Out of Nowhere
In the introductory letter to Out of Nowhere the author says that she wanted to do a “reverse twist” on one of her earlier 43 Light Street books, Nowhere Man. That’s a favorite of mine and one of the best books in the series, so I had high hopes for this one. While it’s certainly unusual, it’s also a very mixed bag and far from all it could have been.
As in Nowhere Man, one of the characters has a mysterious background, deadly skills and a mission they’ve been programmed to perform. In this case, it’s the heroine. As the title indicates, she makes an abrupt appearance in the life of private detective Max Dakota, plunging into the waters off his boat. Max is in the middle of an undercover investigation involving drug smuggling in a small Florida town. This woman is a complication he doesn’t need, and at first he wonders if she’s part of the drug operation. When he fishes her out of the river, her first move is to throw him back into the water and try to steal his boat.
The woman he dubs “Annie” is strong, tough, and possesses deadly training. The question is what she was trained to do. She doesn’t remember her name or how she came to be in Hermosa Harbor, Florida. All she has are a strange tattoo with something implanted under her skin and a vague sense of urgency that there’s something she’s supposed to do. Max isn’t about to let her go without some answers. But the clock is ticking on her mission.
Make no mistake about it, this is no mere amnesia book. Annie’s background and the cause of her memory loss, while different from Hunter from Nowhere Man, are similarly unique. Past books in the series have included everything from reincarnated lovers to a ghost hero, so regular readers will know anything is possible. The story ultimately turns out to be different from any romance novel I’ve read (although it is reminiscent of a popular movie from several years ago). I won’t say more than that, but it is pretty neat for a romance novel.
The problem is, the truth about Annie is the only really interesting part of the story. I guessed what it was about halfway through and immediately became more engaged in a book that was only moderately diverting before them. It’s readable and moves quickly, but much of it falls flat. Max isn’t a very compelling hero. He’s bland and fairly one-dimensional, with a perfunctory backstory that the author delivers by rote. I never got a sense of who he was as a person, and in several instances his behavior was downright irritating. When the only emotions a hero generates are mild disinterest and occasional annoyance, he’s not too strong of a character.
Likewise, it’s hard to care too much about the drug investigation plot. It doesn’t amount to much, and the characters involved are strictly one-note baddies. This subplot just takes away from the more intriguing question of who Annie is. This also gets off to a slow start. There are a few tantalizing glimpses into the truth, but she’s so jittery and uncertain she doesn’t make much of an impression. In Nowhere Man, Hunter had an aura of mystery and was so poignant in his innocence and his interactions with the heroine that he was a fascinating personality. Here, Annie’s just a blank slate, completely lacking in personality for so long that it’s hard to muster up much interest in her as a person.
What elevates the book to above average is the truth about Annie. It’s intriguing material and adds a fascinating new level to the story. There’s another, more interesting villain at work, and once the author begins to indicate what’s going on, it reveals new shades about not only the heroine, but an unexpected character as well. As dry as the story is initially, it picks up steam toward the end. The hero was still somewhat annoying at times, but that was easier to overlook once the author delved into Annie’s backstory. It all culminates in a taut, gripping climax that’s the best part of the book, as well as an unexpectedly nice end to the romance. Once the truth was revealed, it added some emotion to the romance that was lacking before.
It’s too bad the whole book wasn’t as exciting and involving. It takes a while to get going, but once it does, the author uses her killer premise to deliver in the end. The second half of Out of Nowhere is a good romantic suspense series title; let’s leave it at that.