Laura Griffin
November 2012, Romantic Suspense
Pocket, $7.99, 387 pages, Amazon ASIN 1451617399
Part of a series

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Warm

Laura Griffin knows how to tell a gripping story, so if you haven't been reading the Tracers series, you've been missing out. This series centered on the CSI expertise of the Delphi Center contains some great, edge-of-your-seat reads. Scorched is no exception, as we see forensic anthropologist Kelsey and her ex-boyfriend Gage come to terms with their past while trying to survive the killers chasing them in the present.

At the time this book opens, Gage Brewer and Kelsey Quinn have broken off their prior relationship and tried to move on with their lives. Gage buries himself in his work as a Navy SEAL while Kelsey works her cases and tries to create a new life, even getting engaged to an FBI agent. Things change when Gage's commanding officer, who happens to be Kelsey's uncle, gets killed on a mission. This brings him back in touch with Kelsey just as events in Kelsey's life are starting to heat up. Though Kelsey has broken off her engagement, she remains in touch with the FBI agent, and when she witnesses horrific crimes while visiting him one evening, she finds herself on the run. When Gage learns what happened, he knows Kelsey is in danger and sets out to find her.

It's hard to describe the setup in detail without giving away some of the early twists and turns of the plot, but it's safe to say that Kelsey and Gage find themselves caught in a plot that reaches far beyond the immediate situation Kelsey witnessed. From the very beginning, there are hints that terror groups may be involved in some of the crimes uncovered throughout the story. The book goes back and forth between Gage and Kelsey, and the FBI team investigating. Since the FBI thinks Gage and/or Kelsey may have some involvement in the crimes, the two are simultaneously evading the Feds and chasing clues.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of moving parts in this plot. The best part of reading the book for me actually was the construction of the suspense plot. Even with plenty of subplots and large cast of characters, Griffin keeps things moving, weaving threads of plot closer together in ways that manage not to feel overly contrived. Some authors walk one through a thriller, turning up the heat gradually until you just can't stop reading. With this book, the author takes a different tack. Things start off in high-action mode and they pretty much stay there the entire time. Some of the bad guys are obvious right away, but with other characters, it takes longer to figure out whether or not they are trustworthy, and I enjoyed the guessing game. In the end, the underlying thriller plot worked, and I also had to smile when I saw how one last seemingly untouchable villain got his comeuppance.

As for the romance, it definitely takes a backseat to the suspense here. However, the balance works. Even though the love scenes between Gage and Kelsey spend less time front and center than some of the chases through the country, they have an emotional intensity and believable quality to them that works. The history between Gage and Kelsey made for realistic conflict (and if you want more of that history, check out Unstoppable, the eBook novella that is a prequel to this book); I've seen any of a number of couples in real life who have had to deal with the strain of constant military deployments and moving between duty stations. Even more importantly, not only do we see the relationship between Gage and Kelsey grow in the romantic scenes, but we also see that growth in the action scenes. I liked that because, while I enjoy romantic suspense, I think too many books have a divide between the suspense action and the romance. Griffin makes her story one cohesive whole, and that enriches both the suspense and romance sides of the equation.

There were a couple of points in the story that didn't quite work for me, as Kelsey seemed able to evade the FBI a little too easily at times. I also wish that what seemed to be a budding secondary romance could have gotten a little more development. However, I really enjoyed this book, and it's definitely a strong B+ for me. Can't wait to read the next one!

-- Lynn Spencer

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