Four years ago, Stephen Thatcher's wife was killed in a car accident as she was abandoning him and their three sons to be with her lover. Since then, Stephen has struggled with balancing being a single father with being a good cop, but in the past month, his oldest son, Brad, who had always been a good kid, has suddenly become rebellious. Just as Stephen finds himself embroiled in an intense murder investigation, Brad's teacher calls to tell him that Brad failed her chemistry test.
Jenna Marshall is a teacher who truly cares about her students. When she contacted Brad's father to set up a conference she didn't expect the handsome detective to stir her desires in a way that she hasn't felt since her fiancé passed away two years ago. It doesn't take long for Jenna to find herself falling not only for Stephen but his children as well, but Stephen seems to be holding her at arms length.
When Jenna gives a failing grade to one of the football players, she finds herself the target of vandalism and hate notes. At about the same time, Stephen's murder case heats up as more victims go missing, and it seems that the disappearances may be linked to Jenna's errant student. Stephen will have his work cut out for him solving the case before Jenna becomes the next victim. And if he can save her, will these two wounded souls allow themselves to find healing in each other's arms?
Have You Seen Her? was another exciting romantic suspense from Karen Rose. The serial killer mystery part of the book was taut with suspense. Although the real killer was definitely at the top of my suspect list, Ms. Rose certainly made me second guess myself several times, making the journey to discovering his identity enjoyable. She also threw in a little twist that I didn't see coming. I thought the romance aspect could have been just a wee bit better. For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, I didn't feel the connection between the hero and heroine quite as deeply as I would have liked. Perhaps it was because their relationship developed rather quickly over the course of only a few weeks, which isn't really my favorite way for a couple to fall in love. However, their romance was still good. Stephen and Jenna are both wounded souls who very much need each other, but they're also both rather stubborn and after being deeply hurt in the past, don't want to feel needy. As a consequence, this led to some amusing arguments, as well as intense passion. I felt that Stephen held back the truth about his first wife from Jenna a little too long, but otherwise, they communicated quite well for two people who had just met and were still getting to know each other.
I had really liked Stephen in Karen Rose's first book, Don't Tell. When he's on a case, he's more than just a cop. He truly cares about the victims and their families. It's what drives him to be a great detective, but it also puts a strain on his family relationships, especially with his kids. Stephen is definitely not a perfect dad, but he is a great one, nonetheless. He really loves his boys and although he has some problems with them, it just made him all the more relatable to me. Stephen was a very nice guy who certainly didn't deserve the cruel way in which his first wife abandoned him and their children. Because of that, Stephen has issues with trusting women, but that was understandable. However, it does lead to some problems with Jenna, and even I got a little miffed with him when he got jealous and spitefully left Jenna alone at the school even though he supposedly feared for her safety. That seemed like a rather dumb move for such a smart man, and I couldn't help but side with her when she temporarily broke off their relationship because of it. Luckily, Jenna was a pretty patient woman and eventually heard him out and forgave him. On the up side, the thing I really loved about Stephen was that he is a rare celibate hero who actually believes that if he has sex with a woman he better be prepared to marry her, and so consequently doesn't sleep around. The romance seas are brimming with playboy heroes, so I couldn't help but find Stephen's perspective utterly refreshing.
Jenna is a wonderfully caring woman who is struggling emotionally as the second anniversary of her fiancé's death approaches. As a teacher, she truly desires to give her students the best education she possibly can and always looks out for their well-being. It's her mindful attitude regarding Stephen's son, Brad that led to her meeting Stephen in the first place. She's fabulous with all of Stephen's boys, especially little Nicky who was still recovering from the trauma of being abducted just six months earlier (Don't Tell). I really enjoyed their scenes together as Jenna gave Nicky lots of love and special attention. She has a major soft spot for animals too and has two dogs that she saved from being euthanized and then trained them to guard her extremely well. She also does plenty of volunteer work at the animal shelter and the hospice where her fiancé passed away. Jenna may be a very nice person, but underneath it all, she's a tough-as-nails lady with a brown belt in karate. I love how she stood up to a bullying parent and wouldn't back down on the failing grade she gave his son even though her weaselly principle wouldn't support her in that decision and she started receiving threats because of it. All throughout the story, but especially when she had to go up against the killer, Jenna showed great courage, fortitude and strength of spirit.
Have You Seen Her? boasts a plethora of supporting players that I occasionally had a hard time keeping straight. In spite of that, I have to say that they were all rendered extremely well and each had his or her own very important role to play. Stephen's family is warm and wonderful. Brad is initially quite sullen, but I figured out very quickly what his problem was. Nicky is as cute as a button. It's sweet how Aunt Helen is always trying to play matchmaker to Stephen, and her banter with Matt was LOL funny. Stephen's priest friend, Mike was a good sounding board for Stephen's problems with both his boys and Jenna. Jenna's fiancé's family has become hers, and although she doesn't get along so well with her almost sister-in-law, everyone still loves and cares about her very much, as does her "nosy" neighbor, Mrs. Kasselbaum, who was a funny old lady. Stephen assembles an extremely talented investigative team to solve the string of murders, and each person on the team has their own personality and abilities that they bring to the table to get the job done. Neil Davies the lead investigator for the murders in Seattle joins them too. I had to admire his determination to put the killer behind bars after his own investigation went south, but on the other hand, he irritated me a bit when he tried to put the moves on Jenna. Then of course there was the Lutz family who give a whole new meaning to creepy. Unlike with most of Karen Rose's books, it doesn't look like the characters from Have You Seen Her? carry over to future books at this time, the only exception being Stephen who it appears may have a secondary role in Kill for Me. All in all, everything came together to make Have You Seen Her? a great read. With two winners in a row, Karen Rose has earned a spot on my favorite authors list, and I'm really looking forward to reading more of her novels soon.
Note: Karen Rose has a highly interconnected character web throughout all of her books, and they are considered something of an unofficial series. Although it appears that each book stands well on it's own story-wise, I think the reading experience would probably be enhanced by reading the books in the chronological order in which they were written, which is what I intend to do. A complete list including the recommended reading order and character connections can be found on Karen Rose's website.
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