Reviewed by Tori
Maggie Gaines resigned from the FBI after she fell apart during her first high profile case and she got a little too close to her married partner. Now a park ranger in the Glacier National Park, she has found some semblance of peace, but a series of murders in her park threatens to destroy that peace when she is forced to work with the one man she ran from all those years ago.
FBI agent Vic Sutherland has been hunting the National Park serial killer for months; always one step behind them. While he knows that the latest murder will reunite him with his old partner, he’s still not prepared for the heat of attraction that flares between them when they meet up face to face.
As Maggie and Vic hit the ground running they find their list of suspects growing with only themselves to trust. But unless they can unmask the killer, they may be his next victims.
The Hunting Grounds is the 2nd in Robert’s dark romance suspense series, Hidden Sins. Fans will remember Vic Sutherland from book one; he was Eden’s FBI partner. Though this is part of the series, it is loosely connected and functions as a stand alone.
This book starts off slow as Roberts painstakingly lays the foundation for the story; a serial killer hunting in a national park balances precariously with the second chance romance. We are at Robert’s mercy as she spends a considerable amount of time building up our anticipation of our hero and heroine’s reunion by divulging into their shared background and offering up clues as to their emotional status. There is large information flow which left me a little confused to exactly what is happening; especially when Robert’s introduces another storyline with a completely separate group of characters through a series of flips that tell their story in the present and past.
I had a hard time warming to Maggie. She has a large chip on her shoulder because of her leaving the FBI. She pushes to convince herself and everyone else around her she is neither damaged or a failure while struggling with the guilt of wanting her then married partner. Her need to prove herself had her acting childish in the beginning but luckily she settles. Strong and intelligent, Maggie comes across as a loner who’s more comfortable in the field than in an office.
Vic Sutherland is her exact opposite. A former Navy Seal, he is calm, cool, collected, and a bit of a control freak. He too felt guilt over wanting his former partner and the single kiss they shared rocked him but now that he’s divorced, all bets are off.
Romantic suspense is tricky. It’s not easy to develop a suitable intriguing mystery while drawing out and viable romance. Book one had it down pat perfectly but this one missed the target. I think part of the issue was in book one, the protagonist has a personal connection to the conflict. In here, the connection is between the hero and heroine and it didn’t create the atmosphere I was hoping for. The edgy suspense and intrigue is nonexistent; we have no interaction at all with the killer and the crime scenes come across very blase in the description. I always felt on the outside looking in from the narrative.
I liked Vic and Maggie though I never felt connected to them. They fit each other and Robert builds their romance, heightening the chemistry while allowing them the time to reacquaint themselves with one another. Unfortunately, both protagonists spend entirely too much time in their head trying to find away to move past their issues to find common ground. Also, the mystery itself overpowers the romance, leaving it more as an afterthought than an equal player. Vic and Maggie needed more time and they don’t get it in here.
The mystery was quite convoluted as Robert works it from two angles. After the first murder is discovered in the park, Robert flashes to a group of friends who are hiking the park in an attempt to reconnect. The book then flips between Maggie and Vic ‘s investigation and the hikers, flashing between the past and the present as Robert tosses us clues to the killer and their reasons. It becomes very confusing. Especially when it becomes clear that Maggie and Vic aren’t the only relationship in the story. The hikers, in their early 20s, are a swirling pool of new adult drama that reads awkward and out of place.
Luckily by the 50% mark the pace picks up considerably and we begin to see the forest for the trees. The killer and their motives become clear and we speed towards the conclusion with considerably more action. The ending comes at us fast and Robert leaves us abruptly with no real resolution to the romance beyond an acknowledgment of feelings.
While I enjoyed book one I had issues with this one. I really wish the focus would have continued on the conflict from book one. The new couple, setting, and additional characters with no real connection created a discombobulated feeling that never went away.