Missing You by Pauline Baird Jones
(Five Star, $26.95, PG) ISBN 0-7863-3748-1
Homicide detective Luke Kirby arrives alone at his family’s cabin near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. His loving, supportive family had hoped he would join them for dinner back at a Denver restaurant, but it is the seventh anniversary of his wife’s death, and in spite of the threatening winter storm, he desires solitude. He discovers, however, a woman, scratched and bruised, asleep on the cabin’s couch. When she awakens, she is suffering from amnesia and is unable to explain how or why she’s there. The only clue to her identity is a PDA that gives her name as Amelia E. Hart.

Prudence Knight is the daughter of an eccentric scientist employed by Merryweather Biotechnologies working on advanced body armor known as SHIELD. He distrusts computers so uses Prudence’s photographic memory as his filing system. He collapses at work and is taken to the hospital where he dies. Prudence was at his side at the hospital, but she has disappeared. An autopsy reveals that Dr. Knight was murdered. This raises questions about Prudence’s involvement and her disappearance.

Luke decides that the cabin is unsafe and that he and Amelia need to ski down the mountain. As they leave the cabin, a helicopter approaches. Amelia’s instant terrified reaction to the helicopter arouses his suspicions. Could the helicopter be involved in her injuries? They take a route to elude capture, but their worries are not over. There are more dangers waiting below.

This is a synopsis of the primary plot of Missing You. If the book had stuck with this single plot, it might have been better. Instead it throws in several other subplots which together with the relatively short narrative segments bounce the reader willy-nilly all over the place so that it’s difficult to get involved with any particular plot or character. Furthermore, Missing You is the third in the author’s Lonesome Lawman series, and several loose ends - and numerous characters - from previous books creep into this one.

Leslie Merryweather deeply resents his overbearing father. A college dropout, he’s teamed up with his college buddy Grady in GREEN, a mock-environmentalist, militant group that raids scientific laboratories. Leslie is emotionally unstable and is about to spiral into greater depths. Grady O’Brien has one goal in life: to achieve great riches. He has been using Leslie and a right-wing paramilitary group he’s created as smokescreens to disguise his real objective. He sees Merryweather’s SHIELD as his ticket to wealth. Bryn Bailey is an FBI agent who’s fallen in love with one of her own collars, Dewey Hyatt. Equipped with a security bracelet, he’s out on parole and is her contact with Phagan, a shadowy computer geek with insight into GREEN’s movements. Donovan Kincaid works security for Merryweather Biotechnologies, but his real purpose is to remain close to Prudence who’s his biological daughter. He has infiltrated Grady’s paramilitary group.

As a romantic suspense, Missing You shortchanges the romance. Amelia/Prudence and Luke spend only a couple of days together - a good part of it while she’s suffering from amnesia and her physical injuries - yet they both decide they’ve found enduring love. After seven years, Luke is still hung up over his wife’s death from ovarian cancer, and he meets Amelia/Prudence on the anniversary of her death. Amelia/Prudence seems to have led a highly insulated and restrictive life. She’s never even heard of Walmart, and it has nothing to do with her amnesia. Is it love she feels for Luke or just relief that the domineering Dr. Knight is no longer in control of her life?

Perhaps Luke is convinced that Amelia/Prudence is his true love, but I was far less persuaded. I would have preferred to see a little heavy breathing and wandering hands. These two demonstrate about as much passion as penpals on separate continents. (The PG rating reflects violence, not sexual content.)

Bryn and Dewey’s romance is a carryover from an earlier book so that could explain my lack of appreciation for their relationship - I never had the chance to see them fall in love. It seems to me that there are all kinds of problems falling for the criminal she’s apprehended, not the least of which is how far she can trust the guy. He’s a crook, and he’s lied to her and is continuing to lie to her. It would certainly give me pause. And to add to the unbelievability factor, they’re in their 30's and they’re both virgins on their wedding night!

With the frequent and abrupt changes in focus, it’s not easy to get involved in the suspense in Missing You, but the biggest drawback is the dearth of background information. I’m guessing that the FBI’s search for the clandestine group GREEN is a carryover from a previous book because there’s precious little explanation about it in this one. Moreover, Bryn’s preoccupation with the enigmatic Phagan is mostly unexplained. The only suspense in Missing You is when is Luke going to make the connection between Amelia and Prudence, and that’s a pretty weak base for a suspense plot.

As a romantic suspense novel, Missing You misses on both aspects. I couldn’t get into the suspense; I couldn’t get into the romance. Readers who are familiar with the previous two Lonesome Lawman books may want to check out Missing You, but those who are new to the series will probably prefer to miss this one.

--Lesley Dunlap

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