I have an infallible way of knowing when a character has really grabbed me. If I can see the conflict coming and I donít want to read the scene because I donít want him or her to be hurt, then I can only assume that the author has done her job and created a compelling hero or heroine. I felt that way about Grace Solarez in Saving Grace.
We meet Grace as she stands along an interstate highway outside of Seattle, preparing to walk into the oncoming traffic to end a life that has become unbearable. Exactly one year earlier, Graceís eleven-year-old daughter Marisa was caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting and killed. Grace resigned her position as a police detective and retreated to a run-down apartment and a dead end job. A single mother, Grace had lived for her daughter. Now she is consumed with grief and guilt. If she had only not stopped for a coke, if she had only not stopped to joke with a fellow cop; if she had only gotten there five minutes earlier.
As Grace watches the headlights of the passing cars, she notices a speeding vehicle, weaving in and out of traffic. The car bounces off another and ends up on its roof near where Grace stands. The driver staggers out, mostly unhurt. He says there is no one else in the car. But Grace hears a voice calling and investigates. She discovers a small
girl in the back seat. Risking her own life, Grace rescues the child, shielding her with her own body when the car explodes. Then, she disappears into the night.
A week later, Jack Dugan turns up at the shabby apartment Grace calls home. He has searched for the woman who saved his daughter. It turns out that the driver of the car had kidnapped Emma Dugan and would have left her to die without Graceís heroic action. Jack discovers that Grace is suffering from the injuries she received during the rescue. He takes her to his lovely home on Bainbridge Island to heal.
Jack knows Graceís story; he understands her pain; he wants to help her. He also wants the ex-detective to protect Emma from the threat that seems to hang over her. Grace is going to refuse until her ex-partner tells her that Jack is suspected of arms smuggling. Since an illegal weapon killed Marisa, Grace wants revenge. So she agrees to stay on and become an informant.
This was the point where I just knew what was going to happen and was pretty darn sure that I didnít want to see Grace hurt again. But, of course, I read on because I also knew that her association with Jack and Emma would begin the necessary healing process. And I likewise knew that nice-guy Jack couldnít possibly be guilty.
Thane succeeds very well in portraying the grief-stricken Grace. We understand why the death of her daughter -- always an unimaginable trauma -- was so especially devastating for this woman who lived only for her child. We understand why she at first rebuffs Emmaís friendly advances, why it hurts so much. We suffer along with her. We also understand why and how she begins to heal. Grace is a poignant and persuasive heroine.
Jack is a fascinating combination of alpha and beta qualities. A former air force pilot and successful entrepreneur, he is also a devoted father to his motherless daughter. He is attracted to the lovely Grace and wants nothing more than to help her heal, to find the strength to once again face life. He begins by wanting to help her because she saved his
daughter. Soon he wants to help her because he cares for her.
The smuggling subplot provides both the painful confrontation between Jack and Grace that I so feared and an exciting ending. It worked quite well.
Saving Grace is a most effective contemporary romance. Obviously, I found the characters -- and especially Grace -- compelling. I really wanted her to be saved and she was.