Berkley Sensation, $6.50, ISBN 0-425-19919-3
Romantic Suspense, 2004
Maureen McKade’s first foray into romantic suspense has all the cosmetic trappings of a book in that subgenre but it doesn’t feel like an authentic romantic suspense. The hero and the heroine have all sorts of familiar baggage of guilt and responsibilities that would have tipped the Titanic over even before it starts sailing out, so to speak, but the crafting of the suspense is such that the mystery is transparent and predictable and the main characters, for supposedly talented special people trained for this kind of things, act like obtuse dummies too often. This book is like watching an accountant and a nanny trying to cut down on their therapy bills in some bizarre reenactment of a CSI episode.
Nick Sirocco and Danni Hawkins are the equivalents of “fill in the blanks” template hero and heroine. He is, of course, from the wrong side of the street but his mentor helped him to go straight. Yes, he was once an Army Ranger until the team he led went wazoo straight to hell and he would be feeling forever guilty about that. Oops! Today, he is burned out when it comes to writing macho action men stories and decides to try his hands at a cop thriller instead. Since his mentor Paddy was a cop, he decides to give Paddy a call for some tips and hints when it comes to the plotting. I sincerely hopes that there is no parallel between Nick’s change of authorial direction and Ms McKade’s, because Paddy dies after giving Nick a timely call on Nick’s answering machine to start our hero off on his vigilante debut.
Nick approaches Paddy’s daughter Danni for help. Danni was a cop until her partner died. She has always competed for Paddy’s affections but she always felt that Paddy loved his cop job and his shelter for troubled teens more than her. It is compulsory, I suppose, for her to be nursing a crush on Nick since she saw him at her father’s shelter. Like Nick, Danni is a familiar character in this genre. Together, they investigate Paddy’s supposed suicide and of course, fall in love along the way.
In another story, perhaps, Danni and Nick will be sympathetic characters and their love story a poignant tale of healing because Ms McKade is always good at creating tortured but likeable characters. Unfortunately, with investigation and romance taking centerstage side by side, it’s hard for me to overlook the fact that Ms McKade is so afraid that her readers will be lost if she introduces a teensy little curveball that she has Danni, the cop, explaining things to Nick often to clear the air. The problem here is that Nick is an ex-Army Ranger. While being a cop and an Army Ranger is not the same thing, I have a hard time imagining that Nick will be so obtuse that Danni has to often explain what their clues could mean or what they should do next. Surely Nick has the perception and intelligence to put two and two together on his own?
Then again, he did cause this screw-up that killed every one of his Army Ranger team…
Also problematic is how the villain is never hidden even a little from the reader. The suspense is not there, therefore, because I can correctly guess who the villain is shortly after that person shows up and it’s just me waiting for Danni to slowly guide Nick into catching up with me.
At the end of the day, Nick’s hands-on tutorial on procedural investigation isn’t too successful, if you ask me, because – with all due respect to dead Paddy – I don’t think he will be good in writing such stories seeing that he is so slow when it comes to playing Sherlock Holmes. Maybe Danni should ghostwrite for him. While it is tempting to wonder aloud whether Nick is an autobiographical character (although hopefully nobody dies in the creation of this story), I know from experience that Ms McKade is a good historical romance author. While the jury is still out when it comes to her foray into romantic suspense, hopefully she will start taking bigger steps in her next effort and don’t worry too much about her readers not being able to catch up.