|Dee Henderson: True Devotion|
(paperback), ISBN 1-57673-620-2
Lifeguard Kelly Jacobs, widow of a SEAL killed in action three years prior to the story's opening, decides it's high time to begin moving past her grief. Only one hitch: she comes to this decision in the middle of the open ocean in a riptide current beside the teen she swam out to rescue, with darkness and hypothermia descending fast.
Enter Lieutenant Joe "Bear" Baker, her late husband's platoon leader and best friend, and Kelly's self-appointed knight in shining armor. Since SEALs protect their own, especially the widows, Joe and his team assist the Coast Guard search and rescue effort. Naturally, he arrives in the nick of time to pluck Kelly and the teen from the ocean. Kelly remains awake just long enough to recognize her rescuer and offer him a groggy "I love you."
Those three unexpected yet heartfelt words send Kelly and Joe into an emotional tailspin during the ensuing weeks as they explore their burgeoning feelings against the challenging backdrop of grief, survivor's guilt and backsliding faith. Add to the mix one ardent admirer -- Charles, the wealthy, widowed father of the teen Kelly risked her life to save. More closely bound than initial appearances indicate, the three adults become ensnared in a web of espionage, vendetta and betrayal -- a lethal combination even love finds difficult to conquer.
A "suspense" story generally keeps the reader guessing about the villain's plans and motives until the denouement. A "thriller" may leave the detective in the dark for a long time, but the author reveals everything to the reader along the way. While reading True Devotion (which by those definitions falls into the "thriller" category), I realized that I much prefer a suspense plot. I relish trying to figure out whodunnit and why. In this book Henderson gives the reader maybe half a page between dropping a clue and clarifying its meaning, thus ratcheting up the predictability factor and diminishing overall enjoyment.
The novel's structure also struck me as problematic. The plot seesawed between the present and the past, revealed through several flashbacks from both Kellys and Joe's viewpoint. Such pace-killing temporal shifts caused me to wonder whether the author would have been better advised to open the story with the death of Kelly's husband and express the dark emotional issues firsthand.
However, if you don't mind the flashbacks or having the mystery elements explained on the fly, then you could do a whole lot worse than read this book. Sometimes love needs a hefty dose of renewed faith to help it vanquish the obstacles looming in its path, the truest reminder True Devotion can offer.
Kim D. Headlee
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