Watch Your Back
When a book is the length that many of Karen Rose’s novels are, the writing has to be spectacular to keep the work from getting bogged down by sheer longitude. It works better in some novels than in others and I am happy to report that this is one of the ones where it really works.
Eight years ago Baltimore Homicide Detective Stevie Mazzetti lost her husband and son in a convenience store shooting. Rather than break her it made her more determined than ever to bring villains to justice. Among those she has helped catch is her former partner, an officer who was using his position to pervert the path of justice, helping the rich to get away scot free while the poor languished in jail for their crimes. The problems her partner caused have affected every aspect of Stevie’s life; not only did his behavior make others question her own professional integrity, it has added innumerably to the work of Baltimore PD. Now they have to work current cases and right previous wrongs as well. When Stevie learns that the ledgers they have listing the man’s former crimes may not contain all his miscarriages of justice she begins to look hard at some of his other cases. And that look results in people gunning for her life.
Clay Maynard understands putting yourself in the line of fire on the job. He just doesn’t get why Stevie has to make such an art form of it. Even though she is wounded and supposedly on leave she continues to work to resolve the massive stain on the justice system caused by her old partner. He knows it’s none of his business; Stevie had firmly put Clay in his place regarding any possible relationship between them but he can’t help but continue to want to be a part of her life, along with that of her daughter Cordelia’s. When a shooting at a restaurant where Stevie is having lunch is quickly followed by her being shot at in her own front yard Clay forces himself into the situation. She may not want his love but she sure as heck is going to accept his protection.
Stevie knows the situation is not fair to anyone. The night that took away her son and husband seems to have taken away her ability to love. She adores her daughter but romance is something she feels she will never desire again. Even as she follows Clay to the safe house that just happens to be his father’s home she fights against letting him deeper into her life. He is trying to keep her from getting killed, she is fighting to keep him from getting deeply scarred by her inability to return his affections. But the point may very well be moot. The killer is determined to see Stevie dead and he has no problem with going through Clay to see that accomplished.
Single mom novels can easily trip hot button issues for me, especially if they involve suspense. I have a hard enough time believing in two people falling in love while the bullets fly around them. I have a really hard time with a mom who falls in love while her child is the one with the bullets flying around them. However, in this novel the author does a great job of balancing Stevie’s roles as mother, lover and cop. Stevie knows her insistence on investigating the former criminal cases of her ex-partner are what have resulted in Cordelia’s being used as a hostage against her in the past and having to go into hiding in the present. She regrets that but acknowledges the only way to ensure her daughter’s safety is to get to the bottom of who is trying to kill her. She does all she can to make keeping the little one alive and well her top priority. As the book progresses and she starts to work out her relationship with Clay she also weighs her daughter’s feelings and needs alongside her own. She and Clay would have gone nowhere if she hadn’t sensed his deep devotion to the little girl and watched her daughter reciprocate the feeling.
While there was a big misunderstanding moment in the book, what kept Clay and Stevie apart were primarily real problems. They both have time consuming jobs – would they really be able to make time for each other as well as a child? Stevie’s baggage isn’t just a little thing but a big whopping nightmare that she never really got over. It makes sense that she took a while to heal from such a large trauma and is just now finding herself. Working Clay into that healing isn’t an easy decision and both of them know that. I like that they are mostly adult about the situation, able to talk through their issues and really build a connection as they do so.
While the villain here is a bit of super villain I liked that we are able to watch his slippery slope approach to crime and understand what motivates him. His inability to let go kept the pace of the book moving at exactly the right clip to balance the romance and mystery nicely.
There is a nice secondary romance here between two new characters, Sam and Ruby. I don’t know if they will get their own book or if they are simply going to be considered done with this one but I sure liked them as a couple. They had a terrific relationship in terms of working together as well as playing together. I can definitely see these two having a future together.
Rose has a talent for mixing police procedural with romance that really shines in this novel. Fans of her work won’t want to miss this one. I would also recommend it to anyone looking for an intriguing, lengthy suspense novel. It delivers on all fronts.