Monday, August 29, 2011

HARD TRUTH by Mariah Stewart

Publisher: Ballantine
Date published: September 2005
ISBN: 978-0345476678
Women's Fiction, Suspense
Mass Market Paperback
Reviewed by Gina
Obtained via: self-purchase

Despite Lorna Stile's relatively happy childhood, she suffered the loss of her best friend, Melinda Eagan. It wasn't a matter of Melinda's family moving away and losing touch. Melinda disappeared but her family remained, in the quiet town of Callen, Pennsylvania. Returning home to carry out her mother's last wishes, Lorna's past returns in a surreal manner when a body is discovered on the family property. Not only is the body of Melinda's often emotionally abusive brother, Jason, found, but several other bodies are uncovered. Tagged the Body Farm by the press Lorna struggles to hold on to her composure. When Melinda's mother is arrested for the murder of her son, Lorna becomes convinced the elder Eagan had nothing to do with Melinda's disappearance and Jason's death. When the Chief of Police refuses to help her she turns to her friend, Regan Landry for help. In no time at all Regan has her FBI friend Mitch contact his friend, T.J. Dawson to help with the investigation. T.J., a former FBI profiler has his own demons to confront, but for his friend, he will try to help Lorna provide Billie Eagan's innocence. What T.J. and Lorna uncover goes beyond the missing Eagan children. In a short time frame, they begin to uncover a town's long held dirty laundry.

Eager to help her friend and concerned about Lorna's safety, despite the fact the bodies have been buried over two decades, Regan heads to Callen. Relying on profiling knowledge, the quartet knows that with the killer's "treasures" being found he may return to kill again.

While the premise of HARD TRUTH portends an exciting mystery and an emotionally charged romantic suspense, for this reviewer it did not deliver. It took almost a third of the book for T.J. and Lorna to connect and while I don't buy into the hero and heroine’s need to meet in the first ten pages formula, there was so much back history and I struggled to keep reading. If I hadn't picked up the book as part of a reviewing package I would have put it down. That's not to say it isn't a good read in terms of women's fiction. If it were marketed as such it would be right on target, with a woman coming of age when she returns to her small town and uncovers a murder.

I felt no chemistry between T.J. and Lorna. She seemed more interested in his car than him, despite there being much to recommend him. There were loose threads such as why the Chief of Police insisted on covering up the long buried crime. When the truth of Melinda's disappearance is revealed it was anti-climatic. In the real world of police work someone would have been answering for what and how it occurred, even twenty-five years later.

I know Mariah Stewart can draw a reader in with an absorbing read. I've read a few of her books that had me sitting up late at night avidly turning the pages, torn between sleep and needing to know that the bad guy was going to get his just desserts. HARD TRUTH is not one of them. To her credit, however, Ms. Stewart tackles an extremely sensitive and troublesome societal crime. Revealing what that is would ruin part of the surprise at the end of the book. While not a keeper book for me, fans of Regan Landry will enjoy seeing where she finds herself in this situation.

This is an objective review and not an endorsement of this book.

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