Don't be misled by the cover: the hero of The Listener is not a sulky James Dean in a SWAT T-shirt nor is his lady love a vaguely Hispanic, twenty-something staring pleadingly at the back of his head. Instead, both are adults, with adult emotions and adult problems that make for a compelling story.
The Listener is the third in Kay David’s Florida SWAT team trilogy. 36-year-old Maria Worley is the chief psychologist for the Emerald Coast SWAT team. Her newest patient, Ryan Lukas, is one of the team's three sharpshooters. Ryan's team commander, Lena McKinney, has him manning a desk until Maria clears him for team duty. Lena feels - and Maria agrees - that the recent death of Ryan's wife's is affecting his performance. Ryan disagrees, angrily. He refuses to talk to Maria, walks out on his first appointment, and fails to keep his second.
Meanwhile, Maria is having problems at home. She has been divorced for two years, and the behavior of her fourteen-year-old son is going from bad to worse. She doesn't like the boys he is running around with, his grades have steadily deteriorated, and today she found his last report card, two weeks after it was issued. Christopher's grades are bad enough, but even more upsetting is the fact that he forged her signature. Maria grounds him.
The morning of his third appointment, Ryan calls Maria - her secretary says, "It's the Hunk…on line one" - and says he wants to reschedule his 3:00 p.m. appointment to the next evening at 7:00 p.m., at the Crab Shack. Maria understands that this ploy is an attempt on Ryan's part to deny that he has a problem and to be the one in control. She agrees anyway, hoping that by taking him up on his dare, she will put him in a position where he won't be able to avoid talking about his problems.
Ryan manages to turn the tables on her. He thinks Christopher might have been one of a group of teenagers who holed up in an old warehouse and shot off an air rifle. Now, when Maria tries to get Ryan to open up to her, he counters by asking if she is having problems with Christopher.
She is, and she can't help telling Ryan about it. She came home from work the night before to find her son and four of his friends sprawled all over her living room, drinking a beer. His father thinks she's making a mountain out of a molehill, and she is distressed because her reactions aren't those of a psychologist but those of a single mother. Unlike her ex-husband, Ryan doesn't belittle her worries.
While both Maria and Ryan were believable, attractive characters and I was interested in their romance, the story element that moved The Listener up a notch was Maria's difficulties with Christopher. His attitudes and behaviors rang true; he acted very much as I would expect an angry 14-year-old to act. Maria's resulting anxiety, and her feelings of helplessness, resonated strongly with me. If I were in her position, and a strong male intervened to help with my fourteen-year-old son, I'd fall in love, too.
The Listener is, above all, a story about three people and how they interact to heal each other. In addition, David uses Ryan's sharpshooter skills to crank up the suspense in the second half of the book. I found myself peeking at the last few pages to make sure everything came out all right. That was either a tribute to the author's skill or - considering the conventions of the genre - a symptom of my naiveté. I prefer to believe it was Kay David's skill that kept me turning the pages compulsively.
--Nancy J. Silberstein