help. They hunker down for a stay in the cabin, the three of them amazingly comfortable with each other after just a few hours. Gianna Trask, a medical examiner and recent transplant to Oregon, and her daughter Violet are easy guests to have. After they settle in, Chris talks to Gianna about what he smelled at the cabin. He was virtually certain he had smelled burned flesh. Did they have pets with them? Could anyone else have been in the home?
There had been no pets and both of them find the mystery smell disturbing. Fortunately, the next day brings a park ranger who takes Gianna out to the cabin to look around. While they are there someone begins to take shots at them, killing the ranger and sending Gianna on a flight through the woods on his snowmobile. When she tells Chris what happened he agrees they can’t afford to wait any longer to leave the mountain. Using a combination of snowmobile, snowshoes and truck they make it to a ranger station on a nearby highway. Civilization at last!
Well, maybe not. Turns out someone has been in Gianna’s home. Someone who skipped the expensive stuff and concentrated on the personal, like her files and computer. It is now pretty obvious that Gianna and Violet are the targets of the violence in the mountains. But targets for whom? And why?
This book had me riveted from the start. I kept anxiously turning the pages trying to figure out what was happening. I was also anxious to see how Chris and Gianna would develop their relationship and the answer to that is perfectly. The author really nails the balance between suspense and romance in the novel. Both Chris and Gianna have hard experiences in their past and they step into the relationship carefully. The difficulties they faced before, though, have created in them personalities that just naturally blend together. Some couples have to work at building a bond, but these two just slid into each other’s lives easily. Which is ideal since they aren’t people who need an angsty relationship.
I also liked how Violet fit into the relationship. Her instinct is to trust and bond with Chris since he helps her several times, which makes their getting along so easily make sense. She has him in the role of protector and friend much quicker than in regular life because of their shared experiences and I could buy that. The author does a good job of remembering her all the time, too – it’s not like she just conveniently disappears when they need her to. In many ways, this book exemplifies how a novel with kids should work.
Another thing done extremely well is the way the author handles the backstory. It comes up naturally in dialogue with Gianna and Violet and never overpowers the narrative. It’s a perfect way to remind readers who might have forgotten a few things that happened in Buried and is equally ideal for introducing readers who haven’t read that book into the relevant characters they are meeting. It’s really well done. What kept the book from being a DIK for me was the person who had died in the cabin and what they meant to the story. Blackmail is never a good idea and in this case it felt to me like they were just setting everyone around them up to be killed. It unraveled the mystery a tad too much for my liking and I am glad I was almost all the way through the book before that happened.
That said, Known is a completely riveting, fascinating thriller with a lovely romance. Fans of the romantic suspense genre will definitely want to add this to their shopping list.