Deadly Identity is a story of violence and redemption. Susan, young, pregnant and married to a Miami drug-lord, is a prisoner in her own home. Her husband Dirk, who makes the mistake of sampling his own wares, is violent and abusive. Susan walks a fine and dangerous line until the night when an accident in the kitchen sets Dirk off and he beats her and kills her unborn child. Authorities arrest Dirk and Susan agrees to testify against him. At the end of the trial, Dirk promises to kill Susan and her whole family. The FBI try to keep her safe by putting her and her mother into the Witness Protection Program but instead of keeping them together, they are separated, moving Susan (now Rachel) to New York and her mother to Florida. Several years later, Susan/Rachel learns that Dirk has escaped prison and the FBI is forced to move her to another location, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
On Rachel’s first night in Wyoming as she is driving a rented car from Cheyenne into Jackson Hole, she comes across a wreck. A young mother has run her car into the side of a mountain. She is dead but her 3 month old baby is safe in the rear of the car. Deputy Sheriff Cade comes upon the wreck and finds Rachel trying to open the driver’s door to help the young mother. Cade is living in his own hell. Several years before his wife and child were killed in a similar wreck, and the young mother in this incident is his best friend’s widow and the child is his god-daughter. All of a sudden Cade is forced out of his own well of grief into the role of single father and he sees Rachel as his Angel sent to help him raise this tiny child.
Rachel becomes enveloped in the love of Cade’s family, the wonder of raising Cade’s adopted daughter, a child who is quickly taking the place of her lost baby. And she is slowly coming to love Cade and to rely on his strength and kindness.
The tension of the story relies on the anguish Rachel feels for the danger that she has brought to this gentle and loving family. She lives in fear that her ex-husband will find her and harm those she has come to love so deeply. She is also ashamed of the lies that she has been forced to tell about her past.
Deadly Identity is a satisfying but predictable story. It does offer some insight into the Witness Protection Program and the problems involved in trying to hide in this world where computer hackers seem to be able to ferret out every secret no matter how deeply buried. The romance between Cade and Rachel is sweet but is seems to lack depth. I wish that Ms McKenna had fleshed out the relationship between Rachel and her mother, Daisy, as well as the one between Cade and his parents. The characters lack dimension, and the story is just a bit common. Dirk is just not evil enough, and I wondered during the chapter about his Mexican plastic surgery why in the world would a beautiful young girl like Susan/Rachel be taken in by an acne scarred, chinless, beady-eyed scum like him? It just doesn’t compute. But I think the most disturbing element of the story comes in the beginning with the death of the young widow on the mountain road. This woman has lived her whole life in these mountains and knows the roads intimately. What mother would be driving with her infant in the car on a slick, snowy road…without her seatbelt on? I know the story wouldn’t have worked if the mother hadn’t been killed but surely there was another more believable way….no seatbelt? Oh, come on! Put an assassin in the trees, one of the gang who killed her husband in the recent drug bust. Add a bit more complexity to the story; after all it is supposed to be Romantic Suspense.
And another thing…the cover! I’ve written in blogs before about book cover art. This is just another one of those misses that truly irritates me. A more appropriate cover would have been a picture of the Teton range or Jackson Hole or even a cowboy. But this cover just doesn’t work.