Rachel Grant is my favourite author of romantic suspense and her recent Flashpoint series has been amazing; action-packed, steamy, topical stories featuring complex, engaging characters and edge-of-your-seat plots that have never failed to pull me in and keep me glued to the pages from start to finish. Now that series is finished (or maybe just on hiatus?), the author has returned to the world of her Evidence series to bring us book eight, Silent Evidence, which once again features a heroine whose area of expertise is related to archaeology (in this case, she’s a forensic anthropologist) and a hero who is a member of Raptor, the high-end private security firm owned by former Army Ranger – now US Senator – Alec Ravissant. While the plotlines in most of the other books in the series more or less stand alone, Silent Evidence is very strongly linked to earlier stories – particularly Incriminating Evidence (book four) and Poison Evidence (book seven), and I suspect that much of the impact of this story may be lost on anyone who hasn’t at the very least read those books before tackling this one.
Dr. Hazel MacLeod – sister of Ivy from Poison Evidence – has just returned from Croatia where she spent several months working for the International Commission on Missing Persons, examining the remains of the victims of war and genocide. Not surprisingly, that work has badly affected her mental health, and she had begun to experience nightmares and panic attacks before coming back to the US. While she recuperates and works out what she wants to do next, she’s staying at the home of her cousin Alec Ravissant and his wife Isabel, an archaeologist. Isabel is currently working on a time-sensitive assignment, inspecting and recording finds at the site of a drained reservoir before repairs are made, and the discovery of a pile of bones in the water means she needs expert help. She asks Hazel to come out to the site to confirm these are human remains – and once there, Hazel is appalled to realise that the small pile she’d been called to look at is just the tip of the iceberg, and that there are thousands of bones there, thousands of bones that belong to at least two dozen individuals… a mass grave.
Sean Logan is Raptor’s top operative and one of Alec’s most trusted friends. So when Alec calls him and asks him – without explanation – to get out to the site and bring Isabel home, he’s curious, but doesn’t stop to question and makes his way out there immediately. On arrival, he’s stunned to recognise the auburn-haired woman standing with Isabel; he hadn’t even known Hazel MacLeod, subject of many an inappropriate fantasy, was back in the states.
Later, Alec reveals why he’d sent Sean to escort Isabel home. A man in his position gets hate mail and death threats on a regular basis and most of the time they’re insignificant, but he’s recently received one that indicates knowledge of certain events in Alec, Isabel’s and Hazel’s pasts which lead him to take this particular threat seriously. He’s unable to share details with them because there’s an implication for national security, but they all know Alec, and know that he wouldn’t be telling them anything unless he was genuinely worried.
The immediate problem – and why he’s brought Sean into the mix – is that he and Isabel, along with a large group of friends – are headed to a wedding at the weekend, and Alec doesn’t want to leave Hazel alone. He insists she accompany them, but Hazel demurs, protesting that she doesn’t know the bride or groom (Cressida and Ian from book five, Covert Evidence) and doesn’t want to crash their wedding, but Alec has that covered and won’t listen to her protests. Sean is the best man, and Hazel can go with him as his date.
Hazel isn’t keen on the idea, but not because she doesn’t like Sean; in fact, she likes him way too much for her peace of mind, and is worried that having to pose as his girlfriend will tip everyone off to that fact. Added to this is her lingering embarrassment over an incident some months earlier when she propositioned him and he turned her down; she’s not comfortable around him and can’t see how such a charade can possibly work.
I generally like fake-relationship stories and I was all set to enjoy this one from a favourite author, but something about it didn’t work for me. For one thing, the mental lusting on both sides – because of course Sean didn’t rebuff Hazel because he wasn’t interested – is pretty excessive, and for another, Sean is so blow-hot-blow-cold towards her that his lightning quick switches between ‘full steam ahead’ and ‘this can’t happen’ made me dizzy. And he’s not the only one; literally minutes after Hazel tells him he’s not getting any (after he tells her he’s not interested in anything other than sex), they’re shagging against a tree in the woods. I know Ms. Grant is capable of creating fabulous sexual tension between her protagonists, but it just didn’t happen here; I liked the idea of Sean and Hazel when Hazel was introduced at the end of Poison Evidence, but their romance is underdeveloped and seems to be based almost wholly on physical attraction and mutual lust.
The suspense plot –when it gets going – is as well thought out and intriguing as ever, and the author highlights a number of very relevant issues with insight and sensitivity. I was pleasantly surprised when the plot turned out to have links back to the experimental technology that featured in Incriminating Evidence, and I was also glad to see Matthew – aka Dmitri Veselov, from the previous book – playing a major role, as I have a bit of a soft spot for him ;) But on the downside, all this doesn’t really get going until around two-thirds of the way through; in previous books, the suspense plot and the romance have been really well woven together and have progressed alongside one another but here, after the initial set up, the romance takes centre stage while the plot treads water for a bit, which isn’t normally the case with this author. There’s a fair bit of padding in the first parts of the novel, and I came away from it thinking that it might have worked better as a novella.
To sum up, Silent Evidence is a bit of a mixed bag, and my final grade is a compromise. Had the whole novel been in the same vein as the final third, I’d have been awarding at least a B grade, but unfortunately, that’s dragged down because the romance didn’t convince me and while the suspense plot was enjoyable, it wasn’t enough to carry a full length-novel. I’m a big fan of Rachel Grant’s and will be snapping up whatever she comes up with next, but sadly, Silent Evidence isn’t going down as one of my favourites.