by Alex Kava – Book 8 in the Maggie O’Dell series begins with some seemingly unrelated problems: an ice chest with wrapped and severed body parts discovered floating off the Pensacola Beach coast, an unknown infection killing US soldiers who’ve suffered limb loss at war, and a category 4 hurricane bearing down on the Florida panhandle. The first problem is Maggie’s, the second is her almost-love-interest’s (Benjamin Platt’s), and the third is everyone’s. Over the three days that the main storyline covers, the plots overlap and complicate each other, until Maggie and Benjamin together figure out the connections, then use their separate expertises to deal with the aforementioned problems… except for the hurricane. That one is left up to Mother Nature. (Thank goodness. It would’ve strained incredulity if either of our main characters had tried or been able to avert a hurricane, after all.)
Until the last eighth of this book, Damaged rocks. The pacing is good, the storyline fresh and the writing tight, with a minimum of distractions (e.g., intra- or interagency politics play virtually no role here… for a change). The reader can focus on this book without feeling bogged down by the last 7 novels in the series, although I am glad I read those first. (Of course, you already know I have
OCD a peeve about reading a series in order.)
This book has a new-to-us secondary cast of characters, with only two carryovers from previous novels playing a part here. The most fully fleshed out of these new characters is Liz, a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. She is the novel’s first POV character and, except for Maggie, she’s also the last. It feels like Kava really related to her and I wouldn’t be surprised to find Kava writing books with Liz as the main character sometime in the future.
When I started the book, I was afraid Kava may have “jumped the shark” by adding a hurricane into the mix, with the ticking clock of the storm’s pending arrival, but Kava uses it more cleverly than that, making it a major factor in the main mystery of the book.
Kava pulls a little sleight of hand plot-wise to have the storm weaken and veer off to the east just hours before landfall, sparing her characters the worst effects of a bad hurricane, which felt like a bit of a cheat to me. After all, I had spent hundreds of pages expecting a Pensacola landfall that didn’t materialize. Worse, Kava keeps most of the storm offstage, so to speak. There is one action sequence that takes place as the second rain band reaches Pensacola, then nothing until the storm has passed. We are told that the storm just missed the city, but we don’t experience that from the characters’ POVs.
The other major letdown is the final confrontation. We see it from Liz’ POV, when it should be from Maggie’s. After all, she is the one who must, in order to capture the bad guy and save his latest victims, overcome both her fear of flying and the terror she experienced early in the book when watching Liz exiting a Coast Guard helicopter into rough seas. Kava doesn’t let us see any of that struggle, although she has hinted earlier in the book that Maggie’s mental and emotional compartmentalizing (her survival mechanism so far) was breaking down and that Maggie might suffer significant fallout from that. Instead, Kava has us watch the final confrontation, then cut to two days later, when Maggie is in another city (Jacksonville, Fla.) to follow up on the implications of the crimes/problems she and Platt have solved.
After more than 350 pages of building tension, the readers deserve a better, more comprehensive denouement. We deserve to see the knot coming unravelled and Maggie against the wall. After all, we have been in her corner for an entire series, cheering for her, aching for her, worrying about her… we need to see Maggie triumph over all obstacles, especially the inner ones.
Perhaps Kava was pressured to wrap it up at the end, or perhaps she felt overwhelmed by the task of fully fleshing it out. I’d much rather it was the first of these than the last, as I don’t want to believe Kava was intimidated by her own book. Either way, the result is a good, but ultimately unsatisfying, read. (finished 7/5/11)
* I received this book free as a Goodreads.com First Reads giveaway.