First off, be forewarned, this is not a “romance” novel, if such is defined as a story with the primary focus on the romantic relationship. Margot Dalton is an established contemporary romance writer who has taken the leap from romance to romantic suspense, and actually that categorization is a bit of a stretch with this book. It is mostly a straight mystery with a secondary focus on the private love life of the heroine. This is the third book in a series featuring Detective Jackie Kaminsky, and it continues her personal story as she solves an intriguing missing person case. Once past a rather slow start, the story is a page-turner and makes for fairly good reading.
Jackie Kaminsky, a detective for the Spokane Police Department, comes to work one morning to find a distraught mother, Carly Stevenson, and her four young children, waiting at her desk. Carly’s husband, John, left home to buy baby formula the night before and has not returned. Bound by the rule that a person must be missing 72-hours before police action can be taken, Jackie tries to put the woman off, but Carly’s distress and the sterling reputation John has as a devoted family man, added to a strange connection to a prominent local politician who had tragedy strike his own family the same night, raises Jackie’s suspicion. The 8-year old daughter of the politician, Jason Burkett, was killed in her front yard by a hit and run driver. Burkett was also John Stevenson’s employer for the past six years. Evidence that this is not a simple case of desertion on John’s part continues to pile up, and other strange occurrences, like several attempts to kidnap one of the Stevenson children, keep Jackie and the Spokane PD on the trail.
Kaminsky has more than her job to worry about, however. She carries an immense load of emotional baggage from a tough childhood on the streets of L.A. which is threatening the “happily ever after” she and rancher, Paul Arnussen, want to find together. Paul is determined to marry Jackie, who is equally determined to live her own life and hold on to her freedom.
Those who want to be hooked by the opening of a book may not make it to the end with this one. The prologue demands attention as it describes, from the victim’s point of view, the child’s tragic hit-and-run. But this is followed by two molasses-like chapters filled with dialogue that might be heard in real life, but is yawn-material in a novel. A tremendous amount of needless back story is fed the reader through Jackie’s chit-chat with various people. If I had read the first two books in the series I would be bored by the repetition, and as a first-time reader, I had no need of it since virtually none of the characters who are explained this way had anything to do with this particular story.
Things pick up after the first two chapters, however, and Ms. Dalton does a good job of first weaving thread upon thread of mystery and personal/emotional story elements, and then unraveling it in an effectively suspenseful way. Characters, both main and secondary, are also skillfully portrayed with human strengths and weaknesses, and there are few flat stereotypes here, which makes for engaging reading.
While Paul is “on stage” very little in this book, I still found myself genuinely caring for him by the end, and the challenges he and Jackie face are realistic and emotionally charged. The book’s over-all emotional mood is dark, but things brighten in the end with an effective hook to entice the reader into the next book (to be released in 1999).
I suspect this series will successfully continue for some time to come.