Thursday, July 28, 2022

Karen Rose - Say Goodbye

For decades, Eden has remained hidden in the remote wilds of the Pacific Northwest, “Pastor” keeping his cult's followers in thrall for his personal profit and sexual pleasures. But the Founding Elders are splintering, and Pastor's surrogate son DJ is scheming to make it all his own.
When two of Eden's newest members send out a cry for help, it reaches FBI Special Agent Tom Hunter, whose friend and fellow FBI Special Agent Gideon Reynolds and his sister, Mercy, are themselves escapees of the Eden cult, targeted by the Founding Elders who want them silenced forever. The three have vowed to find the cult and bring it down, and now, they finally have a solid lead.
Neutralizing Eden’s threat will save captive members and ensure Tom’s new friends can live without fear. But when his best friend, ex-Army combat medic Liza Barkley, joins the case, it puts her life—and their blossoming love—in danger. With everything they hold dear in the balance, Tom and Liza, together with Gideon and Mercy, must end Eden once and for all.

Comment: This is the last installment in the Sacramento subdivision of the romantic suspense novels by Karen Rose. Although one can more or less have a linear chronology and some connection between the books' evolution and sequence, there are some books grouped around a more central city and the last three books were based on Sacramento. Next up, the plot of the new series will be set in New Orleans.

In this book we have the conclusion of the events started in Say You're Sorry, with the plot centered in a cult gone wrong and how those who were and are part of it suffer at the hands of a few charismatic people who only wanted money and, now, control. After what happened in the other books, this is the time to finish everything and the FBI agent who works the hardest is Tom Hunter who, with the help of several known characters, keeps tracking the path of the cult and the money movements, in order to finally free all of those who have been deceived by someone they trusted. With him is Liza Barclay, a childhood friend who has been in the military and is now going to become a nurse. Their relationship has been complicated lately, but will they have time to discover who they are for one another while so much is going on for them to do to help their friends?

This is an easily recognizable book by this author, mixing up a fast paced plot where we want to see the villains frustrated over failed plans and later on convicted because of their crimes, and with some romance between characters we feel deserve their happiness.

I must say, though, that as the stories evolved and the author added complexity to the plots, her characters became more and more hero/heroine material. I say this because the "good guys" are all wonderful human beings, even if they went through terrible experiences... and yes, most, if not all protagonists have some kind of trauma in their past, adding this notion of how much more deserving they are of an HEA. I know it feels as if I'm criticizing and it does get a little repetitive how perfect they end up being, but I kind of like knowing how easy it is to root for them... but... some change wouldn't be dismissed.

This aside, this book is quite the return to basics, because Tom, the main male character is the same teenage Tom (if I recall correctly he was indeed a teenager) from book #1, Don't Tell, which started this all. That book, I still remember, was a more traditional mix of suspense and romance and Tom's mother the heroine who escapes an abusive relationship and build up a new life with this swoon worthy hero, who became Tom's stepfather. I can't say if  Tom now being the protagonist is because the author wanted to somehow fix the loose points and finish this "arc" in a cute way or because we might start seeing more characters from past books...or perhaps she wants her future suspense novels apart from these ones we've followed for almost 20 years...

Either way, to me this story worked for what it aimed to accomplish. I like how fast paced everything happens, sometimes a little unrealistically, but it allows for the tension and hurry of some things to be explained and justified. It was also quite cute to see the easy bond between the characters (there are many!) and how we can picture their lives even after the book is a way, this is great, I like this notion that everything that happens to these people will have a pay off, whether because their lives will be free of a villain or because they would have reached happiness.

However, it is true some things are just... for instance, the romance here is sold to the reader as a friends to lovers and Liza has had feelings for Tom way longer than he did. There are explanations why, we learn about their past romantic experiences, but the way the author now writes makes the romance a little secondary and I don't think we have enough scenes with them just interacting or with enough sexual tension build up so that I can be convinced the love declarations, when they come, are truly special and logical. A lot is hinted at and I can imagine, them being good people, they are sincere but... the romance did feel a little weak.

The plot isn't the most complex nor the craziest the author has imagined (to me, the plot twists on the Daniel Vartanian books win the prize) but it follows a lot of convenient and handy situations/odds, and sometimes I feel that it has to be so, otherwise the fast pace wouldn't work, but then... how matter-of-fact can some things truly be, it's just so... set on technology and the perfect clue at the perfect moment and while I like the good guys winning, and guessing things on time, it can also be a little too fantastical. I also think we could have had some more closure on the whole cult beginning and those who were part of it.

All things considered, this is still a good story, more so for fans, but I also think there are some issues that could be better, could have made the final result a better book. I will keep reading things by the author, yes, but I can see how it can an acquired taste for some too.
Grade: 7/10

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