Crashing Down

Take My Breath Away

Sacred Trust by Meg O'Brien
(Mira, $6.50, PG, V) ISBN 1-55166-586-7
High school best friends Marti Bright and Abby Northrup were convinced by Sister Helen to become nuns. Although hoping to make a difference within the convent walls, they lasted only a short time. Much to Sister Helen's dismay, they left together to instead make their marks in the outside world. Marti became a world-renowned photojournalist, while Abby gave up a very promising journalism career to marry rising real estate magnate Jeffrey Northrup.

More than twenty years pass and the scene is Carmel, California. Jeffrey Northrup is the mover and shaker behind the President and the elections are coming up. When Abby discovers Jeffrey in bed with her sister, they cut a deal -- she keeps her mouth shut until after the election, and she can have the six million dollar house and the divorce. To punish Jeffrey, Abby starts an affair with Detective Ben Schaeffer (next in line for the soon to be vacant job as Chief of Police).

Marti is found murdered on a hill next near Abby's home, and signs of struggle reveal that one of her last acts is tracing Abby's name in the dirt. The gruesome facts of the murder reflect a killer with a religious obsession and the utilization of the ancient practice of trepanning (boring a hole into the skull to permit evil to be cast out).

Much to the surprise of Abby and Ben, the Secret Service arrives to investigate. Unexpectedly, they immediately focus on Abby and seem to know everything about her and her relationship with Marti. But what they don’t know is that fifteen years earlier Abby had helped check a pregnant Marti into a local hospital under an assumed name and later placed the child for adoption. Abby's sacred trust was to look out for Marti's son, and she has done this by anonymously monitoring his progress.

This merely begins Scene One, Act One, as more mysteries begin to accumulate. The concept of a "Sacred Trust" is found in many of the relationships. With the President and Jeffrey, with the Church and Marti, with Ben and Abby, with the Secret Service and in the commission of other crimes such as land fraud, kidnapping, rape etc.

Sacred Trust is tightly drawn romantic suspense that is told from one point of view only…that of Abby's. But Meg O’Brien is a highly skilled writer who keeps things interesting by employing such varying techniques as interior monologues, and subjective narrative to maintain a change of pace.

The characters are very well defined and each is integral to the plot. Abby is bold, witty, and cynical and evokes just the reaction I'm sure the author was seeking. Her romance with Ben is very necessary to her character, but don't look for steamy sexual tension.

What I was pleasantly surprised to find in a story of romantic suspense was the author’s refusal to neatly tie up all of the loose ends. As the mysteries in Sacred Trust multiply, the reader begins to realize that the truth is distant and often inaccessible, and not every question will be answered. Although the ending comes quickly and almost out of the blue, it would be hard to call it contrived.

--Thea Davis

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