Present Danger includes a reunion romance, but the love story takes a definite back seat to the intriguing mystery the characters need to unravel. As the first book in the Rocky Mountain Courage series, the author strives to introduce a large cast of characters spread across an expansive geographic area as well as details of the investigation, and I found the pacing to be slow in some places and the storytelling light in terms of emotional depth.
The narrative starts out with a literal bang as Chance Carter, a private pilot who carries cargo and asks no questions, crashes in southern Montana’s Gallatin National Forest, the victim of sabotage. He’s found by Jim Raymond, a local insurance agent, who summons help for the injured Chance.
The author then turns to another crisis in progress. Several problems have landed in Jack Tanner’s lap at the same time, and the detective for the Grayback County Sheriff’s Department juggles them all in his mind. First, he’s currently on a call-out to search for twins who got separated from their parents in the vast Gallatin National Forest. Second, the grapevine brings him the news that Terra Connors, the college sweetheart whom he left under hurtful circumstances, is now working in law enforcement in the area. Finally, while searching for the twins, Jack and his partner discover a body crumpled at the bottom of a canyon. Terra and her partner have been assisting in the call-out and spy the body just as Jack is repelling down from the top of the canyon.
Jack and Terra both find their meeting difficult. Six years earlier and without a word, Jack left Terra to train at Quantico for the FBI. Given Terra’s lingering grief from the loss of her mother fifteen years before and her father leaving her not long afterward, Jack’s departure only deepened her sense of abandonment. For his own part, Jack struggles with a sense of unworthiness. Terra comes from a family of heroes; he does not. Overhearing locals talk of his “bad stock” convinced Jack that leaving Terra was best for her. Jack also blames himself for failing to protect a trafficked woman on his last FBI case, and he has returned home to care for his ailing aunt and put some distance between him and that experience.
Terra knows the forest well as a result of her local upbringing and her work as a special agent for the US Forest Service, so Jack asks her to work with him to solve the mystery of the dead man. As the investigation proceeds, the two work closely to determine how Chance Carter and Jim Raymond fit into a case of stolen Native American artifacts, murder, and escalating threats to Terra’s life. All the while, past hurts and renewed attraction provide unwanted distractions.
The mystery is intriguing, and I enjoyed the twists and turns of the investigation as both Jack’s and Terra’s personal and professional lives impact the unfolding of the facts. Chance Carter is the most interesting character of the book, and his story and the mystery kept me reading to the end.
The novel is the offering of a Christian publisher, and its spiritual aspect appears in the characters’ clear belief in a traditional view of God. Terra and Jack send up quick prayers to God on a regular basis in gratitude and in request for strength, wisdom and intervention, all the while acknowledging that God expects them to employ their own skills, talents, and moral compasses to resolve their dilemmas and live lives of service.
I did struggle with the novel’s pacing in several places. The entire law enforcement cast, whom I’m assuming we’ll see in future installments, is introduced within the first two chapters, and keeping everyone straight was difficult; since I could not tell who was to be important for this book, I resorted to making a list. Many words and much space are used to describe how the policing groups are organized and interconnected, and the author provides a good deal of detail concerning investigative procedure and artifact crime. All of this was interesting, but with the romance taking a secondary role, and the writing telling me more about the emotional state of the characters than helping me feel their emotions, there were times that I found myself skipping pages, and then circling back.
If you enjoy police procedurals with a thread of romance and want a book that will dive into the subject of artifact crimes not often covered by the national news, Present Danger may be a good choice for you. Readers looking for non-stop suspense or a romance that will grab you deeply might be more satisfied with another choice.