Lost Innocence (A Siren Cove Novel) Mass Market Paperback – June 26, 2018
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The suspense plot revolving around a twisted stalker/kidnapper seems straightforward and maybe even obvious, but just when you're sure you know the identity of the villain, the author throws you a curveball. You'll never see the end coming, trust me.
Again, Jannine Gallant gives us strong, complex main characters, another scary villain, with twists and turns in a superb story. Like the first book, the characters are everyday people that you might know in your own town. Then what you think will be the main crime in this story turns into a much more dangerous one for Nina, Teague and his daughter Keely. The villain is also a surprise; as well as being one that is unusual.
Well written, attention holding, I found this to be a wonderful romantic suspense. While I never want to live in Siren Cove, I don’t mind reading about the place. Lost Innocence is as I have found Ms. Gallant’s books to be; consistently accomplished with the suspense building as the story goes along with same being said for the romance.
An ARC of the book was given to me by the publisher through Net Galley which I voluntarily chose to read and reviewed. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
As romantic suspense novels go, this one simply didn't grab me. The main characters, Nina, an artist, her new neighbor, Teague, a fireman, and his precocious 6-year-old daughter, Keely, were a bit too formulaic. Nina's fiance died in Afghanistan 5 years earlier and she hasn't found a man who she deems worthy of commitment since then. We eventually learn that Nina wanted him to leave the military and return to her home town, but instead, he ignored her wishes and he re-enlisted without even discussing it with her. As a result, she doesn't want a man who doesn't put her and her needs first, before his job, or anything else. I found her attitude about this issue to be totally unrealistic, and I found her character to be more than a little self-centered.
She first spots the hero, Teague, her new neighbor, on the day he moves in, and she also notices his small daughter and her small "yippy" dog. She's certainly impressed by his looks, he's a tall, handsome hunk of a man, and she assumes that his wife is inside their new home telling the moving crew where to place the furniture, and shortly thereafter, Keely shows up Nina's backyard, where she's working on a commissioned painting, and Keely, who is a bit too precocious for words, leads Nina to believe that her handsome new neighbor is married. When Nina welcomes him to the neighborhood with a pot of beef stew in hand, she soon learns that he is a fireman and a widower, whose wife died tragically in a drive-by shooting in the L.A. area, prompting him to move to a small, quiet town on the Oregon coast.
So far, so good, but be prepared for these two characters to dwell repeatedly on each others looks. Teague is clearly obsessed by Nina's beauty, and he can't stop watching her walk away in the short shorts she favors, and Nina can't stop admiring Teague's face, his hair, and his buff body, admiration which starts the moment she first sees him. Did this mutual physical admiration need to be repeated ad nauseum throughout the novel? For this reader, the answer to that question is a resounding no. It's not long after these two meet that they first agree to be friends, but soon end up in bed together in what's supposed to be more the scratching of a mutual itch than a romantic relationship.
As for the suspense part of this romantic suspense novel, it all starts when Nina goes for a run on the beach, notices what appears to be a mother and daughter in passing, and picks up a slip of paper she assumes is litter, stuffs it into her pocket and continues on home, where she tosses her dirty clothes into the washer. If you're a fan of Alfred Hitchcock films, that piece of paper, which we soon learn is a $3 million dollar winning lottery ticket, is the "McGuffin," the single item around which all the suspense in this novel revolves, and as McGuffins go, there was one flaw, and that flaw was that once Nina's began folding her laundry, she noticed that the piece of paper, now washed, dried, and faded, appears to be a lottery ticket. Shortly thereafter, there's a break-in at her house, but nothing is stolen. There are additional odd occurrences just like the first, but she never guesses that it might be that lottery ticket, even when the fact that a local convenience store in Siren's Cove sold the winning ticket appears on the local news. Could that possibly be the reason for the break-in? Does she ever even mention it to anyone? Nope.
