Wounded in both body and soul, Jack Verrity and Althea Auben escaped to the tranquility of the Sequoia forests of northern California, but each for different reasons. Jack left behind his life as an L.A. detective after being seriously injured by a perpetrator's bullet while on the job. He also carries the scars of a broken marriage and other traumas that he keeps locked up inside. Jack agrees to rent his cabin in the woods to newly arrived single mother, Thea, who is also hiding from her past. Fourteen years earlier, as a girl barely out of high school with a promising future in music, Thea was brutally raped, beaten and left for dead in a burning house after attending a beach party in an affluent neighborhood on Long Island. The vicious attack left her in a coma for nearly a year, and also produced David, the thirteen year old son she now cherishes. Over the years, Thea's mother had provided for her and David while keeping them hidden with lies and deceit. She was a devout Catholic woman who seemed to fear the stigma that single motherhood might bring to Thea, as well as the possibility that David's biological father might try to claim him. Thea believed her mother, but now that she is dead, Thea and David are on their own. In spite of still suffering from severe PTSD and rarely leaving her home, Thea has managed to carve out a living by doing internet research. When she isn't working, Thea visits with "friends" in chat rooms, and David does the same.
As he has gotten older, David has become more suspicious of his mother's odd behavior. Some strange things that his grandmother said on her deathbed has made him even more certain that his mother is lying to him about his father, who, he was told, died before his birth. David longs for male companionship and befriends an initially reticent Jack, who eventually develops a certain fondness for the boy, but in spite of their growing friendship, David still longs to know his true parentage. As tensions mount with his mother, David receives encouragement and financial help from a mysterious stranger he met in one of his chat rooms and sets out on a dangerous cross-country quest to find out the truth about his father. When David disappears without warning, Thea, and later Jack, both find themselves in a desperate race to find the boy before something terrible happens to him. As Thea searches for David, she uncovers secrets which reveal that there was much more to that horrible night so many years ago than she ever dreamed, while the hunt also brings both Thea and Jack out of their comfort zones where they begin to find a renewed meaning in life.
Violation is one of those books that I randomly decided to put on my TBR list, because the synopsis sounded very interesting to me. At the time, I wasn't entirely sure what category the book fell into, but at some point between putting it on my list and actually reading it, I'm certain that I ran across a review which stated that the author was a woman and the book was a romantic suspense. Being a huge fan of romance this made the book all the more appealing to me. After reading the book though, I am still not certain if the first claim is true, but I can say unequivocally that the second is not. Internet information on Darian North is quite sparse, and I have found some sites that indicate this is a male author, while several Amazon reviewers insist this is a female author. In my opinion, the book seemed to have a slightly more masculine tone, but it wouldn't be the first time I've seen a woman write this way. Regardless of the author's gender though, this is, without a doubt, not a true romantic suspense novel. I am intimately acquainted with the world of romances, and this story is really a suspense/thriller with a very small amount of romance in it. While the hero and heroine do begin to develop feelings for one another, they never even so much as kiss. By the end of the book, I could discern the believable, though tentative, start of a relationship, but that is something I would have liked to see develop all throughout the narrative. All this said though, I still generally liked the story, in spite of feeling a bit misled by that, at least partially, erroneous review.
I thought the characterizations were very good, and I really liked all the main characters. Jack is not at all unlike the romance heroes I enjoy so much. He is an ex-cop who is haunted by things from the past and has basically shut himself off from the world, until a kid in need of a father figure gently pushes his way into Jack's life. When the boy, who he has come to think of as more than his odd tenant's son, is in danger, Jack knows he has to do something and in the course of saving the boy finds himself again. Althea is also a wounded soul who has shut herself away but for different reasons. She was brutally raped fourteen years earlier, beaten, and left for dead in a burning house. The rape resulted in a pregnancy which produced her son, David. Even though Thea still has psychological problems from the trauma she suffered, I thought it was understandable given that she never received sufficient counseling over the years. Thea may have seemed rather crazy to those around her, but in reality she was a strong woman not only to have survived the vicious attack, but also to have been able to find a way to provide for her son and most of all to love him unconditionally and not resent him or only see him as a product of her rape. I liked how her strength and confidence grew as the story progressed, which in my opinion made her the best and most well-developed character. If the author is a man, I thought he did a respectable job of capturing the female perspective especially given her history. David was very likable too. It was obvious that he was a good kid who was simply frustrated by the lies he knew his mother was telling him about his father and desperately in need of a good male role-model in his life. Even though Jack had begun to fill that role, David couldn't help but wonder about his real parentage which led him on a very dangerous quest. When David meets his internet "friend," Orion, in person, I found him to be a pretty creepy guy, who even gave me a few chills down the spine, a sure sign of a well-written character.
