Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sea of Suspicion by Toni Anderson

TITLE: Sea of Suspicion
AUTHOR: Toni Anderson
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 84k)
GENRE: Romantic suspense
COST: $5.39

Twelve years ago, Nick Archer buried the wife he’d kicked out after she cheated on him, convinced it was murder not an accident. In the time since, he’s done everything he can to bring her killer to justice, to no avail. The death of another graduate student prompts a new murder investigation, but Nick has a new distraction – marine biologist Susie Cooper. She’s taken a job at the Gatty Marine Lab, eager to prove herself as more than the daughter of a rising American politician, and while she might not necessarily think the best of her boss, she’s not as convinced as DI Archer that he’s a murderer. She’s especially not convinced acting on her attraction to Nick will do either one of them any good…

I might not fall head over heels with every Carina title I read, but the vast majority of them have been solidly written and worth what I paid. This one just further cements my growing regard for this publisher.

Marine biologist Susie Cooper has started a new job at the Gatty Marine Lab, eager to make her mark. Her mother is about to seek the presidential nomination back in the US, but Susie has no desire to ride on her famous coattails. Intelligent and resourceful in her own right, she takes a firm hand with her graduate students, one of which turns out to be the sister-in-law of Detective Inspector Nick Archer. Nick keeps a close eye on the Gatty, ever since his dead wife cheated on him with her advisor, the same man who has now hired Susie. Nick has always believed Jake killed her, an obsession that drove him into police work as well as cost him any kind of permanent relationships. Susie lives next to Nick’s in-laws, as well as advises his sister-in-law, but their paths cross even more when another female student at the Gatty ends up dead. Susie and Nick fight their attraction, both dealing with their angst-ridden pasts, while Nick does everything he can to prove Jake is responsible for both deaths. Neither initiative proves easy.

The prologue shows the funeral of Nick’s dead wife, providing hints of the angst and conflict to come. The story then jumps twelve years into the future, introducing the reader to Susie and her environment at the Gatty. To the world, Susie comes off as a bit of an ice princess, an image she’s actually okay with as she struggles against the baggage of her mother’s job as an American politician about to make a bid for the presidential nomination. She’s smart enough to hope to gain recognition in her own right, and there are hints of what she went through when she was younger to explain why she’s so reluctant to get involved. Meeting Nick throws her senses into a tailspin, but she’s determined to resist him. Nick, on the other hand, is willing to use that attraction to get what he needs from her at the start in order to try and get evidence against Jake. It’s a complicated relationship, made even more so by their tumultuous pasts and the fact that neither is willing to forgive themselves for the wrongs of their histories. In the grand scheme of things, while the characters themselves are three-dimensional and fascinating, their budding romance is likely the weakest aspect of this novel. They spend ample time together, and there’s a lot of reflection on how and why they do and don’t work together, but the revelations that spark their ultimate commitment seemed to come out of the blue. I finished the story more convinced they’d have a really good sexual relationship for a little while, but not that it would last.

The romance, however, is probably the only aspect that doesn’t shine. The world in which the characters inhabit is brought strikingly to life. The author has firsthand knowledge of the setting as well as marine biology, and that ends up translating into a sharp realism that heightens the growing sense of danger, primarily because it’s so easy to believe in it. Coupled with that is a massive cast of characters that sport a wide variety of personalities, each one rich and developed. I was particularly impressed with Nick’s partner, a detective struggling to balance his job and caring for his ailing wife (who in turn gets her own incredibly moving scene). They provide a wonderful counterbalance to Nick’s more cynical nature, and serves to heighten the themes of family and devotion that permeate the entire book.

The mystery/suspense clips along at a solid pace. Just when I thought I had it figured out, it would twist in another direction, though the final reveal both surprised me and made complete sense. The climax isn’t quite as intense as I think it was meant to be, but that’s primarily because of a bit of telegraphing that occurred in its onset that ended up making portions feel redundant and repetitive. The last chapter drags more than any other in the novel, but that is because it’s all about Susie and Nick, and I just didn’t buy it completely. I enjoyed everything that came before it enough to compensate, though. If you enjoy tightly written suspense with a diverse cast of characters, this one just might be for you.


9/10 – Utterly engrossing and intelligently written


8/10 – Fighting against his angst-filled past, strong and intelligent


8/10 – Some of her insecurities felt a little too much but just as strong and resourceful as the hero

Entertainment value

8/10 – Tightly written suspense that wasn’t always as predictable as it could’ve been with a secondary cast that leapt from the page

World building

9/10 – Scotland and the Gatty come to life; the author’s expertise is evident in every word



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