Technically, this book is romantic suspense. There is a complicated, emotional suspense plot, and there is a little bit of romance on the side. While this is not bad, per se, both of these elements need to work together to make a great book. In this case, they’re almost unrelated.
Susan Chandler’s husband Richard disappeared from their Atlanta home seven years ago after emptying out their bank accounts. He took their one-year-old daughter, Emma, with him. No trace of either was ever found, and Susan has tried to go on, believing her husband left her for another woman. Out of the blue, she gets a call from a Mississippi sheriff telling her that Richard’s car was found in a local river with her husband’s skeleton inside – as well as an empty baby seat. Susan rushes to Mississippi, frantic to find out what happened to her daughter. For seven years she’d believed that, whatever his other faults, Richard had taken the baby because he loved her and would take care of her. Now that Susan knows her husband was dead all these years, she wants to know where Emma is.
Because the sheriff’s department doesn’t seem too inclined to investigate very hard – it was a dangerous turn, there by the river, maybe the state’ll put up a guard rail or something now that someone’s died – Susan is determined to stay and find some answers herself. She rents a room from a sweet old lady, Lorena Bedford, and starts poking around on her own, asking anyone and everyone if they remember seeing Richard and Emma seven years ago.
Jeb Bedford is staying with his Great-aunt Lorena while he recuperates from a serious injury. A grenade blew up his Humvee in Iraq, shattering his leg, but Jeb is determined to rejoin his Delta commando unit. He’s seeing a top rehabilitation specialist and has made progress, but knows he’s nowhere close to meeting the Army’s guidelines. His reaction to Susan is resentment – he’s attracted to her, but doesn’t want to see any pity in her eyes because of his pronounced limp and scars. Still, he’s moved by her tragic story, and pretty soon finds himself driving her around looking for clues.
The mystery is pretty complex. What brought Richard all the way to Mississippi? If he didn’t leave Susan for another woman, why did he leave? And mostly, where is Emma?
I tried really hard to put myself in Susan’s mind, and not to judge her too harshly; losing husband, baby, home, and savings account is a pretty hard blow. And lackluster police investigations, now and then, aren’t her fault. Still, it bothered me that Susan, as well as everyone else, accepted so completely the theory that Richard had run off with someone else. There was no sign of another woman – their marriage was happy, no link to another woman was ever found, and Richard only made off with about six grand. Because Susan has believed this for so long, she’s not really all that pained by the discovery that Richard’s dead. She’s consumed with finding her child – quite naturally – but she left a major avenue of inquiry totally unexplored by not trying to learn what and who led Richard to his death in the backwater of Mississippi. She resists bringing in the FBI or state police, instead contenting herself with trying to nag the local sheriff into doing something. When he won’t, she just does it herself. Well, she does it with Jeb, who bullies the locals into sharing what they know, regardless of things like doctor-patient privilege.
Susan also does some things I had a really hard time understanding. She gets a phone call in the middle of the night, telling her to come immediately to a local playground if she wants her daughter back. Susan goes, alone, without telling anyone, completely unarmed, not even with a flashlight. There’s irrational with desperation, and then there’s stupid. She also makes some giant leaps of logic later in the book, and everyone pretty much accepts them as probable, even true. I can’t say much without spoiling the story, but let’s say this: she was on very shaky ground, and only in romantic suspense are people not arrested for this kind of presumption.
The romance was barely there. Jeb as a character is completely subordinated to Susan and her quest. Every now and then the author mentions his feelings for Susan, which is nice, because otherwise I would have never known when he moved from a nice guy helping out a woman he was interested in sleeping with to a man in love. He’s a pretty standard romantic suspense hero: ex-military tough guy who knows instantly that he would do anything for the heroine, because she is The One. Um, OK, but why?
The ending is very Disney. The villain tells all, the loose ends are knit together, and no one has any lasting psychological damage. Jeb was too one-dimensional, Susan was too single-minded, and too many coincidences worked out too neatly for Wednesday’s Child to be gripping in any way.