To most people, Fiona Bristow seems to have an idyllic life — a quaint house on an island off Seattle’s coast, a thriving dog-training school, and a challenging volunteer job performing canine search and rescue. Not to mention her three intensely loyal Labs. But Fiona got to this point by surviving a nightmare. Several years ago, she was the only survivor of a serial killer — a madman who stalked and abducted young women, strangled them, and left them buried with a red scarf on their bodies. As authorities were closing in on the Red Scarf Killer, he shot and killed Fiona’s cop fiancé and his K-9 partner. On Orcas Island, Fiona has found the peace and solitude she needed to rebuild her life. Yet all that changes on the day Simon Doyle barrels up her drive, desperate for her help.
This story combines several things I love - thrillers, romance and dogs - but I have to agree with the Publisher's Weekly review: The serial killer plot is very familiar and without much to distinguish it, but the romance is finely done. Not that the thriller portion is bad, but even from the jacket synopsis above, most anyone can guess that the serial killer will come back to search for the one that got away, so no great surprise there. The blood and gore level is kept reasonably low, although there were a couple sections written from the killer's perspective that I chose to skim.
Romance stories tend to be formulaic by necessity, because if they didn't get together and live happily ever after it wouldn't be very romantic, would it? However, Fiona and Simon's relationship is slightly atypical. Their personalities don't mesh and it's fun to watch them try to fit their lives together. I am partial to stories written with as much or more attention paid to dialog as action, and this book delivers witty, thoughtful conversations. Even though you assume Fiona and Simon will end up together, the path isn't what you would expect and they come across as more realistic than most.
The part I liked the most was the dogs. We are dog lovers - especially big dogs. This story is full of helpful training tips that I'm trying to use on our two misbehaving canines (and Fiona assures us that you actually CAN teach an old dog new tricks). The relationship between Fiona and her three dogs, Newman, Bogart, and Peck - named after famous leading men - is charming. Anyone who has ever owned a dog/friend will understand the connection that is almost psychic. Our Husky-mix senses when I am ill and will lay on my feet to keep them warm - something she would never do any other time. They are instinctively protective and, at the same time, instinctively loving. A Springer Spaniel we had when the children were young allowed babies to learn to stand by hanging onto her floppy years and pulling themselves up. She endured without complaint or nip. Fiona's dogs are far better trained than mine have any hopes of being, but their relationship is almost a romance of it's own - loving, loyal, vigilant, sympathetic - and will appeal to any dog lover.
By mid-way through this story, I was sure I could predict the ending, unfortunately I was wrong. I think my plot would have been more suspenseful, as I felt Ms. Roberts' ending was a little mild for the long buildup (480+ pages), but there's probably a reason she's a bestselling author and I'm not. Altogether a pleasing read. I would recommend this for fans of romance, fans of mild thrillers and definitely for fans of Man's Best Friend.