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Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Hero: Cameron “Crash” O’Halloran
Heroine: Tana Larsson
Date of Publication: August 16, 2016
Started On: August 03, 2016
Finished On: August 06, 2016
In the Barren ground of the soul
nothing can grow.
For here is bitter and cold where
the sun hangs low.
Where a midnight caribou mutilation
awakens a howl of emptiness with ice
where once there was heart.
And it comes with hunger
for blood in its mouth.
For, in the Barrens of the soul
monsters take toll . . .
Loreth Anne White is an author whose name belongs right up there with the masters of the romantic suspense genre. Label her books as romantic suspense or thrillers, either way, you get a story that is worth your time and money in gold, and In the Barren Ground, her latest procedural romantic suspense novel fits right in.
Set in The Barrens, a vast wilderness in northern Canada bordering the Arctic Circle, the terrain is as unforgiving and harsh as they come. When winter rolls in, few are the numbers of people around, and predators come out to stalk whatever food they can scrounge up from the vast areas of hostile territory.
Constable Tana Larsson takes up a post in the remote fly-in community of Twin Rivers because of mistakes of her past, to escape the memories that haunts her more than she would like it to. Though the isolation of the town makes her question her decision at times, Tana knows deep inside that she needs a place as such to lick her wounds in private, to let herself heal and in the process learn to fit in and accept her new role as a mother to be.
When Tana gets called in to cover a wolf mauling that had cost the lives of two students, the evidence at hand suggests something more sinister at work, a force that looks as if it has been in operation for over a span of years, none of it jiving with what the people of Twin Rivers has believed up till now. Though the folks of the town are less than helpful in their hints that Tana is stirring up bad spirits by going deeper into a case that had already cost the sanity of a law enforcement personnel before her, Tana is determined to piece together the clues that points towards a meticulous and horrific serial killer at work.
With the help of a local bush pilot known as Cameron “Crash” O’Halloran, who elicits the sort of reactions from her that are not at all welcome, Tana enters into a dangerous game with a killer who has pretty much perfected the art of killing and getting away with it. The ritualistic nature of the kill, the patterns of it suggesting a sort of violence that is deep rooted in issues of the kind for which help of any sort might never ever be enough.
Before this, I had the misfortune of reading a procedural romantic suspense novel a year or so earlier, which nearly put me to sleep and made me want to bang my head against the wall. The narration of all the procedural aspect made the book intensely dry and made me want to weep from the effort it took for me to finish the book. So my apprehension when it came to reading this was a given, since In the Barren Ground is also characterized as a procedural romantic suspense novel. My worries were totally unnecessary, as I found myself totally captivated by the story that unfolded, a trait that has always held true when it comes to every single book I have had the fortune of reading when it comes to Loreth’s work. Loreth sports a mind of the kind that delivers dark and edgy, the kind that I absolutely, wholeheartedly revel in.
In the Barren Ground, while procedural, it made me appreciate all the more, the intensive and at times tedious work that officers of the law enforcement have to put in in order to get a case right, and to do it right as well. The evidence gathering, collating, picking up the clues and patterns; all of it and more requires a mind that is keen as well as intelligent, and a heart that believes in justice and doing it right and not taking short cuts, because you never know which piece of evidence would end up becoming the pivotal piece in a case.
I loved Tana‘s character. There is strength and resilience in her, the sort that knows when she needs help and when she can do it alone. I think this is basically the first thriller of the kind that I have read, in which the lead character did not go in half cocked, thinking she could save the day just by turning up. No. She used her God given intelligence which made her see that to face off a killer of the kind who takes pride in the planning, the lure and the hunt should not be taken lightly, because if Tana were to piece it all together, the whole world of the killer comes tumbling down. I loved that about this story and that was definitely one of the highlights.
Crash’s character was an absolute delight. Crash is a man who throws all your assessments of his character sideways, his character as appealing on the inside as on the outside. What drew me to his character was how he could read people, how he understood where they were coming from, the career which he had worked in before honing skills in him that turned out to be pretty useful when all was said and done. Crash has his own agenda which he seeks, his own demons to fight, his own past that is filled with regrets of the kind that could break a guy. But Crash perseveres, and knows which battles to fight and which ones to give up, which made me love him all that more!
The killer in this novel, well, that is the masterpiece when it comes right down to it. Loreth’s imagination takes the reader to places where some might not even want to go. Those who have delicate sensibilities might not like where her stories take them. But for me, Loreth’s stories are the high that I seek whenever I pick up a thriller of the kind. The fact that the identity of the killer totally surprised me, something that has been happening too rarely lately for my sake, was one of the winning aspects of this story! Be prepared for a killer that has multiple facets to the character, a testament of the mastery that Loreth holds over the genre.
The setting itself is one that lends credence to the whole story. Definitely not the kind of place you would want to end up with a killer who enjoys the hunt and is relentless. Loreth’s writing is so evocative, and I always keep repeating this point in my reviews; it just feels as if you are one with the story. As if you are standing at the edge of The Barrens, the cold seeping through, right into your very bones, the chill you feel when you encounter the malicious intents of a killer for whom all reason had been lost, and the subtle, yet strong connection that forges to life between two unlikely protagonists; all that and more, and you feel every single aspect of the story to the deepest recesses of your soul.
This is a story that sends chills running up and down your spine, taking you to the edge of your seat and back. Be prepared to lose sleep and to read through the night. Brace yourself to become engrossed and engaged in a read that would have you turning on every light in your house, because that is how edgy and real the story that unfolds is. Definitely and absolutely recommended!
Final Verdict: Taunts and haunts you! An irrefutable page turner!
It was 3:48 p.m.
Nearly ten minutes away from pickup time. Only five more days before she was due back at school. With her friends. Her mom. But as Selena slid into oblivion, she realized she would not make her twenty second birthday. Perhaps, she thought in an absurd final moment of consciousness, this basin in which she lay beneath the cliff face was one of those “dreaming places” where she should never have stopped to rest, or to empty what she had from those bags . . .
Tana banged on O’Halloran’s door, praying she’d find him in a better state than Jankoski. The door opened almost immediately, startling her. Warm light spilled out into the night. His dark-blond hair stood on end. He wore a tight, long-sleeve tee. Tattoos poked out from the base of his sleeves. His jeans slung low on his hips. He grinned, and it put dimples into his rugged, weather-browned cheeks, amusement into his light-green eyes. He reminded her of a scarred and cocky junkyard dog. An edginess crackled through her. Because he intimidated her. Just a little.
“You know why they call this place Headless Man?”
“I’m sure you’re about to tell me.”
“Two prospectors were found a few miles southeast from here, in the twenties, sitting with their backs leaned up against a cliff face, just like we’re doing. Fully dressed. Boots on, packs and picks and guns at their sides. Only trouble—no heads. Just gone. Just the two torsos propped there like they were having a good old chat. Still had diamonds in their bags.”
She turned to him. “They ever find the heads?”
“How’d the heads been removed?”
“Ripped. Clean off. Bodies all intact, just those heads torn off their stumps.”