Shannon Tanner is an up and coming LDS investment counselor. She works with her father, referring clients to what they consider sound investment opportunities. When Mark Conway walks into their lives, they spot him as a great asset, one who could be trusted with their clients' dollars. Shannon and Mark fall in love, an added asset.
But Mark isn't who or what he appears to be. In the first few pages of this book, we learn that Mark is actually a clever thief who has been bilking clients of millions of dollars. And now he has a plan to marry Shannon, then kill her and inherit her father's estate.
Mark is apprehended, but he escapes, and now the hunt is on.
Turns out the FBI has been after Mark for a long time. When Mark's attempt to kill Shannon is foiled by Shannon's escape from his clutches, it is decided that a female agent would move in with Shannon and catch Mark when he makes another attempt on her life.
The female agent has an accident, and agent Rick Holden is put in her place. But in order to keep up the appearance of another female living the house, Rick must dress as a woman while he's around Shannon.
If all of this sounds just a bit preposterous, I have to agree. And what I've described is contained on the back cover of the book. I always read the blurbs before reading a book, and I thought to myself, "Oh my goodness, what hath Tristi Pinkston wrought?" Readers will recognize her name as the author of some very good historical fiction. This is her first attempt at writing a mystery novel. How does she fare? Read on.
As the story develops, we meet Shannon's father, who is hospitalized and not expected to survive must longer. Her mother is a constant friend and help, a real encouragement. And Shannon's best friend, Tate, is also there to help her through the mess.
As the story progresses, it actually gets better. The writing becomes a bit more complex, the characters more clearly defined. The relationship between Rick and Shannon takes on some real dimensions, avoiding much of the romantic schlock one might expect in a book like this.
The character of Mark evolves into a thoroughly dislikable fellow, going to such extremes as hiring a bicyclist to toss a brick through Shannon's window. His attempts to intimidate Shannon while evading the authorities are often hair-raising.
I should be fair about the agent in a dress angle. I admit I was put off by the whole thing, but Rick finds ways to avoid dressing up as a woman -- he is "hired" by Shannon's firm and gets to keep an eye on her at her office. When he does have to dress up, Pinkston keeps the tone light, and sometimes hilarious, as this brave FBI agent tries to master the art of getting into a car without having his dress bunch up behind him!
The most interesting character, to me, is the doctor tending to Shannon's father. This is, in my opinion, one of the best-plotted and most cleverly telegraphed characters in recent Mormon fiction. I should have picked up on what was going on with him, but I missed it entirely. And Pinkston adds some comic relief to his character midway through the book -- how could a creepy old man possibly factor into the storyline?
One of the early challenges Pinkston faces is that of timing and pacing the story. After reading the first three or four pages, I thought I'd stumbled upon a story in progress -- never a good feeling when you're reading a novel. Who were these people? Why were they in the place they were in? Of course, all of this unfolds as the story progresses, but I thought she needed to spend more time setting up the storyline. The book suffers from this lack of depth.
But she seems to get her footing once she gets into the meat of the book, and it shows in her generally good writing. She has a good command of dialogue and plotting. Once she gets past the first few chapters, she finds her stride and delivers a delightful story of good versus evil, of finding strength in difficult times. Once you get past the initial idea of an FBI agent wearing a dress, you find a wonderfully readable and engrossing story that keeps you guessing at every turn.
This is nice light reading, a good first effort in this genre for Pinkston. If I were to offer any advice, it would be to fine-tune the pacing of the story, giving readers a sense of place and time. I look forward to her next foray into the mystery novel genre.
I can live with that. :)