The enigma of nature versus nurture has been around for hundreds of years. While there is no doubt that how we are raised has a profound impact on who we turn out to be, there is certainly ample proof that genetics play into the equation as well. The question of just which of the two ultimately determines who we are plays a dominant role in this novel.
Psychologist Jolene (Jo) Granger has worked with the Texas Rangers for years so it is no surprise when one of them comes to her needing her help. What is a surprise is that that Ranger is a man she hasn’t seen in fourteen years, her ex-husband Brody Winchester. Years ago Brody had been successful in putting serial killer Harvey Lee Smith behind bars. Smith’s house had been a treasure trove of trophies from his victims; trophies that helped identify the girls and place him behind bars. However, several of those trophies revealed victims the police never found. Now Smith is dying of cancer and he is anxious to make a death bed confession of where the missing bodies are. Brody desperately wants this confession but Smith, in a surprising twist, has said he will only reveal it to Jo.
Both Jo and Brody believe the request for her as confessor stems from Smith’s desire to mess with Brody. Somehow the psychopath must have learned about their previous connection. They are leery of spending time together but are anxious to get at the information. Both work hard at maintaining a professional cool on their way to the prison.
That professional demeanor is impossible to keep once they arrive. Jo, used to working with convicts is surprised to find Smith capable of getting under her skin. But more importantly, Smith drops the bombshell of an apprentice, letting them know that the boy he trained to carry on his dark work has finally become active. With only enigmatic clues to go on the two must determine if the apprentice really exists and if so, who he is and how to catch him.
The initial question is laid easily to rest. The apprentice had buried one of his victims in the same burial ground as the missing bodies Smith had led them to. However, knowing that the killer is active brings them no closer to who he is. Or to knowing that he plans to kill Jo as the ultimate tribute to the man who trained him.
The strength of this novel lies in the in-depth look it takes at human lives and how complicated our relationships with each other are. Jo has always felt like an outsider in her family, the only one to seek a college education and move beyond their working class roots. This frequently puts her at odds with her mother and sister, both of whom are successful in their own right but whose success looks very different from Jo’s. Jo’s relationship with Brody is a complex one, their divorce having been the culmination of some truly vile behavior on his part. The dynamic of the ties between the killer and his apprentice shadow that of Jo and her own family so that in the end we realize that human social ties have truly far reaching affects.
Another strong aspect of the book is the mystery within the mystery that is presented. We know that much of what is happening is centered around Jo but the question of why is one that haunts both her and the reader. Following these questions to their conclusion keeps you turning the pages with bated breath. The addition of numerous red herrings and some interesting if unrelated complications make the journey to the answers delightfully frustrating.
I found myself slightly less enthusiastic about the romance. Jo and Brody are both great characters, hardworking, resourceful, kind and tough. Both are detail oriented, thorough and exacting in their respective professions. They have good instincts, which work well for them in the law enforcement aspect of their careers. In many ways, they are mirrors of each other. However they differ in one key aspect and that is their behavior in their past relationship. Brody treated Jo with a breathtaking callousness. He blames this on his youth but the fact is he treated her worse than most high school boys treat their girlfriends – and he was older than they are. I found it harder to forgive than Jolene did and I had a strong feeling that even with the way he makes things up to her this time around, her family would not board the forgive and forget train easily either. I mention this because I know for some readers bad behavior without a grovel is a hot button issue. I think the rest of the story is more than strong enough to make up for this quibble, though.
If you are a fan of romantic suspense you can’t go wrong with this taut, edge of your seat mystery. I would recommend it to anyone who likes thrills and chills with their love stories.