In Unspoken, author Lisa Jackson successfully balances romance and suspense to concoct a great read. The setting is realistic. The characters are interesting and bits and pieces, which may be clues to a decade-old, unsolved mystery, are presented at just the right pace. Y’all better be ready to hear some straight talk about the way things work in small-town, small-time Texas.
A decade ago, Deputy Nevada Smith resigned from the Sheriff’s Department after nailing a murderer in a high-profile case. After ten years developing a working ranch, attempting to rise above the onus of being the offspring of a drunk and a runaway mother, Nevada is somewhat satisfied but vaguely unfulfilled, thinking of ways to make his spread a home.
Convincing circumstantial evidence pointed to Ross McCallum as the murderer of local Hispanic storekeeper, Ramon Estevan. Nevada and others in town were relieved to uncover enough evidence to send Ross off to prison. Nevada’s missing department-issued handgun was the murder weapon -- Ross was found drunk after running off in Nevada’s stolen pickup. The two men, products of horrific childhoods, were always rivals despite being members of the same high-school football team.
Ultimately, they focus and fantasize about the same woman, apparently just out of reach for both. The source of friction, then and now, is Shelby Cole, daughter of the most powerful man around, rancher-lawyer-politician, Judge “Red” Cole. As a naive seventeen-year-old, chafing under the yoke of her powerful father, Shelby experiences first love and entices Nevada, despite his conviction they are too different to have a future.
A decade after the murder, Bad Luck, Texas, is heating up again. The main witness against Ross McCallum recants on his deathbed, leading to Ross’s release from prison. An anonymous envelope reaches Shelby, indicating she has a nine year-old daughter somewhere, a child whom she believed died at birth. Crank calls at Nevada’s and Judge Cole’s begin to look too coincidental to be unrelated to Ross’s return to Bad Luck.
Despite a few loose ends, Unspoken is a thought-provoking read. Philandering husbands, domestic violence, rape and murder cannot be gentled by a captivating story of a rekindled lost love. However, the author infuses vitality and appeal into the main characters and provides a credible plot to reunite them.
Lisa Jackson combines a strong, admirable heroine and an attractive, likable hero, supported by an interesting cast of secondary characters, with a decade-old, unsolved murder to create a nearly perfect example of contemporary romantic suspense.