Thicker Than Water
Thicker Than Water is an uneven romantic suspense novel heavy on the suspense. It is less successful in the romance department. Some interesting main characters who tread the fine line between hero/villain territory kept me following the red-herring laden action to the book’s apex, but the overall reading experience didn’t fully satisfy.
Julie Jones is a provocative character with a unique back story. We first meet her in a prologue thirteen years before the main action of the novel as a teenager named Jewel held hostage along with other girls her age by Mordecai, a David Koresh-like cult leader. Mordecai is unstable and obsessed with the baby he fathered with Lizzie, Jewel’s best friend within the compound. Thanks to a pre-dawn raid by federal authorities, Jewel, Lizzie, and two other girls escape with the baby. But when Lizzie and Mordecai are killed during the escape, Jewel vows to raise the baby as her own and create a new life for both of them.
Fast forward thirteen years. Jewel has made good on her promise to Lizzie. She changed her name to Julie Jones, went to college, and became a respected television news journalist in upstate New York. She raised the baby – whom she named Dawn – to be a smart and independent young woman and has never told – and never intends to tell – the young girl the truth about her parentage. Their calm lives are disturbed however, when a blackmailer threatens to reveal the secrets that could destroy Julie’s carefully constructed career and identity and cause her to lose custody of her daughter. A desperate Julie confronts the blackmailer. When he turns up dead and her fingerprints are found at the scene, Julie realizes that she needs to find out who was feeding the blackmailer his information and who killed him.
At the beginning, Sean MacKenzie and Julie have little liking for each other and even less respect. Sean is a journalist, too, but in the sensationalist tabloid vein, unlike the proper and dignified news anchor Julie. Sean is sleazy and not above digging information out of garbage cans in pursuit of a story. The two are thrown together professionally when Julie’s boss decides to hire Sean as a co-anchor for her news program without her knowledge. Their relationship is hostile from the first and their barbed repartee is amusing.
Sean reluctantly gets involved in Julie’s situation, at first out of curiosity because he knows she’s hiding something and the sleazy journalist in him needs to ferret out the story, then later – out of genuine concern. The metamorphosis of Sean’s character from a Matt Dillon-type from the movie There’s Something About Mary into a hero willing to sacrifice himself for love was the most compelling thing about the book. The reader is privy to enough of Sean’s thought processes to make the transformation believable, and it’s not always a pretty sight. This man starts out as fairly unlikable, and even less sympathetic, but he wound up as my favorite character in the book.
Julie demonstrates less growth as a character, but since she’s in dire straits almost immediately after we meet her it’s less easy to judge her movement. Her emotional journey is one of trust – despite evidence to the contrary, she needs to believe that Sean will help her solve the riddles and must give him enough information for him to do so.
Their investigations are a race against time, since the police are actively considering Julie’s role in the murder of the blackmailer. Julie’s on-edge, brittle personality is believable based on the storyline, but it made her somewhat tough to take at times. On more than one occasion, I wanted to say, “Lighten up!” when she took Sean to task for his different approach to life. This is a woman of iron will and rigid discipline, shaken to the core by events beyond her control and terrified that she will lose the one thing that means the most to her.
I liked Julie and Dawn’s relationship. Sometimes the mother-teen relationships depicted in novels seem very unrealistic, but this one rang true to me, and made Julie’s desperation understandable. Julie and Dawn – whether biologically related or not – share a tremendous bond, as well as numerous character traits.
The plot was well constructed, though there were a few points that had me scratching my head and checking a few pages back to see if I’d missed something along the way and even though the plot holes can be glossed over without losing much momentum, they are definitely there. Likewise, some of the plot contrivances definitely require some suspension of disbelief. The bad guy is established early on, but connecting the many dots took some time, and several of the red herrings were more obvious than not. The climax left a few threads untied, so I suspect at least one related novel will be coming our way in future.
Thicker Than Water is a slightly better than average romantic suspense novel laragely because of the personal and emotional journeys the main characters take, particularly pseudo-hero Sean. The romance is superficial, though the sex scenes are hot. If you’re looking for an edge-of-your-seat suspense to while away a few hours and are willing to overlook some holes in the story, this one might work for you.