As the break-ins continue and Nina feels as though she's being stalked, she's soon spending most of her time in Teague's home and in his bed, and the forward momentum of this story slows down to a crawl. We know who's breaking in and searching, yet Teague and Nina assume, without any evidence, that the culprit/stalker is male, although we readers know early on that the culprit is female, especially after Nina takes Keely to the park, doesn't pay much attention to the little girl while absorbed in her painting, and a strange woman almost succeeds in spiriting Keely away before Nina even realizes it. Does she even bother to mention it to Teague when she next sees him, nope, and when she does, he's quick to fly off the handle, resulting in their first real argument and a break-up. Nina's take on all this is that Teague's job and his daughter will always be his priority, rather than her. Hello? Could she possibly be more self-absorbed? To say that I couldn't warm up to her character is putting it mildly.
The action doesn't really get underway until the last quarter of the novel, when Nina is displaying her paintings at the annual town art festival and a couple of vacationers notice that the small girl that Nina depicted in her beach painting bears a striking resemblance to their missing daughter, Emma, who was kidnapped 3 years earlier. Shortly thereafter, when Keely is also kidnapped, the search for her really revs into high gear, and even though Nina really steps up to the plate while the search is on, it was far too little, far too late for me to like or identify with her.
As far as Teague goes, he had his moments too, like when he was looking for a babysitter for his precious daughter, Keely, and hired the third applicant, a rather odd and eccentric old woman, who shows up on a motorcycle, wearing full leathers, and he never even bothers to check her references, yet he's quick to anger at Nina as soon as he learns of the incident at the park, blaming Nina for not having her eyes on his daughter every single moment. Hypocritical much?
While the plot of this novel was interesting, although not quite as interesting as the plot of the previous novel in this series, these characters simply didn't resonate with me at all, nor did the chemistry between them work for me either, and if I can't warm up to the characters, I find it difficult to really care what happens to them. While the book is well-written, both Nina and Teague lacked a certain depth of character, and seemed far too willing to look at the each other's flaws. Both were quick to judge, quick to assign blame, and quick to anger. They were also quick to jump into bed at every opportunity, while still telling themselves this was all casual, although, from the outset, we learn that Nina doesn't do casual. In fact, they spend more time having sex, talking about having sex, and justifying having sex, than they ever spend really getting to know one another on a deeper level, and even a weekend away, without Keely, ends with the two of them barely speaking to one another, but suddenly, they're both declaring their love for one another. It just didn't jibe with this reader at all.
There are a number of additional issues I had with this novel, like the title, which had no relevance to the story whatsoever, aside from a rather odd comment made by Teague after Keely's abduction, as well as the immaturity of the main characters, and the cavalier way the break-ins at Nina's house were handled by the police, who never even bothered to dust for prints. The fact that we eventually learn that the culprit in this novel isn't new to kidnapping, and has, in fact, been doing this for the past 30 years, makes me wonder why the police didn't even suspect a connection to earlier missing child cases, even when they learn that 3 years earlier, little Emma was also kidnapped. In point of fact, there is a national database on missing and exploited children where the police might have spotted the connection to a dozen similar cases, but they, and the author, seemed to know nothing about it. This database has been mentioned in almost every other Law & Order episode, and every other true crime series on television for years, and what about Amber Alerts? Why was that never mentioned either? It was, in my opinion, perhaps the largest oversight and flaw in this already flawed novel.
If you're looking for a quick, not terribly engrossing or deep romantic suspense novel, this one might work better for you than it did for this reader. If you're new to this author, I suggest that you might want to start with the first novel in the series, Buried Truth, which was quite a bit more interesting and a more suspenseful read than this one.
I voluntarily read an advance reader copy of this novel. The opinions expressed are my own.
The author used certain charterers as placements until they were needed instead of using them throughout the story.
The story is more romance than mystery but its the characters builds that will have readers hooked to the story.
As the story ends readers will see the twist coming. Its the emotions that come along that readers will not expect.
Add this to your summer to be read pile and enjoy.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher Lyrical Press, Inc for the advance copy of Jannine Gallant Lost Innocence.