With one-dimensional characters straight from central casting, cartoonish dialog, and a predictable plot, The Loner was an FTF for me. What’s an FTF, you ask? Cousin to the DNF – Did Not Finish – as a reviewer I was sadly Forced To Finish this unfortunate book.
Dakota Carson is an ex-Navy SEAL suffering from such severe PTSD, he’s retreated up the side of a lonely mountain in the Tetons and has spent the past year living in a cabin with no running water or electricity because he too damaged to be around people. One morning, while checking his traps for rabbits, he’s attacked by a grizzly bear. He manages to escape with his life (because he was a SEAL), but his arm is mauled, and he barely makes it to the hospital before collapsing from extreme blood loss. It’s there that he first meets Sheriff Shelby Kincaid. Instantly, Dakota feels an attraction to her, and he sees in Shelby the one person who may be able to heal him.
Shelby Kincaid is mutually attracted to Dakota and just as immediately. Upon learning of Dakota’s PTSD, she wants only to ease his suffering. When Dakota insists on returning to his primitive home after his surgery despite his doctor’s objections (because he was a SEAL), Shelby vows to keep an eye on him. Indeed, when Dakota’s arm becomes infected, Shelby arrives to save him by getting him back to the hospital to be treated. This time, when he’s released, Shelby brings him to her house because she can’t bear the idea of this tortured man remaining all by himself.
Meanwhile, two convicts that Shelby helped apprehend years ago have escaped from prison. Vance Welton and Oren Hartley are determined to extract revenge on the woman responsible for putting them away, and they head for Jackson Hole to hunt her down. Coincidentally, these men are the same ones who kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered Dakota’s sister. When he’s asked to assist Shelby in tracking down these depraved monsters (because he was a SEAL), Dakota relishes the chance for vengeance. He’s also determined that he’s the only one who can keep Shelby safe (did I mention he was a SEAL?). Dakota and Shelby work together to locate and arrest Welton before he can harm Shelby, while their feelings for each other work to heal their damaged souls.
Oddly, given that the book is titled The Loner, referring of course to hero Dakota, from the minute he meets Shelby, Dakota really didn’t spend much time alone. Other than his too-stupid-to-live insistence that he return to his isolated cabin mere hours after undergoing surgery on his damaged arm, he and Shelby became chummy pretty quickly. This certainly weakened my perception of Dakota’s PTSD as any form of obstacle between the two, indeed as even a serious issue for him.
Perhaps more frustrating is Dakota’s initial refusal to seek treatment for his problem in the form of counseling and/or medication. It’s hard to have compassion for someone who won’t help himself. At least by the end Shelby manages to talk some sense into Dakota and convince him to seek treatment, because while the notion of love being so powerful as to heal the deepest emotional scars is romantic, the assertion that Dakota’s severe PTSD could be vanquished by Shelby’s magical charms bordered on insulting.
Too, while I can accept lust and physical attraction upon first sight, the magnitude of Shelby’s first reactions to Dakota and vice versa caused more than a little eye rolling given that he was bleeding to death. Laughable was the image of Dakota laying on a hospital gurney being wheeled into surgery, his bear-shredded arm in agony, thinking how much he wants to kiss a woman he’s just met. After knowing him a mere 48 hours, Shelby’s touch alone is enough to bring down Dakota’s fever and help him heal faster. Give me a break.
Every character in this book could be summed up with two or three words that will tell you everything about them because not a one of them was remotely original. Dakota is a Protective Tortured SEAL. Shelby is Gentle-souled Perfect Tracker. The villains are Evil Bad Guys.
In fact, when creating the book’s main villain, Vance Welton, it’s as if McKenna simply went down a list of stereotypical psychopathic traits. Welton was molested as a child? Check. He killed animals for fun? Check. Burned down a neighbor’s house for turning him in? Yep. Sexually assaulted little girls before moving on to torture, rape and murder adult women? You got it. Welton is nothing more than a cartoon, complete with an idiot hillbilly sidekick in Oren Hartley. Their scenes read like a cartoon.
Even if Dakota and Shelby managed to catch these two buffoons, the very fact that Dakota was in on the hunt in the first place made no sense. I can’t imagine any law enforcement agency that would allow the brother of a victim to help track down and apprehend the men who had raped and murdered her. It’s a violation of major ethical standards, like a doctor treating an immediate family member. With that reality, the entire Dakota Saves Shelby plot falls apart.
As for the writing, I was surprised to learn that this writer has an extensive backlist because I found many problems I would not expect from an experienced author.
I’ll admit that I’m a point-of-view pedant. When it comes to changes in character points-of-view, I expect them to happen when they make sense in the narrative, usually between chapters or at least with some form of break to let me know there is a switch coming. McKenna switches from Shelby’s POV to Dakota’s and back again pretty much whenever she wants. Every other paragraph. A sentence here or there. It was like watching a tennis match.
Another issue I had were inconsistencies and inaccuracies. If Dakota muses on page 10 that, “Ten years in the SEALs had been the happiest time in his life,” then I’m sure McKenna could understand my confusion when he thinks on page 13 that his past was, “Nothing but a mire of serrating grief, rage and helplessness.” Not to mention the impossibility of a 28-year-old man having been a SEAL for 10 years based on a simple Google search about minimum enlistment ages and the length of training needed to become an operational SEAL, plus the year he’s been out of service, of course.
I could maybe overlook this sloppiness if it wasn’t just one more symptom of a problematic book. But in the end, there is simply nothing for me to recommend The Loner. And to borrow from the Scrubbing Bubbles slogan, I read this book so you don’t have to.