Desert Isle Keeper
Witness Protection Unraveled
In the Love Inspired Suspense line, balancing the romance, suspense and spiritual elements in a relatively short book must be tough for an author. In Witness Protection Unraveled, Maggie K. Black shows us how that balance can be achieved. This novel is the third in the author’s Protected Identities series showcasing the witness protection program of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The books in the series are written as separate stories, and I read this novel with complete enjoyment without having read the other two.
Four years ago, Travis Stone did not exist. In his former life as a detective in the RCMP, he took on a dangerous undercover assignment to expose and stop a major crime lord called the Chimera. The operation was a success in that Chimera’s organization was dismantled, but the Chimera escaped. As the only policeman alive who had seen the Chimera’s face, Travis was hidden in the RCMP’s Witness Protection Program and now lives in the small town of Kilpatrick, Ontario, working as a part-time landscaper, pitching in as a volunteer firefighter, and helping Patricia, a grandmother raising her two young grandchildren. When he enters Patricia’s bookstore ready to watch five-year-old Willow and her infant brother, Travis finds the store empty and hears the unmistakable sound of a bullet fired through a silencer. Patricia lies stunned at the bottom of a ladder, and after calling the authorities, Travis runs upstairs to find the children.
Detective Jess Eddington has been trying to reach Travis for days. The recent theft and sale of precious witness protection files have led the Chimera to surface on the dark web as a buyer, and with the help of her colleague Seth, a genius illegal-hacker-turned-policeman, Jess is preparing to go undercover at the Chimera’s current residence to put him away for good. In the past, she and Travis had worked over fifty cases together as partners, and she trusts no one more to have her back, which is why she travels six hours to convince Travis to work as her handler in this risky enterprise. Before she can request Travis’ help, however, Jess is thrust into the investigation of Patricia’s assault, perpetrated by someone Willow calls “The Shiny Man”. Not knowing if the assault is connected to the Chimera, but feeling it necessary to assume so, Travis and Jess agree to work both cases in parallel. Jess moves forward, assuming Travis will not mind moving on if either investigation blows his cover, but she soon realizes Travis has strong community ties, would protect the children with his life – and he refuses to return permanently to police work, even as a consultant. His life is here now. As Travis and Jess work together on the two cases, hoping for a good outcome in both, the sparks that smoldered through their past working relationship are, in the present, flaring into a romance, for which neither is prepared but they wish they could pursue.
I hadn’t read Maggie K. Black before; now I’m on my way to becoming a fan. The writing here is tight, emotional, and precise. The opening sentence tells us exactly the kind of experience ahead.
“Travis Stone sprinted down Main Street in the small town of Kilpatrick, Ontario, ignoring the fact that Detective Jessica Eddington, the one and only woman his damaged heart ever really cared about, was now relentlessly calling his cell phone.”
And… I’m in. All in. From the action and romance hints of the opening, the story forges ahead, presenting two baffling cases, the threat of identity exposure, the effort to protect those near and dear to Travis, and the ever-growing love between Travis and Jess. Every word is important, and as we read, each paragraph holds information that will be relevant later.
The author smoothly weaves the backstory between Travis and Jess among internal dialogue, memories, and external conversation. Light relief is provided by the perspectives of five-year-old Willow – who fractures English with the regularity expected of a child – and Seth, Jess’s hacker partner, whose teasing covers his caring and a mind like a steel trap. From the local sheriff to grandmother Patricia, each character is unique and readily identifiable.
Ms. Black also makes a solid decision about introducing the spiritual element, and that element is prayer. Travis and Jess use prayer regularly – for help, for protection, in gratitude. But in all their reliance on God’s presence, neither Jess not Travis avoids personal responsibility for using the skills and knowledge with which God has gifted each of them to nudge the circumstances toward a positive outcome. Prayer becomes part of the word weaving, always reminding the reader that God is never far from these two and the situations they face.
I enjoy Harlequin series romances because I can rely on a certain level of good writing and an expected experience. And once in a while, I find a true gem that stands out as a prime example of the best that series romance can offer. Witness Protection Unraveled is one of those gems. Excellent writing, a strong romance, suspenseful situations, memorable characters, and a solid spiritual connection – this book has it all.