Brown Eyed Girl

Carolina Mist

Devlin's Light

Moon Dance

Priceless

Wonderful You

 
Voices Carry by Mariah Stewart
(Pocket, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-78591-5
****
I have an ironclad rule for rating books: if a book keeps me up past 1:00 AM, I recommend it. Since I fell into bed at 2:30 last night (thank heavens it was Friday), clearly Mariah Stewart’s new romantic suspense novel earns a four heart rating. I was completely engrossed in the hero’s and heroine’s desperate quest to find the criminal who had abducted twelve women for his own twisted need for revenge.

The romance in Voices Carry is a reunion story. FBI agents Genna Snow and John Mancini were deeply in love. Then, after a particularly traumatic and psychologically damaging case, John had simply disappeared from Genna’s life. While any woman would have found this behavior disturbing, it was especially problematic for Genna. She has issues when it comes to abandonment.

Eighteen years earlier, when she was only nine, Genna had been at the center of a very nasty child abuse case. The head of a Christian summer camp that she attended had been preying on the girls. Genna’s actions had brought Brother Michael’s despicable behavior to the attention of the authorities and she was one of the girls who had testified against him in court. Her harsh fundamentalist preacher father had refused to believe his daughter that the brother of his benefactor could have done such deeds. Thus, her parents had simply left Genna in the courtroom when a guilty verdict was returned.

Genna had been fortunate in that a wonderful woman, Patsy, had become her foster mother. Still, her childhood experiences had left her scarred. When John returns from his self-imposed exile, resumes his career as a crack FBI agent, and wants to recover their lost love, Genna is very wary. Intellectually she understands why John left; emotionally she is unsure whether she can ever trust him again. John is determined regain her love; he knows he cannot live without her. When the two are assigned to the team that is investigating the disappearing women, the opportunity arises for them to work through their problems.

This is a very richly layered book with strong secondary threads and characterizations. Genna must confront her childhood trauma when her sister reappears in her life. In learning to understand and thus to forgive Crystal, she moves closer to understanding and forgiving John. As Stewart uncovers the horrors of Genna’s childhood, her reaction to John’s acts becomes clearer.

Stewart also introduces John’s sprawling South Philadelphia Italian family. Their warmth and good humor stands as a stark contrast to the cold, unloving family that Genna escaped. Likewise, Genna’s foster mother, Patsy, is a fully developed and lovable character.

This is, however, a romantic suspense novel and its success depends on the author’s success in creating and sustaining an aura of impending danger. Stewart succeeds admirably in this regard. She gradually uncovers the identity and motivations of the villain. The reader knows what is going on and enters the twisted mind of the man responsible for the disappearance of twelve women in different parts of the country. We know what they have in common, but we also know why the authorities find the connection between the victims so hard to puzzle out.

We watch as Genna and John slowly piece together why these women - all seemingly ordinary middle class wives and mothers - have become targets for this twisted scheme of revenge. In the end, Stewart still manages to surprise the reader as the villain stalks his final victim. As the climax of the book approached, I was reading as fast as I could to discover what was going to happen. This is a clear indication of well done suspense.

Readers who prefer the romance to overshadow the suspense may well be a bit disappointed in Voices Carry. The romance is very nicely done, but it is the suspense that carries the book and that kept me turning the pages. This is very much Genna’s book. Her past, her present and her future tie all the threads together. In Genna, Stewart has created a memorable heroine: both strong and vulnerable. She has also created a hero who is worthy of Genna’s love.

Voices Carry is very good romantic suspense with the emphasis on the latter. It has characters we care about, a rewarding romance and an excellent suspense plot. Mariah Stewart is making a name for herself as one of the best current writers of romantic suspense.

--Jean Mason


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