Final Act by Tracey Tillis
(Onyx, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-40785-7
***
Shannon LaCrosse's mother overdosed on drugs given to her by an abusive boyfriend. Her older brother was killed by police that same night. Shannon was only 10 and alone. She remembers her mother's dying words: "Nobody cares, so you've got to look out for yourself. Take care of yourself first. Always. That's how you're gonna stay alive."

After being warehoused in the foster care system for several years, Shannon was adopted. She graduated from college, became a social worker and opened a community center to help "at-risk" children near the Washington, DC neighborhood where she grew up. Shannon cares for others who believe "nobody cares." There, she attracted the attention of Peter LaCrosse, a millionaire builder 20 years her senior.

Shortly after Shannon and Peter were married, she began receiving harassing phone calls. The police investigated, but never found the source of the threats. One night Shannon thought she heard an intruder in their home and went to investigate. She fired her gun in self-defense. There has been a tragic mistake, she has shot her stepson, Jeff. She had killed her husband's only son.

Shannon was arrested and tried for Jeff's murder. Prosecutors attempted to persuade the jury that she and Jeff had been having an affair and that Shannon killed him before he could tell his father.

It becomes clear to her that someone who wanted her out of the way has set her up. But who? During the trial she is painfully reminded what it's like to be born on the wrong side of the tracks as so-called friends testified against her.

"Their word was that of respected stalwarts of Washington society. Hers was of a relative nobody."

The jury found Shannon innocent of first degree murder but convicted her of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced her to five years in prison. Surviving became a daily struggle during the time she was incarcerated.

Although he is unable to forgive or forget that she killed his son, Shannon's husband still loves her. The marriage and their once trusting relationship are in shambles. Nevertheless, he wants her out of prison and harm's way. He hires a private investigator to look for new evidence that will free her.

The investigator is David Courtney, a former D.C. police detective. Shannon and David have a history, of sorts. They met before her marriage to Peter LaCrosse when he rescued her from being accosted by a street thug. They had carried on a brief flirtation that never evolved because of "bad timing." David was also one of the detectives who looked into the threats made against Shannon before the murder. It seems like he's always around to protect her.

New evidence is found. Shannon is exonerated. She is a free woman. Tragically, on the day she is released, her husband dies of a massive heart attack. As she tries to reconstruct her life, Shannon is more determined to find out who framed her and why.

David and Shannon join forces to uncover the mystery before everyone who can help them is silenced. Along the way, they fight their now resurrected attraction to one another. She realizes that while "Peter had been her love, her heart from the first recognized David as her passion."

I found the relationship between David and Shannon the most satisfying aspect of the novel and also the most disappointing. Final Act is a thriller. It is also a story about second chances, their relationship is forced to take a backseat to the mystery. That's unfortunate.

Tracey Tillis reveals a great deal about David and Shannon through several carefully constructed flashbacks of their first meeting and subsequent encounters before her marriage to Peter LaCrosse. We get glimpses of what their life together could have been like if their budding relationship had been given a chance to mature. I truly enjoyed their scenes together. David's final "aw shucks" acknowledgment of and resignation to his love for Shannon is heartwarming.

Final Act is a suspenseful novel with just a hint of romance. And, while there are probably enough plot twists and suspenseful moments in Final Act to satisfy armchair sleuths, there wasn't quite enough Shannon and David for me. Before selecting this book readers will have to decide for themselves what proportions they prefer.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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