Come Sundown

More Than You Know

 
Lost by Helen R. Myers
(Mira, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-55166-572-7
***
Michaele Ramey is an auto mechanic and service station operator in the small town of Split Creek, Texas. She is the sole reliable member of her dysfunctional family which also includes her irresponsible, alcoholic father and her sister Faith, a college student who is glad to leave all the burdens of managing house and family in Michaele’s capable hands. Jared Morgan, the town’s police chief, has shown more than a casual interest in Michaele, but she is overwhelmed with all her various responsibilities and cannot risk taking on the additional stress of a romantic relationship.

Faith is late in arriving home from college, and Michaele becomes worried when she receives a mysterious phone call that implies that Faith’s absence has a sinister explanation. She contacts Jared who begins a search for the missing young woman. The police quickly locate Faith’s car with her possessions still inside, but she has disappeared without a trace.

Six years ago another young woman, the sister of the local high school principal’s wife and Jared’s fiancée, had been brutally murdered in Split Creek. The crime was never solved. The principal, Garth Powers, discovers a message in blood written on a school wall that indicates that evil has returned to Split Creek.

Jared refuses to believe that the message and Faith’s disappearance are related and focuses instead on an old boyfriend of Faith’s whose alibi doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. When a high school girl also disappears, fear strikes at the heart of the community. Is Faith’s disappearance the result of a rejected lover’s disappointment or are there more ominous forces at work? Will Faith’s disappearance be the catalyst for Michaele to accept a deeper relationship with Jared?

Lost is a novel of romantic suspense with the emphasis on the suspense over the romance. In addition to the main characters mentioned above, the author has populated Split Creek with an assortment of characters with private lives and dark passions. The seemingly tranquil town is teeming with illicit goings-on. Although it would appear that Jared has only one crime to solve -- Faith’s mysterious disappearance -- there are several crimes that will challenge his skills.

A generous helping of red herrings is provided to divert suspicions from the murderer, but I had no difficulty figuring out the guilty culprit and the motive well before the end of the book. The mystery subplot concerning Faith’s ex-boyfriend is more obscure than the primary mystery, and I appreciated the vivid portrayal of his character as well as his mother’s.

The author is particularly successful in creating a dark, suspenseful tone. Those readers who are looking for a light, playful romance will find this book heavy going. The difficulties that Michaele faces in her daily life are grim even before Faith disappears. It’s easy to sympathize with her, but it’s also possible to wonder why she hasn’t taken more of a stand with her deadbeat relatives.

With Michaele as an enabler and her father and sister only too willing to take advantage of her devotion to duty, it seems unlikely that Michaele is ever going to get any relief. It’s hard to believe that there’s a possible happily ever after in her future. The eventual resolution to her biggest obstacle to freedom tilts closely to a deus ex machina device and left me a little dissatisfied that the author provided a means whereby Michaele is able to avoid a long delayed confrontation.

Since Michaele’s character is so delineated, every other character, including Jared, seem less developed. Jared is educated and dedicated, but some of the details of his past seem more convenient for the story line than in agreement with his personality. He does, however, make a satisfactory hero, one who appreciates the heroine’s heavy burdens.

Although Michaele and Jared seem like a reasonable match, there is a feeling that their relationship is more the result of expediency than cosmic destiny. Their romance seems long overdue, but Michaele’s reasons behind her resistance to becoming romantically involved are plausible. I recognize Michaele’s heavy emotional baggage, but I still question the probability of a twenty-eight-year-old having absolutely no sexual experience whatsoever and wonder why it’s taken Jared literally years to make his move.

Furthermore, the facts behind Jared’s attraction to Michaele may make some readers a little uncomfortable. He was content with a friendly, casual relationship with Michaele for years only to push for a physical and emotional commitment at a time that she is overwhelmed by events involving her sister and father. The wisdom of his timing seems questionable. It raises the question of whether their relationship will survive once Michaele is no longer so dependent on his support.

Lost is most likely to appeal to fans of romantic suspense. Readers who prefer stories with an emphasis on romance will probably be less interested.

--Lesley Dunlap


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