The Marriage Prescription

Safe By His Side

by Debra Webb
(St. Martin's Press, $6.99 PG) ISBN 0-312-94223-6
Three years earlier, former FBI Agent Ryan McBride had been the scapegoat for a failed attempt to recover a kidnapped child. Since it was his boss who made the fatal error, it was easier to cashier McBride, than to accept the responsibility of his own actions. McBride had been a brilliant, driven agent who had been approaching burn out anyway, so the failure of the agency to stand by him plunged him into a world of the disillusioned permanent drunk.

Special Agent Vivian Grace has been transferred to Birmingham, Alabama and is a rookie agent with even more emotional issues than Ryan McBride. In her freshman year in college she had become the thirteenth victim of a serial rapist and killer nationally known as Nameless. She eventually escaped the horror of repeated rapes with death hanging over her head, only by killing her captor herself. Vivian changed her name and chose law enforcement for a career.

Vivian is sent to Key West to persuade Ryan to come to Birmingham and help the FBI save the life of a kidnapped victim. The FBI has to eat a certain amount of crow to even ask him to help this one time, but in a perverse way they are forced to do so. The kidnapper had made contact through email posturing himself as a "Devoted Fan of McBride," and unequivocally stated he would deal with no other person. The FBI wonders if McBride is setting this up himself in a ploy to be reinstated.

Ryan agrees to help and the kidnapper furnishes him a clue and the time frame within which he must retrieve the child before her death. He solves the clue pretty quickly and saves the child…only to be confronted with another kidnapping, a harder clue and a shorter time to retrieve the victim.

This continues several times before things start coming together for McBride and then the author surprises us all again and again.

Debra Webb is endowed with an incredible imagination and an impressive ability to create multi-dimensional, realistic characters. She integrates the venue of Birmingham, Alabama into a sophisticated, well-written plot that always keeps the reader guessing.

While this is not necessarily a criticism, because it may have been a deliberate ploy of the author, the book starts slowly and just when the reader thinks this is merely one more romantic suspense story about a disillusioned investigator, it suddenly explodes in your face with the machinations of a truly gifted author. The characters are realistically flawed and the overall pace is relentless, the suspense side keeping in perfect step with the evolving relationship of Vivian and Ryan. Nameless becomes an unexpected treasure.

--Thea Davis

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