Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-513-6
Romantic Suspense, 2007
Some people really enjoy fighting a war that is all but futile. I don’t know whether to marvel at their resilience or to hope that some of their good friends will stage some kind of intervention before someone really gets hurt. Our heroine Kathleen Palmer is one of these people. She’s with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Her ex-husband Tom McMillan is the DA who is also running for election in Haynes County and the divorce was not exactly on amicable terms, to say the least. The Sheriff, Bill Thatcher, and his people are corrupt to the core. Then there is an issue of her being a woman playing with a bunch of men who are often nothing more than overgrown little boys who don’t like listening to a woman, much less take orders from one. With the recent apparent “suicide” of a couple of young men, which is obviously not a suicide case to all who come across the crime scene, Kathleen has her hands full trying to make sure that justice is served.
There is a loose cannon in the County Sheriff Department and his name is Jason Harding. He’s a new addition to the force, he claims to be a cousin to the deputy Jim Reese, and Kathleen can’t remember a Jason Harding around the place despite the fact that he claims to be a local like she is. The thing is, though, Jason is telling the truth about being a local. In fact, he’s that kid from the wrong side of the tracks who had a crush on posh Kathleen when they were kids, what with him constantly sighing after her from afar and all. What he doesn’t tell her is that he’s now in an undercover role for the FBI, on a mission to eradicate the corruption in Haynes County. Therefore, as much as he would like to know Kathleen better, his role forces him to be her enemy in this particular situation. Oh, dear.
Jason is a very well-developed character. He’s an appealing mix of issues and heroism, with his crush on Kathleen being most sweet indeed. The poor dear’s infatuation has its roots on Kathleen being something so beautiful and innocent back when he was just a kid and therefore she became some kind of symbol for everything that his own screwed-up life wasn’t. Author Linda Winfree manages to allow Jason to channel some insecurities without completely emasculating him into some whiny crybaby. Instead, Jason comes off like someone who is determined to do the right thing. He’s a good guy with some issues which he tries his best to get over.
Kathleen is a disappointing character in comparison because for the most part of this story she is needlessly confrontational without any subtlety that she comes off as pretty thick at times, what with her antagonizing the bad guys unnecessarily and all. She’s also too emotional for my liking, getting too attracted to Jason too easily and trying too hard to believe that he’s a good guy without any concrete evidence to back her up. She has the self-awareness to realize that she’s trying too hard to convince herself that Jason is a good guy, but for too often it’s just a moment of lucid self-awareness on her part before she rushes headlong forward and becomes too emotional again. Her relationship with her ex-husband unfortunately paints her in an even more unfavorable light. I really don’t like how whenever she has to actually behave like a cop, Kathleen always seems to be on a verge of a breakdown and she has to give herself some prep talk to “let the cop take over”. Once or twice, that is fine, but please, not all the time and certainly not when the heroine is already acting like a foolhardy nitwit. I wish the heroine is a little bit more hardened and sensible when it comes to her job.
Still, she’s not too bad compared to some other aspects of this story. Ms Winfree seems to take a page from Dorothy Garlock’s Guide to Hillbilly Villains because the bad guys fit the stereotype of abusive and cackling hicks who don’t know what subtlety is to the point that I find myself wondering how these people get away with what they are doing for so long. They telegraph everything, they babble their secrets to the hero in order to gloat, and they whack their own family members. Give me a break.
Apart from the bunch of Yosemite Sams and Elmer Fudds running wild in this story, some other scenes stand out as very false to me. I especially remember that scene where Jason meets a male colleague of Kathleen and this man ends up asking Jason whether Jason has feelings for Kathleen. I don’t think any man, especially an FBI agent, will ask without prompting about another man’s feelings for heroine. Likewise, Kathleen’s female partner often babbles about her personal life to the point that I wonder whether she’s here to play matchmaker or to solve a crime. There are some scenes in this story, most of them involving some awkwardly obvious attempts by the author to get her secondary characters to show Kathleen and Jason that they have feelings for each other, that are really contrived in the way they are presented.
Still, Truth and Consequences is a pretty readable story, although I suspect that my enjoyment of this story is due mostly to the hero. The heroine and the rest of the plot are actually pretty standard average romantic suspense clichés that don’t really stand out in one way or the other.