In the back of Flashpoint (Troubleshooters, Book 7) published in 2004, there is a short story that first introduces us to Alyssa Locke's pursuit of the serial killer known only as The Dentist. At the end of the short story he gets away and that left the door open to the possibility that we'd not seen the end of that particular character.
Well fast forward to 2009 and we get Hot Pursuit. A full on suspense thriller/mystery story that focuses on Alyssa's - Hot Pursuit -- of The Dentist.
For those not in the know, this book stars Sam Starrett and Alyssa Locke, arguably Suzanne Brockmann's most popular couple from her long running Troubleshooters series. They first meet as very minor characters in book #1 The Unsung Hero (Troubleshooters, Book 1) and it is disdain at first sight. Throughout the next four books in the series, they begin a secondary character romance arc that is both wonderful and agonizing to watch. Until finally they get their own book with Gone Too Far (Troubleshooters, Book 6) and all the angst of the previous books culminates (in true Sam and Alyssa fashion) in a dramatic and final ending where they get married and begin to settle in married and professional life. We get more glimpses of the happy couple throughout the following 8 troubleshooter books, including three mini-short stories.
As an unabashed Sam & Alyssa fan, I was always happy to get those small glimpses of them in the other books but with them being front and center again in a book I am over the moon.
This book starts out with us learning pretty early on that The Dentist has developed something of an obsession with Alyssa. In the typical crazy way that books have with dealing with serial killers we learn that he has a need to kill and now a lot of what he is doing is completely because of and focused on Alyssa. So much so that, through a byzantine series of machinations, he manages to lure Alyssa to NYC. Alyssa, for her part, doesn't know that she's on the trail of The Dentist at first. She thinks she is doing her friend Savannah a favor by helping out a newly elected Assemblywoman, Maria Bonavita who has received some vague threats, with security set up and self defense. To that end, Alyssa brings along Sam, Ash (their 10 month old son) and a group of Navy SEALs as visible muscle. It is supposed to be a quick two week easy assignment, a vacation of sorts for all involved.
But from almost the moment they arrive things start to go downhill. They are thrust right into the middle of a murder mystery with a slew of suspects and lots of questions. Added to that two of the SEALs, Dan Gilman and Izzy Zanella (old foes from previous books) continue on with their dislike of each other. Zanella is also dealing with the aftermath of his break-up with his wife and Dan is dealing with possible PTSD from a recent stint in Afghanistan. Dan also embarks on a brief romance with Jenn, Maria's Chief of Staff. And although it seems like containing the threat to Maria is one of simply trying to figure out the who and the why, for Sam something doesn't quite fit right. Slowly the threads of all the various stories (red herrings abound) come together and the group is stunned to realize that they are in fact chasing the serial killer known as The Dentist and that Maria may not be his real target at all.
I enjoyed this book immensely. Like I said above, whenever I can get a Sam & Alyssa fix, I am happy (and as an added bonus we also get plenty of face time with Robin and Jules). But I do believe I would not categorize this story as true romance novel. I think Brockmann has moved firmly into the Suspense category with this and in fact this almost reads like a whodunnit is places. While the reader knows exactly what is going on (except for the actual true identity of The Dentist), Alyssa and her team are completely in the dark until almost the end of the book. What romance there is (aside from the gushingly happy couples Sam/Alyssa and Robin/Jules) is not within a normal romance framework. Dan and Jenn are ostensibly the main romance couple here. However, their ending isn't what regular romance readers would consider a typical HEA. First, Dan's pursuit of Jenn is ,imo, somewhat manipulative with some less than wonderful motivation. He does redeem himself to the reader because through his inner dialogue we understand that he truly is emotionally involved with her, but he damages her trust in him through some hurtful comments she overhears. And while she accepts his apology, she doesn't let him off the hook easily. These two don't ride into the sunset HEA in the end. Don't get me wrong, they are in love and we have every right to assume that they will be ok, but I think the ending will leave some romance readers who like a written in stone HEA, a bit put off.
Which brings me to Izzy. The interesting thing about this story is that while the suspense plot is resolved, it is the romance elements that end in cliffhanger. In addition to Dan and Jenn, there is Izzy. For anyone who has followed the series, Izzy is married to Dan's sister Eden. As far as marriages go, it has a very rocky foundation. Eden isn't in this book at all, but Izzy's thoughts are on her a lot. However, another woman has her eye on Izzy. The reader is left with the suggestion that if things don't work out with Eden this woman may be the one in the wings for Izzy? I am sure Brockmann left that suggestion out there intentionally. For myself, I wouldn't mind. I couldn't stand the Izzy/Eden pairing and would find this new Izzy pairing quite intriguing.
And finally, there is a lot of inner dialogue of The Dentist himself. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. I actually found his inner dialogue a little tedious. I think my love of the suspense novel works against me here because I've been in the head of a lot of fictional psychos. LOL! Rather than being scary, it was more been-there-done-that.
But even with that little quibble, this book was a very, very good read. I enjoyed it immensely and the ending was really awesome. No wonder Sam Starret is in my top three favorite fictional heroes of all time.