January 2009, Inspirational Rom. Suspense
Steeple Hill Books, $13.95, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373786409 Part of a series
I enjoyed several of the books in Hannah Alexander's Hideaway series, so I was excited to try the first book in this new one. In A Killing Frost, the husband and wife team writing as Hannah Alexander combine their medical knowledge for a fast-paced suspense thrill ride that had me glued to the pages. Though the initial setup of the story made me wary, the author's way of gradually giving depth and unexpected features to what first appear as stock characters and situations worked very well in this book.
As the novel opens, 11 year-old Doriann Streeter sits wedged between her kidnappers in an old pickup truck. Though terrified, glimpses of the kidnapped girl's intelligence show through - not least when she convinces her attackers to veer off the road to a small town. The kidnappers are junkies about to crash and Doriann tempts them with tales of drugs to be had in the small town of River Dance, Missouri. Unknown to the pair, Doriann has family there and knows the town well.
While Doriann undergoes her ordeal, Dr. Jama Keith has come reluctantly to River Dance. Though fearful of returning to her hometown, Jama has a debt to pay. The town financed her medical education in return for her coming to work in the newly built town clinic. While events from Jama's past keep her from wanting to be home, she has the integrity to do her duty and so she has come to work her required years.
Her first day does not start well. The clinic is not yet open for business, and Jama finds herself having to break in so that she can treat her foster father until help arrives to take him to the hospital in a larger town. The clinic director's response to Jama's plight lacks sympathy, to say the least, and Jama dreads spending years under this woman's authority. Even more, she dreads spending time in the same small town as her foster brother, Tyrell Mercer, who has also recently returned.
At first, the two plots develop well and separately from one another. Doriann deals with the kidnappers as she makes her way in the woods near River Dance. She comes off as basically a smart kid though she makes mistakes that feel quite believable given who she is. In other sections of the book, Jama and Tyrell try - and often fumble with - attempts at basic communication and reestablishing what could end up being either a friendship or relationship. These two very obviously have a past, and the author makes them deal with it. It is not until later that we get to see how the two plotlines relate to one another, so if you don't like spoilers, stay far away from the cover blurb.
The authors also do a good job with making characters feel real and no one is wholly evil or completely a saint. When deep dark secrets are revealed, people react to them. The reactions aren't always what the ideal person would do, but they do fit in with what a normal, flawed human facing such a situation.When I first saw the name of the town at the center of this series, I have to admit that it rather distracted me. It's hard to feel drawn into a mystery set in a homey small town when your head is filled with visions of people prancing to Irish music. That incongruence and the sometimes over-the-top Mayberry-esque descriptions of life in town pulled me out of the story from time to time, but the book still worked for me.
A Killing Frost marks a promising start to a new suspense series. With legal thrillers, I find myself nitpicking the legal aspects of every story, but with medical thrillers, I tend to enjoy the story much more. Though Jama and Tyrell's relationship in this book moves in fits and starts that sometimes feel awkward, both of them work overall as characters and I ended up enjoying this story quite a bit. If you enjoy romantic suspense and would like to read a suspense thriller with a postive message, you may want to give this one a try.
-- Lynn Spencer
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