For the past several years, the world of romance writing has been inundated with stories set in small towns. And what’s more intrinsic to small towns than family relationships? For those of us who like our romance with a side of suspense, Brenda Novak’s latest romantic suspense offering, In Close, set in the tiny hamlet of Pineview, Montana illustrates that small town does not necessarily equal strong family.
Again and again, In Close illustrates the ways in which family relationships can go wrong. Whether it’s that Claire’s stepmother doesn’t speak to her own children, or the way that Claire and her sister can’t quite manage to get along despite living next door to one another, Novak highlights just how alone someone whose family doesn’t get along can be. And in Isaac, whose mother abandoned him when he was five years old, she shows how difficult it can be for someone without family ties to form attachments. When his only photo of his mother is destroyed in a fire, he is philosophical:
“You had a picture of her?” Claire wished she’d seen it. Because he had no family, no roots, he was used to flying solo, which made it hard to become an integral part of his life.
“That’s not an easy thing to lose.”
He ran his finger down her cheek. “It was a mug shot, so probably nothing I’d frame, anyway.”
A mug shot. Claire had always known there was something wrong with his mother. “Tell me about her.”
That muscle jumped in his cheek, letting her know he was as sensitive about the subject as ever, but at least he answered. “There’s not much to tell.”
“Who was she?”
He shifted onto his back. “Her name was Bailey Rawlings.”
“And she was—“ she snuggled close, resting her head on his shoulder “—a counterfeiter?”
“Nothing quite so glamorous.” She could hear the dry note in his response to her teasing.
“A bank robber?”
“Far too creative. She was a hooker. And a drug addict.”
Claire leaned up to look into his face. “Well, there you have it.”
His lips pursed. “Have what?”
“Only something as powerful as drug addiction could make her do what she did.”
“That’s how you see it?”
“That’s how I see it.”
“You don’t think that’s too forgiving?”
The dry note was back. The anger he’d felt growing up had slipped deeper and deeper below the surface, but it was still there. “Forgiving her is the only way you’ll be able to move on.”
He studied her for several seconds, touched the end of her nose. “Does that go for you too? If your stepfather killed your mother, will you be able to forgive him?”
She’d been thinking about Tug a lot—as they spoke to the police, as they drove to the hospital, as they waited for the doctor, as they checked into the motel and drifted in and out of sleep—and she kept coming to the same conclusion. “He didn’t kill her.”
Ultimately their investigation will lead them to the truth, but not before Claire risks the relationships that have supported her all her life. It’s one of the great benefits of romantic suspense to know that Isaac, like the hero he is, will be there to help her through the turmoil. And when the time comes, they’ll form their own family unit, one that will build upon the foundation that’s already there, and will, with luck, be strong enough to weather any more traumas that come their way.
Because that’s what family does.