Onyx, February 2003
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
Lieutenant Colonel Jessica Blackwell is reassigned to Eglin Air Force Base as the woman in charge of the largest supply squadron in the air force. This incredible new job assignment brings Jess back to her childhood home in Walton County, Florida. Years earlier, Jessica and her alcohol- and drug-addicted mother were run out of town by the sheriff before her mother could press charges after she was gang raped. Now, Jess has grown into a beautiful and confident woman who believes the ugly past is behind her, until Sheriff Steve Paxton shows up with questions about several mysterious deaths linked to her mother's scandalous past.
Sheriff Paxton's investigation into the deaths of three men involved in her mother's rape makes Jess the prime suspect, but his attraction to her threatens to compromise his ability to solve the mysteries. Divorced, Steve Paxton is a lonely, emotionally disconnected man with unresolved issues connected to a mass murder at a day-care he investigated in Atlanta. Suddenly, his long deadened feelings are stirred by Jessica Blackwell. He is living a simple, basic, no-frills existence, until Jessica comes along and disrupts the isolated life he has carved out for himself. Things are further complicated when two attempts are made on Jessica's life. Why does someone want to kill the prime suspect? And what really happened that night long ago?
Merline Lovelace has written a mature, well-crafted story. This novel abounds with the kinds of details that bring a military story to life. Jessica is a strong postmodern character. She has overcome a dreadful past and become a woman who doesn't need anyone to rescue her, but her life is lacking love and personal happiness. Steve struggles to break out of his emotionally isolated world, despite the conflicts with his job, and build a relationship with this independent woman. Technically, all the elements are there for a great suspense novel but the romantic element doesn't take off. These characters make a physical connection with each other but they never quite develop an emotional bond. Enough background is there in each characters' biography to awaken these two people but they never grow emotionally. On the plus side, the surprise ending is filled with enough drama to make an action adventure movie out of this novel.
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