When asked why she chose to write romantic suspense, New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Carla Neggers replied, “I’m drawn to stories with great characters, a sense of adventure, high stakes, a fast pace…and a lot going on.” The passion she has for these elements is evident in her newest release, Declan’s Cross. The third addition to her Sharpe and Donovan novels, this story follows FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan to the beautiful Irish coast.
In need of some time away, the couple heads to Ireland to recover from a recent case. Colin, an undercover agent, fears the toll his work is taking on him and those he loves. Though he’s good at the job, he’s no longer sure the job is good for him. He needs time to figure out what’s next and how that next step impacts his relationship with Emma.
Emma simply wants to be with Colin. She knows he’s reevaluating, questioning whether their relationship can continue to work, but her support for him never wavers. Her steady patience and practical outlook give Colin the space he needs to find his answers.
But Emma has secrets. As a former nun, an art crimes specialist, and now FBI agent, Emma is a woman with a complicated past, and Colin is fascinated with every facet of it. She’s the one mystery he’s still trying solve, but for now, they’re both content to relax and enjoy their time together.
The death of Lindsey Hargreaves changes their plans. Her connections to Colin’s hometown of Rock Point and Emma’s work as an art crimes detective draw the agents into the investigation. Though careful not to interfere with the Irish authorities, Colin and Emma work behind the scenes to solve a murder, protect a friend, and find the answers to a ten-year-old unsolved art theft.
I’ve been reading Neggers’ books for years, and without exception, the most intriguing element common to them all is her engaging characters. Their distinct personalities, intelligent dialogue, and complex motivations draw readers into the story and keep them riveted to the action.
One of the things I’ve appreciated about the Sharpe and Donovan series is how well the reader gets to know Emma and Colin. Though characters often overlap within Neggers’ series, this is the first time the main characters stay consistent throughout. I worried at first that the story line would get redundant or the spark between the hero and heroine would dim, but Neggers has no problem keeping the romance alive and holding the readers’ interest because her characters are so balanced and well developed.
Though Emma and Colin meet and become involved in the first novel, Saint’s Gate, their personalities and career paths keep their success as a couple from becoming a foregone conclusion. In Heron’s Cove, the second book, the two agents face danger closer to home, forcing them to question the wisdom of mixing the personal with the professional.
Throughout the series, Neggers balances the uncertainty of their circumstances with the strength of their commitment, delivering a love story much like real life. We get to watch their relationship unfold and see them deal with trouble as it comes. Each step forward brings new risks and a deeper affection, but doubt lingers, especially for Colin who admits: “Sometimes I wonder if I’m the right man for a woman like you…. I know I can be rough on people. I look for all the sharp angles and dark corners.” Colin undoubtedly loves Emma; he’s just not sure love is enough. The reader must wait with Emma to find out if it is.
But the romance is only half of the picture. Declan’s Cross also offers fast-paced action and a cast of secondary characters who have conflicts and secrets of their own. Julianne Maroney, a young woman from Colin’s hometown and his brother Andy’s ex-girlfriend, finds Lindsey Hargreaves’ body of on the rocky cliffs of the quaint Irish village of Declan’s Cross. The two women had planned to work together during Julianne’s visit, but Lindsey’s death launches an investigation that has Emma and Colin curious.
The fact that Lindsey had recently visited Rock Point and traveled directly from there to the same Irish village where the decade-old art theft took place is a coincidence the two agents cannot ignore. Though unable to officially investigate, Emma and Colin ask plenty of questions about Lindsey, her family, and her activities in both Ireland and the States.
Neggers gives readers a glimpse into the lives of the locals, tangling the threads of the community, the stolen art, and the dead American into one giant knot that Sharpe and Donovan help untangle.
The interactions between Irish police officer Sean Murphy and Kitty O’Byrne Doyle, proprietor of the estate where the art theft originally occurred, provide interest and depth to the backstory while the emotional tug-of-war between Julianne Maroney and Andy Donovan offers the drama and pathos of young love. Add to that the tragic history between David Hargreaves and his estranged daughter and the mystery surrounding Emma’s legendary art detective grandfather Wendell Sharpe, and you begin to understand why Carla Neggers’ books are always so difficult to put down.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed this story, the one disappointment I had was the absence of that final crescendo of action before the guilty party is revealed. A hallmark of a Neggers’ suspense novel, the heightened tension and quick scene changes that propel the reader through the final pages were more subdued in Declan’s Cross, making the confrontation between the killer and the cops somewhat anticlimactic.
In spite of that one minor hitch, I recommend this book without reservation. The case unfolds at a steady pace, the setting is rich in detail, and the questions asked in this mystery lay the groundwork for the next one. With Declan’s Cross, Carla Neggers once again delivers on her promise to offer a high-stakes adventure with unforgettable characters. You can find out more about her and the other books in the Sharpe and Donovan series on her website.
~Vickie Price Taylor