Where There's Fire

Maureen McKade
October 2008, Romantic Suspense
Berkley, $7.99, 304 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425224212

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Warm

Where There's Fire is a new romantic suspense offering from Maureen McKade, who is noted for her western romances. I happen to like western romances very much and wish they'd come back into fashion, but since I don't see that happening any time soon, and I like romantic suspense, I settled down with this book, thankful that at least the characters weren't vampires.

Shoni Alexander became a police officer to follow in the footsteps of her father, whom she admired and loved. She is a good officer - now a detective - but as the story begins, her career is in jeopardy. Several months ago, a drunk driver killed Shoni's mother and the man got off when the officer at the scene didn't read him his rights. Shoni went after the officer in the police station, and even though she has apologized and gone through the motions of getting help, her lieutenant has his eye on her. No one knows that Shoni stalks the man, planning to kill him with an unmarked gun.

As the book begins, Shoni is the primary in an arson case. Someone is torching warehouses and finding the arsonist becomes urgent when the police discover a body in the second warehouse. When a fire erupts in a third warehouse, the police finally have a witness, a homeless man who saw the face of the arsonist. There's a problem though - the witness has amnesia.

The amnesiac man calls himself John McClane, a name given him by a young girl named Lainey who lives in a decaying apartment building near the warehouse with her drug addicted/hooker mother and her great-grandmother who is trying to take care of her. McClane has appointed himself Lainey's protector and Shoni first meets him when he's beating up a pimp. When the warehouse is torched, the fire spreads to the apartment where Lainey lives and McClane is instrumental in getting everyone out, so not only is he an eyewitness to a fire, he's also a hero. Almost immediately after Shoni talks to McClane, someone tries to kill him, so she takes him to her mother's old condo, where sparks begin to fly between them.

I won't say more, since to do so will spoil the story for everyone. While Where There's Fire is not bad, it has way too many problems that jerked me out of the story. The motive for the arson is somewhat convoluted, as is the story, so much so that there were a few times I felt like taking a pen and diagramming the plot like I used to diagram sentences. We never get to know the arsonist - all we really know about him is what McClane tells us. While I'm not fond of spending quality time in a villain's head, I would like to get to know him at least a little bit. Toward the end of the book just as they are about to get the man, they stop everything to rescue Lainey, whose drug addicted mother has sold her to a pimp for a fix. This stops the primary action dead in its tracks and seriously marred the story's pacing.

McClane is quite a knight in shining armor. He's good, he's decent and he has the requisite painful past that's part and parcel of any self respecting romance hero. He really has no faults at all and even his amnesia occurs as a result of heroic behavior. As I read the book I wished he'd been flawed in some way - it would have humanized him.

Shoni is more realistic, although she's not a character the reader will warm to initially. She is obsessed with justice (which is why she is so angry that her mother's killer got off) and that makes are a fiercely dedicated detective. The sub-plot about her trying to kill the man who killed her mother while he was driving drunk could have easily been dropped. It's introduced in the beginning, then McClane talks her out of it at the end. All it did was make her look like a vigilante cop and that was not how she really was.

Where There's Fire isn't dreadful, but it's nowhere near good, either, what with the overly convoluted plot and characters who weren't well enough drawn. I've heard good things about Maureen McKade's western stories, though...I think I'll make a trip to the bookstore and try one.

-- Ellen Micheletti

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