I generally enjoy Susan May Warren’s contemporary books but unfortunately, Troubled Waters is not one of her stronger works. It acts as a bridge episode in the popular Montana Rescue six-book series and as I had not read other books of the series, I found I had trouble connecting to the characters. Although the author does a good job of providing background information throughout, I would strongly recommend reading the series from the beginning so you are familiar with the backstory before reading this.
Troubled Waters finishes the love stories of two couples who were introduced as secondary characters and had romantic ties in previous books. The lead story follows the romance of administrative assistant Sierra Rose and her former billionaire boss, Ian Shaw, who fell in love three years ago while working together but were split apart by the search for Ian’s missing niece, Esme.
The novel opens one year after Sierra leaves Ian’s employ. She has found Esme but promises to keep her location a secret, making any future contact with Ian problematic. The traumatic break-up and events in her past have left Sierra with a sense of disconnection from people around her. Even though she’s an important member of the PEAK Rescue team, she feels as if she doesn’t belong.
Life has not been kind to Ian. He made his fortune in oil, but a recent oil drilling explosion causes casualties and long-term damage to his beloved Montana. Adding up the US government fines plus the finding he has given privately to the accident victims, the total costs of the explosion have bankrupted him, and now he’s unable to back the PEAK team financially. He has also realized his obsession with Esme’s disappearance led to the break-up with Sierra, an episode he considers the worst part of all his troubles.
When Sierra shares that the team needs money to repair a damaged helicopter, Ian offers his yacht for a fundraising cruise in the Caribbean. Although Sierra tells him she will handle everything and prays he won’t come on the cruise, Ian decides if he is to win back her heart, he will have to stay near and show her he has changed. He comes aboard as Sierra’s assistant, and the irony of the role switch is not lost on either Sierra or Ian’s wealthy friends. The cruise turns disastrous when a rogue wave capsizes the yacht, and Ian and Sierra become castaways on an isolated island shore.
The secondary storyline follows the romance of Jess Tagg, a PEAK EMT, and Pete Brooks, a former PEAK team member. Eight months earlier, when Pete realized Jess would never trust him enough to share the secret of her past with him, he joined the Red Cross Disaster Relief team. He now returns, nursing his inner pain of a recent rescue gone bad, only to learn that a major fire burning fiercely through the park has trapped Jess. Pete uses all his daredevil skills to rescue her, determined to convince her he’s the one guy in her life she can trust.
In both storylines, we enter the romance after the traditional ‘black moment’. These couples broke apart in the past, and we now read about their soul-searching and reconciliation as they realize how miserable they are and move back toward each other.
The faith message of the book is consistent and strong – rely on God when all else has failed and use the knowledge of God’s presence to gather your own forces, both physical and spiritual, to help yourself. Under the threat of peril, both Ian and Sierra confront their own mistakes, and recognize the need to rely on divine intervention to smooth out the past and be together. The author allows the characters to sum up the theme in two pieces of dialogue – from Sierra, “It’s never a bad thing to have only God to turn to,” and from Ian, “Choose faith, not fear”.
When it comes to the romances, I found I enjoyed Jess and Pete’s journey more than Sierra and Ian’s. There seemed to be more energy between Jess and Pete as well as a clear conflict sitting like a boulder between them. In Ian and Sierra’s journey, the conflict did not seem as immediate; many pages of angst, reflection and prayer slowed the pace. For example, the author uses two accidents on the cruise to show the inner struggles. One allows us to see Sierra’s reflections; the other brings us into Ian’s thoughts, and finally the castaway scene works out the final issues together. The novel tilts unevenly between an action/adventure plot and the inspirational themes, favoring the latter in a way that meant I lost interest in the reflective side several times. One thing I especially missed in Sierra and Ian’s story was a view of the happier times between them. In Troubled Waters we witness only the aftermath of broken love, and it was more difficult to stay engaged in the story, since I wasn’t clear why these two were – supposedly – made for each other.
Within the series, it seemed to be the right time to deal with these characters and given the book’s concentration on the reflective side and bringing previous secondary characters into the limelight, Troubled Waters serves as a satisfactory series bridge book. Although this was not my favorite of Miss Warren’s work, I liked it enough to recommend starting from the beginning of the series. Perhaps you will find that more context enables this novel to shine.