Desert Isle Keeper
I love Alexandra Ivy’s Pike, Wisconsin series for its old-school suspense, and this standalone third installment is a nail-biter. Unstable is a second-chance romance at heart, and reunites Rachel Fisher and her ex-husband, Zac Evans, whose marriage imploded eight years earlier. But if there’s one thing history (and romantic suspense) teaches us, it’s that the end is only relative.
History is a big player in Unstable and links the past with the present in a swift kick to the throat. The premise is truly awesome: there’s a dead man lying on top of a grave in a cemetery. His name is Jude Henly, and the grave he’s lying on is his own because everybody thought he’d been dead all this time. But – surprise! – the actual body in the grave is that of Staci Gale, a woman who ran away nearly thirty years before. So exciting!
Obviously, Staci didn’t run away, and if the fact that her decades-old dead body doesn’t give it away, the VCR tape that shows up at the Sheriff’s Office showing her bound and gagged ought to do it. That, and a note from the killer’s apprentice, who calls himself ‘The Maestro’, taunting today’s law enforcement with crimes from days of yore. Enter interim sheriff Zac Evans, whose new case overlaps on a lot of data points with a cold case Detective Rachel Fisher is working on, which brings her back to Pike to assist Zac with the case. The killer is smart and as are all serial killers, arrogant. The Maestro is busy, and between the bodies piling up and the steady taunting he metes out, manages to stay one step ahead of Zac and Rachel. But just as they’re closing in, he kidnaps Rachel and jacks up the stakes.
The suspense is the highlight of this story, though the rekindled romance between Rachel and Zac provides a nice, simmering undertone. They’re a dynamic, intuitive investigative duo, which can primarily be attributed to their chemistry. Trust and love are hard-won assets in any relationship, whether professional or personal, but when they’re there, they’re there. They got married right out of high school, and in their near decade apart have both matured, and Ivy paints a portrait of two intelligent, accomplished individuals. There’s no whining between the couple, no bitterness or anger, just two young people who married too young and went their separate ways. The suspense is satisfying, convoluted, and highly detailed; it held my attention until the very end, but I discovered that even though finding out whodunit was incredibly satisfying, I wanted a little more focus when it came to the romance and on Rachel and Zach’s fight to be together. Yes, they never stopped loving each other, but the author relies a bit too heavily on their history to explain how their future will unfold. But while I wanted more from the romance, Unstable is really strong on the suspense and definitely worth sticking around for.