When I say that Silent Memories is a series romance built around the ubiquitous amnesia plot, many readers will assume it’s just another lame, cliched series book that isn’t very good. Normally I would object to such a generalization, as I’ve read too many series books where the author managed to do great things with this most overused storyline, from Harper Allen’s powerful Guarding Jane Doe to Patricia Potter’s moving Home for Christmas. But in this case, assume away! This thin, slapdash, and overwrought tale is just as lame as amnesia snobs will dismiss it as being.
To make an uninteresting story short, FBI Agent Sean MacNeil cozied up to naive scientist Annie Price, who was working on a scientific formula that Sean suspected her “guardian,” millionaire Raymond Phelps, intended to use for a nefarious purpose. Annie wound up injured and catatonic, so Sean stashed her in a hospital under an assumed name until she could recover and give him the information he needs. As the book begins, he arrives to visit her and immediately starts self-flagellating. A few highlights:
The chain grew heavy around his soul; the only relief was his obligatory visit. Except for this past month, he’d done his weekly chore. He’d driven out to the remote hospital and checked on the patient they’d named Mary, the woman he knew as something else.
If only he could rid himself of this curse. But some mistakes were eternal ones. And “Mary” was his.
Contempt. That’s the weapon she’d aimed at him. Contempt for not believing in miracles.
The same expression that stared back at him every day he looked in the mirror.
“Are you okay?” [the nurse] asked.
He shoved his hands into his raincoat pockets. “Just tired.”
Tired of life. Tired of death. Tired of serving a sentence he didn’t deserve.
“Today is the only day I can make it.” The only day I can muster the emotional strength.
Geez, pal, melodramatic much? I love a good tortured character, but it’s not a good sign when it’s only five pages into a book and I’m already thinking the hero is a big drama queen.
When he arrives at her room, it turns out Annie/”Mary” has snapped out of her catatonia and is now speaking. As soon as she sees him, she freaks out, recognizing him as a bad, bad man who hurt her. Her doctor asks him to leave. That night, said doctor tries to kill her, forcing Annie to run. She finds Sean lurking outside the hospital, and she is forced to decide whether to go with him: “‘Give me your hand,’ he implored. Give me your soul, she heard.” Bile in my throat, I felt.
These melodramatic flourishes made me roll my eyes early and often. A few years ago I read one of White’s wrestling romances, which was also broad and over-the-top in tone, but that kind of goes hand-in-hand with the world of professional wrestling, so it fit. In a straightforward romantic suspense, that kind of storytelling just felt cheesy and ridiculous. At least the story is told with plenty of energy, features nonstop action, and moves quickly. There really isn’t a dull moment and readers looking for nothing but empty thrills – emphasis on empty – may find what they’re looking for. The problem for the rest of us is that while the pace is fast, the story doesn’t go anywhere interesting.
The cast of characters in the front of the book only lists three people – the hero, the heroine and the probable villain – which indicates how thinly conceived it is. Obviously the person the hero believes is guilty must be, because there’s no one else it can be. There’s no real mystery, nothing the reader can try to follow along and figure out. All we’re left with is the waiting game until the heroine’s memory coughs up the information the plot demands it withhold: the location of her scientific formula. Logic says she can’t remember until late in the story, otherwise it would be over too soon, or the author would actually have to come up with some additional plot twists (and it’s clear early on she intends to do no such thing).
As they wait for her plot-mandated amnesia to subside, the characters run around and get shot at. She flails around and generally acts like a spaz. He alternates between getting beaten up and beating himself up for his multitude of perceived sins. Sex, sob stories, and unconvincing declarations of love eventually ensue.
Everyone in the book is a stock character so underdeveloped they’re not just shallow, they’re hollow. Sean has the trite “Daddy used to beat up Mommy and it’s all my fault” past. That may sound insensitive, but both the character and the handling of his past are so pat and superficial that this element comes across as nothing more than a cheap attempt at emotion the story doesn’t earn. Many romance novels have explored the effect of childhood abuse on adults with depth, intelligence and sensitivity. This isn’t one of them. Annie was a child prodigy and all the other children were mean to her. Instead of making her stronger, this apparently left her in a state of arrested development, as she acts like a twelve-year-old. When Sean tells her about her work, she blubbers: “I don’t believe you. I wouldn’t create something bad. I’m good. I’m a good girl.”
No, twit, you’re a 27-year-old woman. Act like it. (More generous readers might argue that this statement comes at a particularly emotional moment when it could be said she’s not in her right mind, but it’s not like she acts any more mature during the rest of the book, except for a few brief moments when the plot requires her to be.) Late in the book, when forced to face a predictably stupid decision, she thinks, “What a fool she’d been.” And I laughed and laughed and laughed.
Even with the heroine’s amnesia dragged out as long as it can be, she still remembers too soon, forcing the author to draw out the ending. There’s a perfectly reasonable moment where it should be over, the characters should say they love each other, and I could move on with my life. But no! The characters hem and haw until the author finally hits her designated word count (and at 241 pages, the book is short as it is). A few months ago, I read a Harlequin Intrigue by a new author that managed to do some interesting things with the typical psychic heroine/skeptical cop setup, so I figured I’d see if this one could do the same for the amnesia plot. It doesn’t.