Darkness by Karen Robards

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Darkness by Karen Robards begins with an Airbus crash outside of Denver. The flight was perfectly normal until it crashed into the side of a mountain. There were no survivors. What caused the plane to crash? A bomb? Mechanical failure? Pilot error? No one knows.

One year later, James “Cal” Callahan is transporting an American hacker, who says he knows what caused the Airbus to crash into the mountain, back from Russia. Suddenly, the plane Cal is on disintegrates into a thousand pieces. Cal is thrown free and later plucked from the icy Alaskan waters. Dr. Gina Sullivan, ornithologist, saw the plane crash while she was following an eagle in the waters surrounding Attu Island.

Callahan is no stranger to danger. He suspects a surface-to-air missile might have caused the plane to disintegrate. What puzzles him is why. Even though he is injured and weak from the frigid waters, he finds it hard to believe that Gina is bird watching in such a remote place in the middle of November. He quizzes her mercilessly, throws her two-way radio overboard when she tries to call for help, and frisks her before he begins to trust her.

Such treatment by a man whose life she has just saved is unthinkable. Gina is determined to get them safely to shore before a storm hits. Then, as soon as possible after the storm lifts, she plans to abandon Cal and make her way back to her base camp where the rest of her 11-member team has weathered the storm.

When they land on the beach of the bay, she tells Cal that he can shelter in one of the abandoned buildings on the island. As he struggles up the beach, Cal passes out from exhaustion and incipient hypothermia. Gina, cursing, goes to his rescue again. She knows that Cal has been shot and she fears he will die if she doesn’t help him survive the raging blizzard. She finds shelter under an outcropping of rocks and pitches her small pup tent. Over Cal’s protest that others will see the light from the fire, Gina starts a small fire. “Do you really think anybody’s going to be out in this? Only, without a fire we’re probably going to freeze to death. So whatever you’re worried about is going to have to take a back seat to living through the night.” She tells Cal he will have to strip so he doesn’t get everything soaking wet inside the tent. Cal quips, “You want me…naked.”

The novel crackles with sexual tension almost from the start. Tall, handsome, brooding eyes and dark good looks make the buff Cal an intriguing hero. Tawny-haired Gina, with huge blue eyes, is a spunky person who doesn’t let Cal intimidate her. She has survival skills, and it’s up to her to see that they survive the blizzard and live through the night. She knows how to defend herself and Cal against the elements. Since she doesn’t know Cal, she wants to leave him and get back to base camp.

Cal is desperate to get the flash drive the hacker passed him before the plane crash back to Washington for analysis. So, the next morning, as Gina prepares to leave, Cal asks for one favor. He wants her to call a specific phone number on the base satellite phone and then to forget about him. He says someone will come to rescue him.

The novel is filled with intrigue: Why did Cal’s plane crash? Was it a missile? If so, who fired it? Who is Cal afraid of? What is Gina’s big secret, and what is she afraid of besides Cal? These questions and their answers demonstrate the prowess of Robards’ storytelling ability.

In the romantic suspense genre, Karen Robards is a favorite. She is no stranger to the New York Times, Publishers Weekly and USA Today best seller lists. She wrote her first novel at 24, and she has published more than 50 books in her career.

Robards’ first novels were historical fiction. They were so successful that her publishers contracted her to write romantic suspense and historical fiction novels in alternate years. She has won a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award and been nominated for four Romantic Times awards for her novels, winning once for Irresistible. Robards has also received six Affaire de Coeur Silver Pen awards for favorite romance novelist.

The novel is a lightweight in the world of mysteries or thrillers. It won’t strain your brainpower as Dan Brown does, nor is the plot as complex as The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. It is humorous, but Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum is funnier. This is fluffy marshmallow cream, a good lazy afternoon read when all you want is a sexy romantic mystery. ■