Standoff at Christmas
When I’m reading up on inspirational romance, Margaret Daley’s name comes up again and again with regard to romantic suspense. I’ve seen her name on many, many Love Inspired covers, so I got curious and picked up Standoff at Christmas. The verdict? This one is totally worth your time.
As in so many small-town romances, this one centers on a character who has returned home after a long absence. However, unlike most of the books I’ve read, it’s the hero coming home this time. Jake Nichols left the small fishing town of Port Aurora to join the police force in Anchorage, where he became a K-9 officer. Following an injury, he has returned home to recover. His K-9 partner was also injured seriously enough to be retired, so he brings his well-trained companion, Mitch, with him.
As the book opens, we meet Jake’s childhood friend, Rachel Hart, who now works as bookkeeper for the town’s largest employer, Port Aurora Fishery. Rachel has serious problems. As the book opens, Rachel’s aunt makes it clear that something is terribly wrong and that she needs to speak with Rachel. However, the two are unable to speak alone and after work, when Rachel goes in search of her aunt, she cannot find her. She quickly turns to Jake, and the two soon discover that Rachel’s aunt has been murdered.
From that point, the action truly picks up in this story. The suspense portions of the story will likely engage most readers, as it’s obvious from the beginning that something big is happening at the fishery, but it’s only as the book moves along that readers start to see how many layers this plot has. I kept thinking I knew the answer to the mystery and sometimes I was right, but only partly so. Up until the last few chapters, the author keeps feeding readers more and more tidbits of knowledge about wrongdoing that runs pretty deep in Port Aurora.
So, with all this action, does the romance get lost in the suspense? Not at all. When I read a romantic suspense novel for review, I don’t really look for a 50-50 balance as some readers do. Instead, I want to see both the suspense story and the romance appearing fully realized, without either feeling rushed or abridged. In this book, readers get that. There’s plenty of action, but Jake and Rachel also build a very believable rapport. The two characters knew each other years before, and I think that helped the romance feel less rushed. I loved the interaction between their family members as well. Jake sometimes seemed a bit overbearing in his protectiveness of Rachel, but otherwise I enjoyed their scenes together.
Though part of a series, Standoff at Christmas appears only loosely connected to the other books and it stands very well on its own. The mystery in this book is self-contained, and the romance certainly read that way as well. This appears to be the only book in the series that takes place in Port Aurora, and I think that may have helped.
While I don’t normally think of armed standoffs and Christmas together in one sentence, this is an entertaining read. The unraveling of the criminal plot near the end is a bit much of a pile-on for my tastes, but otherwise, the book works well. If you’d like a quick read with a bit of suspense to it, definitely give this novel a try. I’ll certainly be checking out more from this author’s lengthy backlist.