With a fascinating premise and protagonists who must overcome conflicting core beliefs to find a happily ever after, I kept waiting for this book to grab me. Unfortunately, when I reached the end, I was still waiting.
C.J. Starr has worked his way through law school driving trucks for his brotherís shipping company. One day, while heís waiting out a rain storm in a rest area, a young woman having car trouble approaches and asks for a ride for herself, an older woman and a small child. When C.J. regretfully declines, citing strict company policy against hitchhikers, Caitlyn pulls out a gun and C.J. finds himself hijacked.
Moments after Caitlyn, Mary Kelly and little Emma are in the truck, a sedan pulls up beside their disabled vehicle and two thugs emerge to inspect it. C.J. pulls away without incident, but itís clear thereís more happening here than meets the eye.
Eventually, C.J. manages to get the gun away from Caitlyn. He demands their story and Caitlyn tells him that Mary Kelly has left an abusive marriage; sheís on the run because her powerful husband was granted full custody of Emma. Sincerely troubled by the fact that heís abetting a kidnapping, C.J. takes them to the nearest police station, despite their please, and insists they surrender.
Believing he did the right thing - but having trouble feeling good about it - C.J. later sees on the news that Caitlyn and Mary Kelly are in police custody but that Emma has disappeared, whisked away by someone posing as a child welfare worker. For several months, the situation receives regular news coverage. Then, one day, Mary Kelly is killed by a sniper and Caitlyn is left in critical condition. Wracked with guilt, C.J. heads for the hospital.
Thereís a lot going on in this book, thatís for sure, and things only escalate after Caitlyn is shot. In spite of all the complexity - or perhaps because of it - the story and the characters are oddly uninvolving.
C.J. wants to help bring Caitlynís attacker to justice, so he calls in his extended family, including his sister-in-law, Charly, whoís a lawyer, and an FBI agent, Jake, whoís married to C.J.ís brotherís wifeís sister. This confusing, over-complicated relationship is, Iím assuming, necessary because the characters were introduced in other stories by this author. I have not read the previous books and did not think the recurring characters added much except confusion to this one.
C.J. was almost too pat as the southern boy. His speech had an authentic ring to it, but the total effect leaned toward the stereotypical rather than unique individuality. Caitlyn has an interesting vocation, and has made difficult choices with her life, yet these go largely unexplored. Even her reaction to a physical disability caused by the shooting doesnít faze her much, except in the most obvious ways. Itís more of an excuse for C.J. to whisk her to an isolated location, out of harmís way, than it is a chance to us to get to know her on a deeper level.
Once in the isolated location, the Ďdangerí of being located by Mary Kellyís nasty husband pretty much disappears, and the middle third of the book is intended to explore Caitlyn and C.J.ís developing relationship. Except it doesnít really develop. He pushes himself on her; she shoves defensively back. Underneath it all they want each other. It doesnít generate a lot of romantic tension, and it covers typical romantic fiction territory in a fairly predictable way.
An interesting premise - the essential conflict between his belief that the law must be upheld and her deliberate choice to break the law when she knows it endangers a woman and child - is also dealt with only superficially. The characters and situation are potentially interesting, but itís as if the author, having gotten this far, didnít quite know how to deal with it all. As a result, the book has an uncommitted feel, leaving the reader vaguely unsatisfied.
Shooting Starr (which is a cute play on words, but has nothing to do with what happens in the book), isnít bad, it just isnít very memorable.
-- Judi McKee