The Innocents Club
Taylor Smith makes the jump from paperback to hardcover with this novel, and I’m not really sure that this was the best story for that. You’ll find a lot of suspense here, as the plot moves right along, but it borders on the unbelievable.
Mariah Bolt, introduced in Smith’s previous novel, Guilt By Silence, is a CIA agent. Not the undercover kind, but the kind who sits behind a desk and analyzes data. Her husband died in the previous story, and Mariah is left to raise their 15-year-old daughter alone. Mariah is about to leave for a three-week vacation to bond with Lindsay when she is pulled into an assignment. She has to make contact with a Russian acquaintance, and to do so she must attend the opening of an exhibit at the Arlen-Hunter Museum, which happens to be owned by her father’s former lover, Renata Hunter Carr. This brings Mariah into confrontation with a lot of the past that she never wanted to think about again.
Mariah is a relatively tough woman who has a lot to deal with. She has problems with her daughter and past issues with her late father, a novelist who only achieved posthumous fame. He left his family to run off with Renata and died in France. Mariah is forced to confront this part of her life because she has found an unpublished novel of her father’s, which may have been stolen from another dead author, a famed Russian one. Her father also may have been murdered. This sets off the chain of events in which Mariah becomes a target and a pawn, and innocents such as her daughter are drawn into the game.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that since this is published by MIRA, a Harlequin imprint, that it is in any way a romance. The suspense moves along at a rapid pace. It ought to as the entire book spans no more than a week.
I also wouldn’t get very attached to any but the most major characters here. This must be a new trend in suspense written by women (the novel I read immediately after this needs the same caution), and I really don’t think I like it. The body count is higher than I expected, as is the position of the characters who die. Although the jacket copy does warn you about who will end up dead, it doesn’t warn you that Smith will introduce you to the characters and make you really like one of them before she kills off said character.
The unpublished manuscript in Mariah’s possession is the catalyst for everything that happens. The string of murders, in the past and present, hinges on the reason that seems to be behind all corruption: power. I could almost believe in the past events, but the present events stretched credibility. It’s hard to say more about why without spoiling the plot, which is unfortunate. Smith absorbs you so thoroughly in the action that it might not hit you until after you’ve finished reading that it’s a little beyond belief.
The two main secondary characters are Lindsay, Mariah’s daughter, and Frank Tucker, her mentor and former boss. Lindsay seems like a typical 15-year-old. At times she’s bratty, at times she’s sweet, at times she’s grown up beyond her years. Frank is a crusty, slightly burned-out former agent who would do anything for Mariah.
Smith throws in a little romance but not a lot. There’s Paul, Mariah’s lover whom she can’t quite make up her mind about. There’s also Frank, who has more than friendly feelings for her. By the end, Mariah makes up her mind, and if Smith writes another story about her, there’s likely going to be a wedding. But these are peripheral stories at best.
Overall, the action moves along at a fast pace, but after I finished reading I was left with some big questions, questions such as: Could this have actually happened? Smith is a former diplomat and intelligence analyst, so I guess she knows better than I do. But I still have my doubts.