Delores Fossen delivers the next volume of her Lawmen of Silver Creek Ranch series in the form of the dramatic love story between Deputy Landon Ryland and Tessa Sinclair.
Landon has returned to his hometown to investigate the passing of his cousin Emmett, who has died violently with the words ‘This is for you, Tessa’ scrawled on his body. When Landon finds that same-named woman – the drugged Tessa Sinclair – at the site of a barn fire, he has to leap into action to save her. Tessa is a prime suspect in the murder, as Emmett was discovered at her house, but she can’t tell Landon anything – the trauma of Emmett’s death, a blow to the head, her being drugged and kidnapped – have wiped out huge chunks of her memory, leaving her alone and holding an infant whose name she cannot remember (but whose conception date corresponds with the general timeframe of the one night stand she and Landon had months ago). The clues suggest that someone wants to kill Tessa to get to Landon, so he dedicates himself to protecting both woman and child while trying to figure out which of the rogue’s gallery of criminals he’s prosecuted is trying to kill him. A confused Tessa and an aggravated Landon are also stuck trying to work out whether or not their abbreviated one-night stand means more than they’re willing to admit– and figure out who wants to eliminate them both.
If there’s one thing Dolores Fossen is good at, it’s writing a suspense story. The mystery at the heart of Landon is pretty well plotted and manages to keep the reader guessing; of the pool of suspects we’re given, the culprit turns out to be one of the ones you wouldn’t automatically assume committed the crime. It’s the mystery that keeps the reader flipping pages while the romance tries to play itself out between car bombings and shootings. The mystery is the best part of the novel, sadly, because the romance part of the book is where the narrative suffers.
Tessa is a bit of a cipher; even when she starts getting her memory back there’s a level of blandness to her, a lack of personality. At times she almost feels like a totebag Landon has assigned himself to carry through the story, forever in danger of being stolen, forever unable to stop her friends or herself from being in danger. If you’re really into trope-y damsel in distress books you’ll love this one, but Tessa is a PI: she should have been more proactive, done more shooting and some of the rescuing.
Landon, meanwhile, is your average alpha hero, managing to still be pissed off at Tessa for going back to her ex-boyfriend after she made love with him (Landon), even when she tells him she only did it to get information out of the guy to get him arrested. He’s also another cop hero who’s good at everything coplike, from shooting a perp at great distance to negotiating for hostages. Other than his fear of babies and commitment, there’s not much else to him. He’s not a bad guy, I’ve just read books about hundreds of heroes like him before.
The romance is the dullest part of the book, and that’s its true tragedy. When the author has to tell us that the characters are together because of their ‘sizzling chemistry it’s never a good sign. Landon and Tessa zip from being wary enemies to partners to lovers all too quickly; one is apt to wonder WHY their love is suddenly so strong. We never see them exist outside of a crisis situation, and all of the build-up for the romance happens before we meet either character.
There’s no mistaking this book for a volume in a long-running series; the children of the heroes and heroines of previous books gambol around the narrative like lost puppies, to the point where there’s even a meta joke about it. However, these multiple appearances by other characters from the series (Grayson appears, as do Josh, Kade, Nate and Mason, the heroes of books 1, 3, 4, 6 and 7 respectively) aren’t distracting from the main plot. Ms. Fossen works that naturally into the narrative, and since they’re a close-knit extended family of cousins and brothers who logically would be trying to help each other it all flows naturally together.
But in the end there’s a note of blandness, a sense of the generic, about this book. It reads like hundreds of other Harlequin Intrigues (or when I was younger, Suspense) books I’ve read. The mystery makes it a decent read, but it never passes ‘decent’ to sail into greatness.
CONTENT NOTE: If you find sexual assault triggering, you might want to avoid this one; not because of something that happens between the hero and the heroine but because of something that happens to a minor character.