There were only a couple of things that I disliked about the characterizations. One was that the events which led Jack to isolate himself, while hinted at, were not really revealed until the very end of the story and they were told to Thea by his brother, Edmond. I've never been a fan of a secondary cast member being the revealer of significant events in the life of a primary character, because in my opinion, it greatly diminishes the emotional impact. The other thing was that Jack and Thea are both extremely distrusting of the opposite sex throughout a large part of the story. While that was certainly understandable given their past histories, in my opinion, some of their thoughts came off as a little too cynical, and embodied pretty extreme stereotyping. Otherwise, I enjoyed Jack, Thea and David very much and would have liked to know more about what happened to them after the story ended.
In its cover blurb, Violation is described as combining "psychological suspense with terror on the most primal human level." While to some extent I suppose this is true, I never felt any actual terror while reading it, nor did I find it to be as intense as I would have imagined given its subject matter and categorization as a thriller. The first 2/3 of the book move at a pretty slow pace, consisting primarily of character development and procedural investigation of David's disappearance, as Jack and Thea independently look for clues as to his whereabouts. When Jack and Thea are reunited and begin working together, then the pace picks up somewhat as long-held secrets are slowly revealed. Given these story characteristics, I think that Violation might be more aptly described as a drama thriller. In fact, as I was reading, it reminded me of a Lifetime movie. The pieces just fell into place a little too neatly: a computer password that was carelessly left lying around, nurses who are a little too willing to talk, etc. Also, in spite of not usually being very good at figuring out mysteries, I correctly foresaw everything that happened with the exception of the final little plot twist, and if I'd been paying closer attention, I probably could have seen that one coming too. The plot being so predictable, was a little disappointing, but not a complete downer for me, as I tend to be a fan of made-for-TV movies and didn't mind just going along with the characters for the ride.
There were a few other things about the book that I thought could have been better. I think the slow pace was partially due to too much rumination on the part of the main characters. Jack and Thea spent quite a bit of time inside their own heads trying to answer what-if, how-could-he/she, what-was-he-thinking, and similar types of questions. Also having Jack and Thea investigating separately for a third of the book led to some repetition. Thea would discover some piece of the puzzle, and then Jack would come trailing behind to find out the same thing. I was disappointed that it was never made clear whether Thea's mother was in some way complicit in covering up certain details of the assault. In many ways it seemed like she might have been, but Thea always asserted that she didn't think her mother could do something like that. At one point the mother (in a flashback) tells Thea that one reason for them hiding is that David's biological father might sue for custody from prison, but that statement didn't make any sense to me. What judge would be idiotic enough to grant custody of a child to a convicted rapist who is in prison? Lastly, given the intense subject matter, I thought that the emotional connection to the characters should have been stronger, yet as written, I felt like the author was merely telling me about their feelings rather than demonstrating them. I believe that if more emotional demonstration had been incorporated, the story would have packed the powerful punch needed to make it the real gut-wrenching psychological thriller that it could have been. In conclusion, true aficionados of the mystery and suspense genres may not care for its somewhat low-key and predictable nature, but in spite of my criticisms, I did not feel that I wasted my time reading Violation. Anyone who likes the TV-movie style of crime writing and wants to spend some time with characters who are very easy to like and care about will probably find it to be a worthwhile read like I did. This was my first book by Darian North, and although it appears that he or she only wrote a total of four books more than a decade ago, I liked it well enough to perhaps try another at some point in the future.
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