I’ll admit that this month of the TBR challenge was a hard one for me, as it required me to catch up on a series I’ve neglected. I have almost an embarrassment of riches in my TBR pile as I have a bad habit of starting series and not finishing. Since I really wanted to finish a series, I picked 2011’s In Close by Brenda Novak because it was last in the series. Well that, and I was in the mood for good suspense, which is exactly what I got. I had enjoyed the previous books in this trilogy, but I think this one was my favorite. Were I reading it for review, it would get a B.
In Close is a lovers reunited story, and it’s also a tale about a fairly ordinary small-town woman who stumbles into one heck of a conspiracy. Fifteen years ago, Claire O’Toole’s mother Alana went missing and it’s pretty easy to see from the beginning of this book that the disappearance sent Claire’s world into something of a tailspin. Instead of going off to college, Claire has stayed in Pineview, Montana, where she operates a beauty shop and helps her wheelchair-bound sister. Haunted by the loss of her mother, Claire still returns to her painting studio every six months or so. Claire had always wondered what happened to her mother, but it wasn’t until her husband’s mysterious death, about a year before this book begins, that she really starts looking into things.
While on one of her visits to her mother’s painting cabin, Claire starts looking at her late husband’s things, which she also stores there. She then realizes that her husband had been looking into Alana’s mysterious disappearance when he died. Claire is attacked and knocked unconscious while at the cabin, and all of these things convince her that she needs to start looking at her mother’s disappearance again and perhaps this time figure out what happened.
As it happens, the cabin now belongs to Isaac Morgan, a local turned well-known photographer. He knew that Claire had been using the cabin, but let her alone. The two had had a very intense relationship shortly after high school that ended very badly. However, when Claire gets attacked in the cabin, he comes to her rescue. In doing so, he notices what had caught her attention at the cabin and he starts getting drawn into the quest to find out what really happened to Alana as well. Though their relationship had ended badly, Isaac has grown up since then and obviously has strong feelings about Claire. For the rest of the book, we get to spend time both watching the leads try to unravel the mystery of Alana’s disappearance as well as watching Claire and Isaac finding their way back to one another.
By and large, the chemistry in this book really worked. There’s a “I don’t trust you but I still can’t keep my hands off you” sex scene early on in the book that rather complicated matters between an already complicated pair of people, and which seemed not to entirely fit in with the preceding action. However, what came after makes for good reading. We as readers get to see that Isaac has grown up since his early 20s, and we get to see Claire finally figure it out as Isaac shows her by his behavior what kind of person he has become. There’s a little more of the “I love you, I hate you….” dance with these two than I generally go for, but it’s well written.
I also liked the buildup of the suspense plot. Claire and Isaac actually have to investigate and build a case step by step, and we get to walk alongside them for that process. The author does a good job of showing how Claire’s questions affect various people in town. Some have sympathy for Claire, some don’t want to reopen old wounds and others are just plain convinced that Alana abandoned her family. The mixed feelings and variety of reactions felt realistic and gave texture to the story. I also appreciated the fact that the people who care about Claire didn’t just accept the reappearance of an old boyfriend in her life, but also had some tension surrounding that. The end result was that Pineview seemed like a decent place, but not Small-Town Fairyland, and I liked that.
While previous books in the series were certainly action-packed, I’d been jolted out of one story a bit by a heroine whose professional judgment was more than a little bit lacking and out of the other by characters who felt just a little bit too distant. No such problems here. The leads in this story have good chemistry, and while some parts of the suspense plotting get a little over the top, nothing is so outrageous as to take away from the entertainment value of the book. One thing that I also appreciated with regard to the suspense side of the story was the manner in which the author really keeps readers guessing. It becomes obvious fairly early on that there is some kind of conspiracy surrounding Claire’s mother’s disappearance. However, we are kept guessing just how far it extends until almost the very end. In terms of story arc, this book is not tied as closely as the first two books in the series were, so it can read as a standalone. If you like suspense and you’d enjoy seeing it combined with a hot romance, In Close is a very fun read.
– Lynn Spencer