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Saturday, August 3, 2013

ARC Review: Dark Waters by Toni Anderson

Toni Anderson’s DARK WATERS skillfully straddles the line between thriller and romantic suspense: action-packed, suspenseful, and dark, but primarily character (and relationship)-driven. Though technically a follow-up of sorts to 2012’s DANGEROUS WATERS, it can be read as a standalone without spoiling the preceding storyline—in fact, Ms. Anderson is careful to refer to some of the major events in that book without revealing the villain(s). The hero of DARK WATERS, Brent Carver, and some of his backstory are introduced in the previous title, but that backstory is revisited and further explored to make him a complete, three-dimensional character without having read the preceding book. Having been thoroughly intrigued by Brent’s character in DANGEROUS WATERS, I was looking forward to his story, and Ms. Anderson does him justice by delivering a gripping tale that is equal parts page-turning suspense with a truly depraved villain and heartwarming romance between two skittish, reluctant characters with dark pasts—with the refreshing addition of a Canadian setting.

[NOTE: Sexual assault plays a key role in the heroine’s and main villain’s psyches, so anyone for whom this is a trigger should avoid this novel]

I was sucked into the story from the prologue, where a frantic phone call from her ex-con father about diverting $60 million of stolen (laundered) funds and mailing the evidence before he is killed thrusts schoolteacher Anna Silver’s staid life into a pulse-pounding conspiracy of murder and intrigue. Warned that she is now in imminent danger, her father’s final message instructs Anna to turn to the only other person he trusts: former cellmate and current brooding recluse Brent Carver. Torn between his reluctance to get involved and his loyalty to Anna’s father, he agrees to help her find the truth and the two of them soon find themselves running for their lives from a cadre of military-trained killers who will stop at nothing to get their money back and eliminate all witnesses. But despite the well-written and tautly-paced murder, mayhem, and edge-of-your-seat action that will keep you feverishly turning pages to see how things unfold—all of which are typical of well-crafted thrillers—what makes DARK WATERS a gripping read is its focus on its hero and heroine and their emotional arc as they overcome their pasts and build a relationship.

Anna Silver’s safe, unremarkable life and tendency to date uninspiring beta males is the product of a turbulent childhood: her father’s humiliating arrest and conviction for (supposedly) stealing city money, her mother’s subsequent emotional detachment and hasty remarriage, and an unreported sexual assault on prom night that drove her to attempt suicide. She has secrets, she has never openly discussed her attack, and she has major trust issues—especially with men—and yet she finds herself inexplicably attracted to and falling for Brent: an ex-con like her father and a man who, by all rights, should terrify her. Despite all she has endured, her way of dealing with it has mostly been denial and settling into a controlled, insipid life without a whiff of further scandal, and seeing how her deepening relationship with Brent enables her to face her demons and have the courage to be honest about her emotions is incredibly rewarding. Even with the bordering-on-TSTL moment at the end. Brent Carver is equally scarred: having spent 20 years in prison for killing his abusive father at age 16, he is brooding, guilt-ridden over his inability to protect those he loves, and hell-bent on isolating himself because he doesn’t believe he deserves happiness and love. Especially not from a ‘good girl’ like Anna. He wants to be left alone to live out his days in peace and paint, but he cannot turn away from his promise to Anna’s father to look out for her and his mile-wide protective streak when she shows up at his door seeking help. Initially, he doesn’t trust anyone—not even his younger brother and his RCMP Sergeant fiancĂ©e—and will do anything to never return to prison, but whilst trying to protect Anna and running for their lives, he learns to open up and let people in. He may be all surly and gruff and feel like he can’t be trusted with emotional entanglements of any sort, but a man willing to give up his freedom—the only thing he’s valued since being released from prison—to save the woman he loves but doesn’t feel like he deserves can be my book boyfriend any day. The two of them are perfect for each other and bring out the best in each other, and the way they help each other heal is compelling—even if it takes only a couple of weeks.

Overall, DARK WATERS is a great character-driven romantic thriller with plenty of action and great writing. I especially liked the opportunity to catch up with kickass supercop Holly Rudd and Finn Carver from the previous novel and the fact that it’s set in Canada, an uncommon setting for mainstream romantic suspense. I felt that the main villain, Rand, strayed sometimes into cookie-cutter uber-depraved evilness (but bonus points for the extra high creep factor!) and that a secondary plot involving the heroine’s mother could’ve been more thoroughly developed in order to have greater impact during a key plot twist, but these were minor grievances that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of Ms. Anderson’s work that I have read and recommend it to lovers of romantic suspense and romantic thrillers.

**ARC provided by NetGalley**

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