When I think of this book, the first word that comes to mind is “meandering.” The plot wanders around, the time frame switches without much warning, and the story is told in fits and starts. Sometimes a gradual build-up can heighten the suspense, and this latest effort by Mariah Stewart does do that in some ways. But only to a point. Describing the main plot of this book is pretty simple, but that same plot line was so buried at times, it almost got lost altogether. By the time the plot took a more prominent place in the second half of the book, the story had lost much of its momentum.
The strongest element of Voices Carry is the romance. Genna Snow is an FBI agent haunted by her distant (and not so distant) past. As a child she was assaulted and abandoned. As an adult her feelings of abandonment were reinforced when the man she loved walked out on her without a word. She and John Mancini had a strong, committed relationship – or so she thought. That’s why it hurt so much when he left and why she can’t easily accept him back into her life. After all, he could so easily hurt her again. John’s reasons for leaving her do make a kind of sense, but he has a hard time convincing Genna of that. That’s what works so well in this romance. These are two extremely sympathetic protagonists who have realistic reasons for the difficulties in their relationship. No ‘Big Misunderstandings’ here, thank goodness!
Which brings me back to that slow-building plot. The bare bones are that a half dozen women in their late twenties/early thirties have disappeared from around the country. No one can figure out what the connection is between them other then the fact that each disappearance looks like a kidnapping. John Mancini is the expert FBI agent who’s been tapped to head the investigation. He forms a small field team to investigate, and Genna is on that team. Sounds simple enough. But the investigation doesn’t actually begin until page 246. Everything that comes before is part of the set up. This set up jumps from the past, to the present, to the thinking of the villain, to John wanting Genna back, to Genna working on another case, etc.
It does all eventually lead somewhere, but some of the connections are a bit iffy and the details can be downright wrong. A “for instance” is Genna realizing after the fact that she heard a noise (a clue) that would have led to a resolution. But without giving any spoilers away, Genna couldn’t have heard what she thought she did. The facts, as written, don’t allow for it. This is just one example, and there are others. In the book’s defense, the draft I read was just that, a draft. The editing had yet to be completed; some of the pacing and detail errors may be corrected in the final version. But many of the errors have to do with continuity, which I don’t think will change much.
But while the plot is only so-so, the romance is really a draw here. Genna and John do seem like people I could know (if I knew any FBI agents). So if you’re looking for a romance about a couple working their way back to each other, this would be a worthy choice. Just don’t be surprised if you have to work through a lot of backstory and current subplots while you’re enjoying the reunion of Genna and John.