Dark Waters by Toni Anderson is a romantic suspense that features pretty much non-stop action, and two main characters who need a Sherpa to haul around all their baggage. Once this book really got going I had a hard time putting it down, and before I knew it, it was one a.m. and my right arm was numb from propping myself up as I tried to not wake my husband with the glow from my e-reader.
The book opens with what appears to be a white collar crime. Davis Silver is an ex-con who served time in prison for embezzlement. He was lucky enough to find work with the Holladay Foundation, a non-profit that raises money for injured vets. He's working late one night when realizes something is really, really wrong. Davis watches as his access codes are used to shuffle $60 million into a secret account. Dark Waters and every corporate espionage thriller have taught me a valuable lesson: do not be the last person in the office. Bad shit happens to the last person in the office.
Anyway, he realizes his employers didn’t hire despite his ex-con status, but because of it—they are setting him up to take the fall for their theft. Davis diverts the transfer, prints off proof of what happened, and quickly mails it to his daughter Anna. As he tries to flee to the nearest FBI field office, the bad guys capture and kill him.
Anna Silver is trying to live a quiet life as a school teacher in Minnesota. She’s never forgiven her father for his crime, and for the shame that it brought to their family. She gets a frantic voicemail from him, telling her:
“Anna, I’m in big trouble. But I didn’t do anything wrong, I swear it. I’m on my way to the FBI offices, but they’re too close. I’m never gonna make it. They’re gonna kill me. They’re going to be looking for their money. I mailed you the printouts, but they don’t know where I sent it. You know. Take the information to the feds. You need to get out of there until things quiet down…There’s only one person I trust besides you, you know that right? Go to him, tonight. Tell him I’m cashing in those promises we made one another.”
The one person that Davis trusted was his former cellmate, Brent Carver. Brent was younger than Davis, but much tougher. He was serving time for murder, and helped keep Davis alive in prison. Even though Anna has some serious issues with her dad, she knows shit just got real, and she goes in search of Brent.
Brent lives on a very remote piece of land on Vancouver Island, accessible only by boat. When we meet him, he’s unable to sleep, staring off into the violent, lonely, dark waters of the Pacific (no metaphor there), brooding in a very-manly-hero sort of way. He’s practically holding up a sign that says “I am a wounded tragic hero, don’t let my gruff exterior fool you.” Also he’s naked.
He hears someone sneaking up to his remote Bat Cave of manly broodiness and goes on alert, snagging the gun he keeps hidden for just such emergencies:
“He was stark naked except for his gun, and now some woman was standing on his deck? He hoped to hell she wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness because she was about to have a come-to-Jesus moment.”
Brent confronts Anna, and she’s all like “OMG, my dad left me a scary voicemail and bad people are after me and I need your help. Also why are you naked?”
Brent reaches out to grab her:
“An elbow in the gut made Brent left her go. Jeez, she was a touchy little thing.”
Brent, I think it’s time we level-set here. You are walking around the woods at night with a gun and your wang flapping in the breeze. I think it’s time that you re-evaluate your “gun first, pants later” plan of action. And yeah, Anna stole a rowboat and sneaked onto your property and interrupted your brooding, but that’s what romantic suspense heroines do.
Okay, back to the plot summary. When Anna explains what happened, Brent knows she’s in real trouble. He was probably the only person in the world who believed her father was framed when he was in prison. He also knows that for Davis to be calling in his favor, things must be really bad. And they are.
The people who were using the Holladay Foundation to embezzle money are some seriously bad dudes. They are ex-mercenaries, and they have no issues leaving a trail of bodies in their wake as they hunt down Anna and the print-outs that show where their money is. One of the bad guys, Rand, is especially repulsive and horrible.
Rand, it turns out, really likes raping women. It’s, like, his hobby. In fact he reflects that he was lucky enough to work in some of the shittiest places on earth where women’s rights are non-existent because it makes the raping so much easier. He’s looking forward to catching Anna specifically because he wants to rape her as well as get his money back. Along the way Rand takes time out of his busy schedule to assault a woman, and while it did happen off screen, it made me grind my teeth in hatred of him.
Awhile ago I read a book where the bad guy threw his enemy into a pool of vicious, giant eels. They ate said enemy slowly, and I thought, Jesus, no one deserves to be eaten alive by giant moray eels. I stand corrected; Rand deserves to be eaten alive by giant moray eels. I actually feel a little bad for the eels in this case, because they are just doing their thing, and I’m sure Rand isn’t filled with delicious butterscotch so much as brimstone and bile.
So Rand is chasing Anna and Brent, and they are trying to figure out where her father would have mailed the documents and stay alive.
The pacing in this book is superb. The tension really never lets up; even when Brent and Anna take a momentary breather from running for their lives, the danger facing them is looming in the background and impossible to forget. Anderson periodically pulls away from Brent and Anna to reveal parts of the mystery through secondary characters. These characters, like Jack the PI, are fully fleshed out and integral to the plot. I never felt there was a good “stopping point” in this book, which is probably why I was reading all night.
I totally bought Brent and Anna’s romance, despite all the crazy, dangerous situations they were in. Both characters are toting around a lot of emotional baggage and the peril they are in forces them to deal with their issues.
Anna has to trust Brent, something that doesn’t come easily to her. She feels like her father betrayed her by committing a crime and being sent to prison. Her mother detached herself emotionally during this time, and left Anna to cope on her own. Then, because there wasn’t enough angst, Anna was raped as a teenager, and since she felt she couldn’t trust the adults in her life, had to deal with it all by herself. She knows she has to trust Brent, if she doesn’t, she’ll probably be killed, and she has to fight her urge to shut down and run away.
Brent has been doing the lone-wolf, I’m-a-bad-seed-and-will-stare-tragically-at-the-sea thing since he got out of prison. He was guilty of murder, but the circumstances were heartbreaking, and the fact that he was locked up at all was a miscarriage of justice. SPOILERY BITS: Brent’s father was a violent alcoholic. Brent came home one day to find his father drunk and beating his younger brother nearly to death. Brent went into a rage, and in defending and saving his brother, hit his father over the head with a bottle and killed him. He was tried as an adult and did time in prison for what amounted to saving his little brother’s life.
In a way Brent has known Anna most of her life. Davis shared the letters Anna sent him in prison, and without her even knowing, she was a part of what got Brent though his stint in the pokey:
“He tried to reconcile this flesh-and-blood woman with the fantasy version he’d created all those years ago. Anna Silver…he’d ached for news of her, reveled in her achievements, itched to help her through her one shocking stumble. She’d had all the teenage experiences he’d missed, all the angst and joy of growing up on the outside. All he’d had was…four walls, and eventually, a man who liked to talk about his kid.”
Brent living vicariously though Anna while he was in prison could have been creepy, but he was such a sympathetic character that I found it endeared me to him.
I also loved the settings Anderson built this book around, maybe because they are so familiar to me: Chicago, Minneapolis, the Dakotas, the Canadian Pacific North West. I could feel the chilly woods, smell the ocean, taste the Tim Horton’s coffee…
I do have one gripe, the reason this book wasn't an A+: Davis could have mailed the print-outs to the police, the FBI, Anderson Cooper–someone who wasn't his civilian, school teacher daughter. This whole book really didn't need to happen. I never understood why he sent them to Anna in the first place, putting her in that kind of danger, when Anna was just supposed to take them to feds anyway.
That plot hole, and Brent's aversion to pants aside, I enjoyed this book. Dark Waters could have been a story about two really broken people with a common past coming together. It also could have just been a really taught, fast-paced thriller. Instead it was both, and it got Toni Anderson put on my auto-buy list.