Desert Isle Keeper
Monster in the Closet
In Monster In the Closet, Karen Rose returns to her best-selling Baltimore series with a twisty tale of love and murder. Since I haven’t read a Karen Rose novel I didn’t love, I was super excited to dive into this one, and I’m pleased to let you know she’s written another winner.
If you’ve read the books in the Baltimore series, starting with You Belong to Me, you’ll be familiar with all of the characters and their stories, which is a definite plus. But if you haven’t read them yet, don’t worry – you won’t have any trouble understanding this story as both the romance and mystery arcs are fully self-contained.
Private investigator Clay Maynard has been searching for his missing daughter for over twenty years. His ex-wife spirited the child away shortly after her birth, and Clay has been unsuccessful in every attempt to locate her. As you might imagine, he’s pretty discouraged, but there’s a nugget of optimism deep inside him that won’t allow him to give up completely. True, Clay has a great life with his wife Stevie and stepdaughter Cordelia, but getting to know his daughter would make things even better, if only he can find her.
Twenty-three-year-old Taylor Dawson has just arrived in Baltimore from California to intern at the therapeutic riding center run by Daphne Montgomery-Carter. She’s grown up around horses, and is a firm believer in their ability to help children who are suffering from serious traumas. But Taylor has another reason for being in Baltimore. Her mother has recently passed away, and, on her deathbed, she told Taylor that she had told a series of terrible lies about Clay Maynard, the man Taylor has always believed to be an abusive monster. Clay is the chief of security at Healing Hearts, the center for which Taylor is interning, and Taylor is hoping to get to know him a bit before revealing herself to be his long-lost daughter.
As is usual with these types of stories, things don’t go as smoothly as Taylor expects them to. A woman has recently been brutally murdered and her body was found by her eleven-year-old daughter Jazzie. The police are certain Jazzie knows the identity of her mother’s killer, but the girl isn’t talking. She and her younger sister are enrolled at Healing Hearts where Jazzie makes a close emotional connection with Taylor, putting the young woman smack in the middle of a dangerous investigation.
From the moment Ford Elkhart lays eyes on Taylor, he knows exactly who she is. Of course, the fact he’s overheard her asking questions about Clay tips him off, but one look at Taylor is all he needs to confirm his suspicions. Taylor is the daughter Clay has been searching for all these years, and Ford isn’t sure how he feels about that. He considers Clay a close friend and doesn’t want him to be hurt by Taylor, especially if she plans to go back to California at the end of the summer. But Ford is drawn to Taylor in ways he can’t explain. For the first time in years, he’s developing feelings for someone of the opposite sex, feelings that are complicated by his loyalty to Clay.
There’s a lot going on here, but Karen Rose masterfully weaves the many threads together into a captivating story I absolutely could not put down. We know the identity of the killer pretty early on, but I found myself thoroughly engrossed as I watched the police struggle to bring him to justice. There are several chapters from his point of view, something that adds an extra element of creepiness to the story. He’s one messed up dude!
The bulk of the story takes place over about a thirty-six hour period, which makes the romance angle a little rushed. If you’re looking for a book that ends in a full-on HEA, you might be disappointed, although I actually enjoyed the way Ford and Taylor agree to explore their feelings for one another without rushing into anything. They’re both intelligent people who are dealing with some past traumas that make commitment difficult and I’m glad Ms. Rose doesn’t force the issue here. The beginnings of their relationship feel full of promise, and that was enough for me, but I do recognize some readers might be looking for something more concrete.
I loved watching Taylor and Clay get to know one another. They have a lot of lost time to make up for, but each is respectful of the other’s need not to rush things. Clay knows Taylor has a strong bond with the stepfather who raised her, and he is careful not to infringe on that relationship. For her part, Taylor wants to be a part of Clay’s life, but she’s not quite sure how that will pan out. She’s torn between staying in Baltimore with Clay and returning to her family in California. It’s a tough situation that Ms. Rose handles wonderfully.
Ms. Rose allows readers to catch up with characters from the previous Baltimore books, and it was a true joy to be reunited with people I hadn’t read about in a while. These characters are a close-knit bunch, exactly the kind of friends and family I’d love to be surrounded by. In fact, it is the relationships between the various people in the story that make this novel so much fun. I came away from it with a warm, happy feeling, exactly what I needed at the time.
Established fans of Ms. Rose’s books are sure to be delighted by Monster in the Closet, as are people who are new to her work. There’s just not much to dislike about a book like this.