As a marine in Afghanistan, Ethan Buchanan leaned how to track people down. Now a security expert with his own company, he's vowed to trace the ruthless killer who's kidnapped his godson, Alec. The trail leads him to Chicago, where he spends hours poring over security videos at the bus station, looking for any trace of the boy and his abductor. While there, he has an unexpected encounter with a young woman whose mere touch sends an electric spark of awareness throughout his body. Ethan doesn't have a moment to lose in his search for Alec, but at the same time, something within him tells him he'd regret it if he let the woman go. So using every spare minute to the best advantage, he pursues her, sensing that she carries some deep secrets of her own.
Dana Dupinsky is the director of Hanover House, a shelter for battered women. With a history of abuse herself, she's no stranger to what the women who come to her in confidence have endured. For many, she has forged documents to give them new identities and new lives, a fact that must remain a closely guarded secret. Dedicated to helping the women and children in her shelter, she has avoided dating, but when she meets Ethan at the bus station, she can't resist the pull she feels in his presence. Knowing he's only in town for a short time, she decides to allow herself a small fling, but nothing could have prepared her for the intensity of her feelings for this man that develop in such a short time.
But unbeknownst to both of them, the killer has invaded the safe space of Hanover House, abusing a child she claims is her own, while under Dana's protection. Meanwhile, the body count begins to rise, and Dana's best friends are placed in harm's way as well, putting Ethan and the police in a race against time to save Alec, and eventually Dana, herself, from becoming the next victims.
Karen Rose is one of those seemingly rare authors who has not failed me yet, but probably because her books tend to be longer and harder for me to fit into my reading schedule, I only seem to get around to reading one every couple of years. I really need to rectify that, because her books always impress me with their expert plotting and taut, edge-of-you-seat suspense. But even though the suspense and mystery tend to be more of the focus in her stories, she doesn't skimp on the romance. Nothing to Fear was no exception to these rules. The characterizations are complex and tightly woven, as is the plot. I was kept guessing as to the villain's motivations for quite a while and there were a few twists that I didn't see coming. For the most part, it all unravels slowly over time, but there were also parts of the story where I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how everything was going to turn out. So overall, this was a great story that kept me engaged throughout.
Dana was introduced in Karen Rose's first book, Don't Tell, as the social worker and director of Hanover House, who helped Caroline escape her abusive husband. She's still working in that capacity in this book and unknowingly ends up harboring a woman who kidnapped a young boy and has murdered multiple people in cold blood. Dana is a kind, caring person, who wants to help women escape their abusive pasts and start over fresh. She's extremely self-sacrificing and so committed to her work as to be somewhat of a risk-taker, which tends to upset the people closest to her. She has very deep-seated and complex reasons for what she does, but I won't go into that too much so as to not give away spoilers. It was very enjoyable to peel away the layers and figure out the woman underneath, so I don't want to take that away from readers. But suffice it to say that she's been avoiding any relationships, not because she's afraid of men, but because she feels her work is too demanding to allow her to get involved with someone. When she first meets Ethan and feels the electric connection between them, she thinks it will just be a fling, because she also knows that he's from out of town. I liked, however, that her heart was open to the possibility of more when faced with the intense emotions she feels for him. While some of the people in Dana's life feel she places herself in too much danger, I had to admire her for her bravery and keeping a cool head under intense pressure. I also couldn't help but love her for her big heart and the work she does that has helped so many women and children.
Ethan is a former marine who had every intention of making it a career until he was wounded in Afghanistan. Now he experiences blinding migraines that can temporarily sideline him. He and his friend started up a security firm, where Ethan mostly does the computer work. He's drawn into the kidnapping by the brother and sister-in-law of his former best friend who was killed in the war. He also happens to be godfather to their son, the boy who was kidnapped, so he'll do whatever he has to do to get Alec back. Like all of Karen Rose's heroes to date, Ethan is a great guy. Much like Dana he has a very complicated background that drives him to do the things he does. Even though he wants to involve the police, he's moved enough by the parents' fear for their son's well-being that he's willing to go it alone with only Clay, his friend and business partner's help. He becomes so obsessive about getting Alec back that he doesn't eat or sleep properly for days. Then Dana comes into his life, helping him to slow down just a little. He feels the instant electrifying connection every bit as deeply as Dana does, and knows he'd regret it if he didn't at least try to get to know her. I loved him for his unwavering trust in Dana and for intuitively knowing there were things in her past that needed to be uncovered. He's also a kindhearted person and a tender lover.
