The Devil's Daughter
Katee Robert is probably best known for her sexy contemporary romances, several of which have been positively reviewed at AAR. With The Devil’s Daughter, she’s moved into romantic suspense territory, and has done so with a reasonable degree of success, penning a well-paced and gripping tale that kept me eagerly turning the pages.
Sheriff Zach Owens, a former Marine, saw enough killing, bloodshed and violence during his various tours of Iraq to have made him want to leave it behind him and settle down in the relatively quiet Montana backwater of Clear Springs. The worst he usually has to deal with involve the odd DUI, theft and minor crimes, and sometimes keeping a lid on the suspicion harboured by some of the locals towards Elysia, the large compound outside of town which is home to a religious cult. Most of the time, the town and the cult manage to co-exist peacefully, but when a local girl goes missing and her ultra-conservative, church-going parents insist that someone from the cult is responsible for her disappearance, Zach has to walk a tight-rope between doing everything he can to find the girl and keeping the simmering resentment of her parents and their supporters from igniting the tensions between Clear Springs and Elysia and provoking a serious incident.
Zach’s fears are confirmed when he receives news that the naked body of a teenager has been found just outside town and he fully expects this to be the missing girl – but it isn’t. It’s another local girl, one who was believed to have left town to attend college, hence the fact she’d not been missed. And to make things worse, the girl is linked to Martha Collins, the head of the commune at Elysia, by virtue of the fact that Martha wrote her letters of reference for college. Zach knows that any direct approach to Martha or her inner circle will be shut down and met with their usual brand of stonewalling, but with a murder directly linked to the group, and suspicions mounting that they have something to do with the other girl’s disappearance, Zach is going to have to tread carefully if he’s to stand any chance of getting answers, finding the missing teenager or solving the murder.
Eden Collins escaped from the commune and her mother’s influence when she was eighteen. Now an agent working for the Behavioural Analysis Unit at the FBI, she’d never thought to return to Clear Springs, wanting to remain as far from there as possible, but when she’s anonymously sent a picture of the murdered girl, which clearly show tattoos identical to the ones Eden has, she knows she has to go back. Zach is initially suspicious of her presence and her motives. As Martha Collins’ daughter, Eden is not the most popular new face in town, and even Eden can understand why Zach feels the way he does. But she insists he needs all the help he can get in order to find the missing girl before she becomes the killer’s next victim.
The small-town setting of this story is used to great effect in creating an atmosphere of oppression and insularity which helps to build a sense of menace in the mind of the reader. Another thing the author does very well is to show just how deeply affected Eden was and continues to be by her upbringing and life as the daughter of a clever, manipulative and ruthless woman. Eden has been out of Elysia for a decade; she’s an intelligent, independent, capable woman who is obviously good at her job, and yet coming back to Clear Springs almost threatens wipe out those ten years. She knows how controlling and devious Martha is, and knows she has to keep her wits about her if she’s not going to get sucked back in; and Ms. Roberts communicates Eden’s complicated feelings about Martha and Elysia with insight and skill.
The suspense plot is well-executed and especially unsettling on the few occasions the story is told from the PoV of the murdered girls. I had my suspicions as to the identity of the villain, but it wasn’t too obvious, and overall I was satisfied with the way that storyline played out.
I can’t say the same of the romantic aspect of the book, however, which comes as a surprise given Ms. Robert is known as a romance writer. Zach and Eden are a good fit; intelligent, competent people who are dedicated to their jobs and who are both carrying around a bit of emotional baggage. But the romance isn’t really given enough time to develop, and as a result, it feels as though it has just been tacked on. Their first kiss, for example, comes out of the blue when their relationship really only consists of suspicion and work-related disagreements. In this context, sniping at each other doesn’t work as verbal foreplay, and there isn’t much chemistry between them. The book ends with an HFN rather than an HEA for Zach and Eden, with both of them agreeing to pursue a relationship while continuing with their jobs and lives in different places
The Devil’s Daughter is billed as being the first book in the Hidden Sins series, and I’m certainly not averse to reading more, but I’m hoping that Ms. Robert will be able to achieve more of a balance between the romance and the mystery in the next book.