In the past few years, numerous romance novel authors have tried to cross genres into the suspense arena, with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, many of them lack the appropriate skills to make the transition, resulting in pale imitations of the real thing. On the other hand, Anne Frasier, known in a previous incarnation as Theresa Weir, writes suspense like a seasoned veteran. In fact, I wonder why she spent so many years writing romance novels. Her first thriller, Hush, is creepy and compelling. You wonít want to read it at night, but you wonít want to stop reading it, either.
Leading a quiet, sterile life as a criminology professor in a small Ontario town, Ivy Dunlapís biggest annoyance is a loud, insistent woodpecker outside her window. But when she gets a call from the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, saying only ďItís happening again,Ē Ivy knows that her interlude of sanctuary has come to an end. Sixteen years ago, the Madonna Murderer, a violent psychopath, brutally stabbed thirteen single mothers and suffocated their infant sons. When the murders stopped abruptly, the case grew cold, and no arrests were ever made. Now it looks like the Madonna Murderer is back, and more sadistic than before. The Superintendent is the only person who knows Ivyís connection to the original murders, but he explains her presence on the multidisciplinary task force by pointing out her expertise as a criminal profiler.
Max Irving, Chief of Homicide, has his own personal problems, primarily his 16 year old son Ethan, who seems headed for juvenile detention. Heís also bothered by the mediaís relentless hounding, as they demand to know why he canít protect Chicagoís women and children. So the last thing Max needs is some useless college professor tagging after him as he desperately tries to solve the case before the body count increases. However, he finds Ivy surprisingly tough, and she provides valuable insights into the mind of the killer. But as they get closer to narrowing down the search, the violence escalates. The Madonna Murderer is mad, and his anger is now aimed directly at Max and Ivy.
Frasierís world is a dark one, without any idealism, as demonstrated by Maxís bleak perspective:
The United States was full of rootless, empty kids who played video games all day. In between, they skateboarded down immaculate sidewalks past yards that had never known a weed. And if you looked into their eyes, you didnít see a dream of the future there, just a weird emptiness. Max didnít know what the answer was; all he knew was that somewhere along the line, theyíd all taken a wrong turn.
Despite their cynicism and weariness from too much exposure to violent crime, Max and Ivy are grimly determined to protect their less-than-perfect world. Their troubled but highly sympathetic characters, and the slowly growing bond between them, make Hush more than a violent scream-fest. While the slightest hint of romance between Max and Ivy emerges towards the end of the novel, their friendship is even more valuable to Ivy; she finally finds another person who can understand the tragic events that led her to this critical juncture.
The reader experiences the Madonna Murdererís point of view just enough to be horrified by his insanity, but he never threatens to take over the novel. This allows other dynamics, such as Maxís tenuous relationship with Ethan, to be carefully explored. A few secondary characters appear slightly superfluous at first, but skilled storyteller Frasier gradually knits the skeins of their subplots together during the bookís last hundred pages. While Ivy and Max triumph, itís not without great cost to both of them, and the chilling epilogue indicates that their work is far from over.
I donít know if the novelís conclusion means that Frasier intends to revisit these characters, but I certainly hope she writes more suspense novels. This woman understands the dark side and isnít afraid to explore it. Frankly, I canít imagine her ever going back to a simple ďhappily-ever-afterĒ again.