As with all of Karen Rose's previous books, the villain here is pretty dastardly. This is the first of her books I've read where the villain is a woman. We know from the beginning who she is, at least in the respect of knowing her name, which changed the dynamic for me somewhat. The only one of the author's books I've read so far where this was the case was Don't Tell, and in all honesty, I felt like Caroline's husband had more teeth than Sue/Jane, which is rather weird to say considering all the horrific crimes she committed. After analyzing her action, I don't know that it was so much the character being female, as it was the way in which she commits her crimes. With the previous villains, they were out there terrorizing the town and you didn't know who they were or in the case of Caroline's husband, he was hunting her down, leaving mayhem and destruction in his wake. With Sue/Jane, she has a detailed plan in mind and even though things don't always go her way, her motto is "Adopt, adapt, and improve." This in some ways made her actions seem a bit more impulsive, not in the sense that she doesn't still have a master plan, but each murder she commits seems to be fairly quick albeit brutal. Granted the grand finale she's working toward is the stuff nightmares are made of and she leaves a trail of bodies in her wake, some of which were gruesomely killed, but there was just something about her that didn't seem quite as intense to me. I'm probably not explaining it very well, because I'm not entirely sure what to attribute that feeling to myself. Maybe it was her being a woman, but most of the time, I didn't feel quite the same sense of fear and loathing toward her that I did with the previous villains. The thing I did like about the Sue/Jane character, though, was the psychology behind what she was doing, which was pretty fascinating. On the one hand, she could probably be considered a bad seed, because there are plenty of people who've gone through horrible circumstances not unlike those she endured and don't turn out the way she did. On the other hand, there was a part of me that while I wouldn't exactly say I sympathized, I could kind of understand the why of her actions, which to me is a very well-written character.
Additionally, the author utilizes her complex character web with many characters we've already met or who will eventually get their own books appearing. Max and Caroline (Don't Tell) as Dana's friends, play fairly significant roles, as does Max's brother, David, who helps Dana out at Hanover House. Also there's her friend and assistant, Evie, who's almost more like a sister and who's still pretty young. We get to see how her experience with Caroline's husband in Don't Tell has changed her, but at the same time, she's still pretty sassy and occasionally a bit immature. The things I love about her character, though, are that she loves kids and is very kind to Alec, and despite everything she went though previously, she's pretty resourceful under pressure. I think she made great strides in this book, and I look forward to her maturing a bit more to become the heroine of I Can See You. When bodies start turning up in Chicago and the cops are finally brought in on the case, we get to see Abe (I'm Watching You) and Mia (who was also in Abe's book, but becomes the heroine of Count to Ten) again. Their commander, Lieutenant Spinelli, and Julia, the ME, show up too, along with new law enforcement officials from Maryland. There's also Ethan's best friend, Clay, who's always looking out for him like a mother hen and who becomes the hero of Watch Your Back. Last but not least, is Alec, who's a good kid who doesn't let his disability get the best of him, and his parents who are harboring some pretty big secrets of their own.
Overall, Nothing to Fear was a tense and enjoyable read. One might think that slight misgivings about the villain would have dropped my star rating, but I decided not to. In the end, I couldn't deny that the book was every bit as well-plotted as the previous ones and the characterizations are undeniably deep and complex. The tender romance also earned it a few extra points. Despite Dana and Ethan's relationship developing within a matter of only one week, their connection was strong and heartfelt. I could just tell that they were meant to be together. So I couldn't not give it the full five. I'm eager to read more of Karen Rose's books, just so that I can visit with these wonderful characters again. So I'll have to try not to allow so much time to pass in between next time.
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