The Particulars: Contemporary romantic suspense, Harlequin SuperRomance #1197, 2004, Out of Print...but available in digital!
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: One of the ladies on my "coffee klatch" e-mail loop read this and loved it. I'm a HSR ho, so that was enough for me to run out and buy it....only it's been sitting in my TBR all this time. Seriously, I suck.
The Review: A year and a half ago, Craig Lofgren's wife disappeared. Ever since, he and his two children have been stuck in a living purgatory. Their marriage was hitting the skids, and they had argued loud enough the night before that the neighbors heard. Julie had a reputation around town for being Mother Of The Year. It's inconceivable to everyone, including the investigating police officer, that she would leave behind the kids, not to mention her purse sitting on the kitchen counter (hello, what woman does that?!). Naturally, suspicion lands on Craig, even though there were zero signs of a struggle, no evidence, no body, and the fact that their son, Brett, is vehement that "Mommy said goodbye" to him. It's been a living hell, and now his son is getting ready to start a new school year with Robin McKinnon as his teacher.
Robin and Julie were casual friends, chatting at soccer games since their sons played on the same team. She feels guilty for letting young Brett drop off her radar since his mother's disappearance, something that happened because she was going through a bitter divorce and custody battle. Now Brett is in her class, and he's very troubled. She's worried about him, and so goes to talk with his father.
We need to get this out of the way up-front: this book does not work as a romance. Chalk it up to a case of the conflict overshadowing the love story. Craig is presumed guilty in the eyes of everybody that he killed his pretty, young wife. Everybody thinks this - with the exception of Craig's own father. In order for me to buy into the romance, I need to see the characters "building a foundation" over the course of the story. For the first 2/3 of this book, that isn't happening. The shadow of What Happened To Julie? is looming large. Certainly, as the reader, we know Craig couldn't possibly have killed her, but Robin doesn't know that - and continues to wrestle with doubts very late in the story. How is the reader supposed to buy the romance when the heroine has these thoughts on page 172 of a 296 HSR:
Oh God, oh God, she thought. What if he killed Julie? If they didn't find her or her body, Robin would never know for sure. Given the creep her ex-husband had turned out to be, she sure couldn't trust her judgment.Now that being said, you fair blog reader are reading my blog. The girl who also loves mystery/suspense novels. And as a mystery? This one is a humdinger. I was glued to this book and did not want to put it down. Who was Julie Lofgren, and why would she just vanish? Did she meet with foul play? What the heck happened to her? Plus seeing how the people she left behind (her husband, her children, the entire town) deal with her disappearance is equally as riveting.
During the last 1/3 of the book the author must have realized she needed the hero and heroine to spend more time together in order to make the happy ending work - but by that point I was so captivated with the mystery that I sort of resented the time away from it for the Love Cooties "stuff." The author makes this story extremely light on the sensuality though (I'm talking G-rated), which does make this romance a bit more believable, but I still couldn't help but feel that the final chapter was really rushed.
I'm so tempted to slap this one with an A just because I thought the mystery was that good. However, I tend to reserve A grades for books that I know I'll reread one of these days, and this one? Yeah, now that I know what happened to Julie Lofgren, I probably won't do a reread. The romance just wasn't strong enough to carry this book to reread status to compensate for me knowing how the mystery turns out. Still, it was a damn awesome read while I was devouring it with fresh eyes. So that means....
Final Grade = B+
PS: The investigation for Julie is led by newly-minted police detective, Ann Caldwell - whose father originally was in charge of it before he died in a car accident. She's convinced, just like her Daddy was, that Craig is guilty as sin and she wants to nail the guy to the wall (and not in a good way) to make her Daddy proud of her from beyond the grave. She is a fantastic character, with lots of hard edges and brains to boot. Imagine my absolute delight when I learned that the author gave her her own romance in another HSR title, Revelations, and that I had it in my TBR! I immediately pulled it out to read, and a review for that one is launching tomorrow.