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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Looking For More Romance, Less Thriller? Rachel Ann Nunes Delivers.

Like many a young lawyer, 32-year-old Caitlin McLoughlin entered the profession to help people. But after putting in her time as a public defender, always scoring the worst possible clients, she's tired and bitter. Working long hours leaves her with little time for a social life, barely enough money to support herself and her mentally handicapped sister, and no energy for anything resembling exercise or a home-cooked meal. She longs to spend her time convicting the bad guys instead of defending them, but prosecuting jobs are not exactly plentiful. For the moment at least, she's stuck with a career that's less than fulfilling, a social life that's going nowhere fast, and an expanding waistline courtesy of Costco's frozen food aisle. Although she's an excellent lawyer, her future feels about as bright as Utah's dull winter landscape.

Saving Madeline by Rachel Ann Nunes opens with a frustrated Caitlin trying to deal with her less-than-satisfying life. Given the constant stream of lowlifes coming through her door, she assumes her newest client will be just like the others - creepy as heck and guilty as sin. Except that Parker Hathaway's not what she expected. She senses sincerity in his insistence that he kidnapped his daughter only out of desperation to keep her safe from her meth-addicted mother. The only problem is that there's no real evidence to back up Parker's claims. Without a solid lead, Caitlin can do little to protect him from rotting in prison. Still, she has to try - 4-year-old Madeline's safety is at stake.

Caitlin prides herself on never letting her personal life interfere with her work, but suddenly she seems to be starring in her own soap opera. She's finally caught a glance from pretty boy Mace Keeley; another co-worker's showing definite romantic interest; and she can't deny her growing desire to be in her client's arms. Parker obviously feels the same way about her, but acting on their mutual attraction can only end badly - for their case as well as for Caitlin's vulnerable heart. And there's always the possibility that Parker's playing her to keep himself out of jail. What if he's lying about his ex-wife's drug use? What if he really is the same kind of scumbag Caitlin always defends? And what about Madeline? Time's running out. How much danger is she really in? Can Caitlin sort the truths from the lies, and what will the answers mean for a desperate father, an innocent girl, and a public defender with her heart on the line?

According to Nunes, Saving Madeline was inspired by the recent case of a Utah infant dying after ingesting meth from a plastic baggie she discovered on the floor of her home. Sadly, the baby's fate is not uncommon. Every year, thousands of children are harmed as a result of their parents'/guardians' drug use. Thus, the idea of a non-abusing spouse "kidnapping" his child to rescue her from a dangerous situation, then being punished for it, intrigued me. I anticipated an exciting legal thriller that dug under the skin of a common occurence, probing, questioning and opening my eyes to all the legal and moral complications of such a case. What I got was ... not quite what I was expecting. For one thing, the novel is more romance than thriller, a fact that really started to bug me after awhile. I get that Caitlin's supposed to be beautiful, but seriously, every guy she meets falls in love with her and vice versa? Gag me. Luckily, the story had a little more substance than that. Although the reader pretty much knows exactly where the story's going, Nunez does throw in a few surprises. The novel would have benefited from tighter editing, better character development and more suspense, but overall, it wasn't half bad.

Although Saving Madeline is not an LDS novel, it's a clean read featuring characters who are flawed, but determined to do the right thing. It reminded me of a Mary Higgins Clark mystery - just add (a lot) more romance and subtract the heart-pounding finales for which Clark is known. Like the Queen of Suspense, Nunes offers a quick, clean read that's enjoyable if predictable. If you're looking for a mystery with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, you'll want to look elsewhere, but if you're in the mood for a nice, easy romance with a little legal thriller thrown in, Nunes delivers.

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild sexual innuendo and brief references to rape and murder

(Book image from Deseret Book)


  1. Interesting... but the thought of falling for a client is just creepy. You're supposed to protect them--like any counselor--not (blech) kiss them (blech, blech, blech). Perhaps if I wasn't married, I'd be more tempted... or if I had more attractive clients....

    Protection of the child is a defense to kidnapping, though--but why wouldn't he just sue for sole custody? Make mom do a drug test? Get health and welfare involved? The kind of upstanding guy I'd understand falling for would be smart enough to see more options. Did Nunes address the reasons why he didn't? Or why it wasn't just charged as child custody interference?

  2. I should send this book to you - I kept thinking, "This cannot be very true-to-life. I need to ask Robin about this ..." LOL.

    Yes, Nunes addressed most of those issues, although the arguments seem pretty flimsy to me. I don't think she went into the difference between kidnapping and child custody interference - what is the difference? If you see this book at your library, grab it - I'd love to hear your expert opinion.

  3. This is an interesting premise. I don't usually care for romances, but I might take a closer look at this one. Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful review. it gave me a good feel for both the interesting and just plain icky aspects of this book. :)

  4. This one looks good. I haven't read any Nunes yet.


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