Terri Reed’s Identity Unknown was an unknown entity for Miss Bates: a new-to-her author and series and tropes that are a hard sell. The combination of inspie and suspense is squirm-inducing: Miss Bates reads with a gimlet eye, waiting to reader-pounce on any glorification of gun- or uniform-adoration. Reed’s romance novel, however, was surprisingly humble. Its humility emanated from her hero and heroine, Canadian Border Services agent Nathaniel Longhorn and Calico Bay, Maine, Deputy Sheriff Audrey Martin. The novel’s opening was its strongest part. Sniper Longhorn is ambushed by the gun- and drug-running Russian gang he and his American counterparts are trying to arrest. Hours or mere days later, he washes up on Deputy Martin’s Maine coast. Audrey’s “John Doe” is groggy from a head wound and doesn’t remember who he is, or why he washed up on this Maine beach. Audrey too wonders if he’s one of the bad guys, or one of the good. While Audrey doesn’t dispute the possibility her “unknown” may be a criminal, she trusts the instincts that tell her this helpless man is ethical. Her impression is confirmed by his request for her prayers.
In the midst of Nathaniel’s identity-loss and the violent bad guys plaguing him, we learn something of Audrey ‘s life and identity. As a woman in law enforcement, Audrey is working hard to prove to her uncle, the outgoing Calico Bay sheriff, and community that she’s up for the sheriff’s job. She’s focussed and hard-working: ” … she knew hard work and commitment were the keys to succeeding.” Audrey is a tough cookie with a heart of gold. Miss Bates liked her and Nathaniel a lot. She especially appreciated Audrey’s philosophy of giving everyone a chance to be proven guilty, witness her thoughts about her near-drowned John Doe hunk: “Whatever this man’s story, whether good or bad, she had a sworn duty to serve and protect the community of Calico Bay, and for now that included this man.” Rather than make her protagonists gun-toting hard-asses, Reed works to present them as protectors.
While Reed’s narrative devolves into the insertion of one-too-many US and Canadian law enforcement secondary characters and at least one gun fight per chapter, she can write pretty fun dialogue and lovely description. Miss Bates loved Nathaniel and Audrey’s hospital exchange: ” ‘You look like a Christmas ornament.’ His words were slurred. ‘Shiny. Pretty.’ His hand dropped away as if he could no longer hold on. His head lolled to the side, and his eyes closed.” Reed captures Nathaniel’s weakened body language and roguish, flirtatious side. Nathaniel struggles with his amnesia and Reed gives us lovely passages such as this one, capturing the world around and in him: “He paused to turn back to the sea, his gaze on the churning ocean. Moonlight danced on the white-crested waves that undulated with the rough current. The lights of Canada twinkled in the distance like little beacons.”
Unfortunately, Reed’s romance narrative suffers from a saggy middle. Nathaniel and Audrey’s initial attraction and witty exchanges turn to doubtful ruminations of the sundry reasons why they shouldn’t have a relationship. And yet, Reed is quite good at showing how their compatibility and growing bond will bring them to a much-deserved HEA. On the other hand, the villains are thoroughly caricatured and their predictable ability to appear in doorways with gun in hand is farcical. Moreover, the end is hurried and implausible. Nevertheless, Miss Bates found enough to enjoy to keep reading. One further note in Reed’s romance’s favour is how Nathaniel and Audrey turned to prayer, as well as their law enforcement skills, when the situation was most dire. Too many inspies tells us how faithful the protagonists are, but Reed’s manages to show us. Overall, Miss Bates would say she’d give another Reed a try. As for Miss Austen’s judgement, she’d agree that Terri Reed’s Identity Unknown is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Terri Reed’s Identity Unknown is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on October 4th and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.