Long after bruises have faded and broken bones have healed, a battered spouse must still struggle to recover. There is a need: to purge themselves of guilt and grief, to regain self-esteem and to learn to trust again. Mad Dog and Annie is a story of that process.
Virginia Kantra fans will recognize the small town in North Carolina The Comeback of Con McNeil took place and they will recall meeting the strong secondary character Annie. Several months have passed, and Annie is mere weeks away from being divorced from Robb. A small town hero, Robb had taken the team to a state championship in football a decade ago. Wealthy and charismatic, the town still loves him, and only the McNeils truly believe that he is a spouse abuser, arsonist, thief and attempted murderer.
Anne has been tried and pled guilty to her complicity with Robb in the theft from the McNeils of $20,000. Now a convicted felon she is working as a waitress in the McNeil restaurant, paying them back, and supporting her son Mitchell. The town believes that Annie set Robb up for his part in the theft and no one believes that he committed the arson and attempted murder detailed in the former book.
Robb’s criminal trial for arson and attempted murder is a month away and the Chief of Police is still mentally resisting the DA’s office’s efforts to go forward with the prosecution. Chief Palmer’s son Maddox has returned from Atlanta’s police force, on a six-week leave of absence due to his issues with the way he handled a situation involving a 14-year-old killer. Maddox, or MD, acquired his nickname of Mad Dog while playing football on Robb’s team. His high school years had been spent like the others on the team making Robb look good, so good that even his father seemed to prefer Robb.
Chief Palmer tries to enlist MD’s aid in proving that Robb is innocent. To prove Robb’s innocence requires that Annie’s statement must be repudiated, but MD and Annie have a history. Going to school together, they were first friends, and then one night MD’s lust almost got away from him.
M.D. is still drawn to Annie, and as the story unfolds Kantra poignantly balances Annie’s struggle to trust with M.D.’s struggle to accept his role in the situation that he feels went wrong in Atlanta. She portrays their emotions honestly with the increasing tension generated by their unfolding romance.
Paced well, the dialogue is always consistent with the setting. This is an author who understands small town southern living, and accurately reflects their attitudes when one of their “heroes” is in jeopardy. The story is rounded out nicely with the characterization of Mitchell, the nine-year-old son of Robb and Annie, who tries to balance protecting his mother with the compulsory visitations with his father.
Kantra does her usual skilled job of creating multi-layered characters that evoke just the emotions she seeks. This is a book memorable not only for its title, but also for the chronicling of spousal abuse, even after the immediate threat of physical injury has been removed.