The Daughter

The Disappearance

I Do, Again

The Inheritance

 
The Refuge by Jasmine Cresswell
(Mira, $6.50, G) ISBN 1-55166-608-1
****
The Refuge, the sequel to The Inheritance, is an engaging read. Jasmine Cresswell's latest romantic suspense novel is refreshingly unique from anything I've read in a while.

Marisa Joubert is a single mother in dire need of gainful employment. As a high school dropout with no marketable skills, she feels lucky to find a job making good wages at "The Refuge," a home for unwed mothers in the Colorado Rockies. It doesn't take long, however, for Marisa to figure out that something is amiss at her new place of employment.

For one thing, the majority of the women that live in The Refuge are refugees in the truest sense of the word...they herald from war-torn places like Bosnia and the former Soviet states, many of them having endured rape and other horrific atrocities at the hands of the soldiers in their former countries. These young girls speak little English and have no one to turn to in the United States, a land where everyone is a stranger to them. Furthermore, all of these girls are pressured into giving up their babies for adoption, with the option of keeping their children all but removed from them.

Shortly after one of the pregnant refugees turns up missing, Marisa discovers something even more shocking, and that's the truth behind The Refuge's side business. As it turns out, these young women have survived one nightmare only to be thrown into another. Marisa isn't certain what to do or who she can trust. Is her boss behind all of this, or is he an innocent pawn? And what about Jimmy, the handsome, but mentally retarded janitor who she senses isn't as slow as he leads people to believe?

Jimmy Griffin is a former FBI agent who now has his own security firm. He recently lost his sister in a car crash, and although the police ruled it to be an accident, he isn't buying it. Two days before his sister died, she had left a message on Jimmy's answering machine, wanting to speak with him. As it turns out, his sister, an important doctor who had once volunteered her skills in Bosnia following the aftermath of the ethnic cleansing campaign, had found some information concerning a man from The Refuge that had taken two of the pregnant women from the camp she had worked in and secreted them back to the United States.

Jimmy doesn't have much to go on besides his instincts. Determined to find his sister's killer, he goes undercover and works at The Refuge, posing as a mentally retarded janitor. When the office manager Marisa discovers his true identity, Jimmy is forced to tell her everything he suspects is going on. Will Marisa believe him? And just as importantly, will she ever forgive him for deceiving her?

Cresswell manages to create a strong romance and a good suspense while simultaneously delivering a poignant commentary on the plight of poor women in America today. She stirs your social conscience, but does it in such a way that you don't really realize it until the book is over. The story and romance don't suffer in the least, which couldn't have been an easy thing to pull off. Very admirably done.

The romance itself is well developed. Since the heroine believes the hero is retarded for several chapters of the novel, the protagonists become meaningful to each other in a non-sexual way, which eventually culminates in a romantic relationship. Of course, before Marisa discovers Jimmy's true identity, it is interesting to watch her feel guilt over her sexual awareness of a mentally retarded man...after all, she likes Jimmy and doesn't want to objectify him in any way just because he happens to have a killer body and a sweet smile.

The suspense angle is also very well done. You'll find yourself wanting to know what exactly the shelter's side business is and how it fits together with several murders that have taken place, Jimmy's sister's murder included. There are pieces to the puzzle you can more or less figure out and pieces you can't until Cresswell puts them all together.

The Refuge is an entertaining read. It isn't perfect, as there are a couple of plot resolutions that seem a trifle too convenient, but overall Cresswell fans will not be disappointed by her latest effort.

--Tina Engler


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