Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-399-58528-9
Romantic Suspense, 2018 (Reissue)
Promise Not to Tell has actually a gripping first few chapters. The hero Cabot Sutter and the heroine Virginia Troy both grew up in a cult – a very bad sort that nearly saw the two as children being barbecued as part of a dramatic grand finale by cult leader Quinton Zane. Oh look, aren’t the names of these characters oh-so Jayne Ann Krentz? I think I can guess the name of the author just from these names alone even if someone happened to forget to print her name on the cover. Anyway, Quinton was said to have died in another fire some time down the road, so the survivors such as Cabot and Virginia are left these days with only their inner demons to contend with. No more real life monsters lurking in the shadows… or is there?
The prologue shows a woman realizing that Quinton has finally caught up with her, and she decides to throw herself off the cliff than to fall under his influence again. This woman is a reclusive artist who sells photographs and paintings via Virginia’s art gallery, and our heroine first became concerned when she received Hannah Brewster’s latest work. Hannah was also a survivor of the cult, and her latest work suggested that the artist was more troubled than ever by her memories of her time in the cult. And then poor Hannah is dead. Virginia decides to seek the help of Anson Salinas, the cop who found and rescued the children on that night Quinton decided that he was in the mood to set bonfires.
Conveniently, Anson is now the boss of a PI agency, and Cabot is his adopted son. So Cabot and Virginia decide to look into the matter of whether Quinton is back from the dead, and if that’s a yes, then maybe it’s time to put an entire to his cult-leading career for good.
I personally find this premise interesting enough to want to find out what happens next, but unfortunately, once our hero and heroine decide to do that investigating thing, the story falls into the same mediocre and linear “suspense” rut that plague way too many of the author’s previous efforts. Long-time readers will know the deal: these two go around talking to various people, interspersed by the bad guy going muahahahaha and killing a few people now and then to show me what a cartoon villain he is, a pretty lame twist that is shoehorned in for the sake of a twist, and various twists and turns that feel more like coincidence in motion than anything else.
The whole thing is pretty boring, and the sad thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. The author could have switched things up easily. For example, Quinton could have stayed dead and perhaps Hannah was just unhinged due to her PTSD, or Quinton could have been less of a stereotypical “Muahahaha!” villain that this author is so fond of and more of an intelligent, cunning manipulator like he is said to be, or… or… or if the author had done something different from her usual “Let’s talk and talk and talk until the ending finds us!” way of doing a romantic suspense. Still, I suppose the author isn’t rocking the boat so long as her royalty checks continue to come in.
in this particular story, things are made worse by the fact that the author chooses to fill me in the main characters’ brush with fires background story by having these characters tell one another things that they should all already know. The “We both know that we already know these things, but let’s rehash them in a stilted manner anyway clearly for the sake of the readers!” method, in other words, which never goes over well in a story already as dull as this one.
The one saving grace here are the characters. Sure, Cabot is That Guy and Virginia is That Lady, very familiar archetypes that are present in every freaking single book by this author, but this time around, there is an easy chemistry and rapport which is enjoyable to follow – when these two are not doing that “You know I know, but let’s just talk about it anyway because the person reading our story doesn’t know!” thing, that is. While the romance takes a backseat role for much of this “suspense” story, the author includes some chapters late into the story that manage to bring back some of the lovey-dovey charm that made the author’s books from twenty or so years ago so much fun to read. Those chapters make me feel a twinge of nostalgia, and really, that’s not a bad thing as these days, I’d be happy to feel anything other than indifference or boredom each time I read this author’s books. Also, the secondary characters are a jolly bunch with some interesting quirks that feel like a natural extension of their personalities rather than some gimmick.
Therefore, Promise Not to Tell is a rather odd story – it is marketed as a romantic suspense, but the suspense is easily the worst aspect of the story. On the other hand, the romantic elements are easily the best thing about this one, but at the same time, they are not developed as consistently or fleshed out well enough for this one to be a romance story that really hits the mark. Yes, it’s readable and at least I’m not completely indifferent to the main characters this time around, but at the same time, it’s stuck in a place that is neither here nor there.