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She knows the truth in her heart yet nobody else believes her. They say it was an accident when she knows it was anything but. Frustration builds to dangerous proportions as she confronts the doubts of the people around her who think she is losing her mind. This is what Bren Ryan faces after the death of her husband, Tom, when she is sent into a tailspin of despair as her life falls apart before her eyes. Grieving heavily yet filled with anger, she vows to find her husband's murderer, while fighting to save her home and her family’s horse rescue business and at the same time help her children adjust to the loss of their father - a tough go for anyone, but Bren is stubborn to a fault and will let nothing stop her from reaching her goal. Then factor in Rafe, the mysterious stranger who appears out of nowhere to help Bren's cause, but who may not be what he seems, and you have a story that latches on to you and will not let go.
Right from the first chapter of Dark Victory I was hooked, and the wheels in my brain started turning, contemplating the possible explanations for Tom's death. But the author, P.J. O'Dwyer, is skilled at her craft because each time I thought I had the mystery figured out, she threw in a curve ball which totally changed the game. However, the main questions remain throughout –can Bren prove her theory that her long-time enemy and kill buyer by profession, Wes Connelly, is somehow connected to Tom’s death and can she thwart his continued efforts to make money from the sale of innocent horses to the slaughterhouse? Bren’s love of horses has kept her fighting these injustices throughout her life, and following Tom’s death she continues to aspire to protect those who can’t protect themselves, with total disregard to the cost or danger to herself, danger that traverses borders and puts her life in jeopardy on more than one occasion.Just as important, can Bren put Tom's ghost behind her and move on to happiness, will the secret that Rafe hides come out, and will it destroy the bond that seems to be growing between them or bring them closer?
It's hard not to have compassion and also respect for Bren's character. On the one hand she is a truly grieving widow who can hardly function at times but is trying her best to stay strong for her two sons. She is struggling to keep afloat while dealing with the guilt she feels over her husband's death, but on the other hand she is tough as nails and a fighter, and she will not take no for an answer when it comes to solving the mystery of her husband's death. Anybody who gets in her way is asking for trouble! Bren was always headstrong, and it was Tom who was the calming influence in her life, but without him she feels like she doesn't have any support from anywhere, and she feels like a total failure. Bren rides a seesaw of emotions throughout the story, and it is absolutely heart wrenching watching the pain and heartbreak that she has to endure over and over again. O'Dwyer is a master at putting emotion to paper and making it convincing.
Bren is surrounded by a varied cast of friends and family who make the story rich. In the first few pages we are introduced to Bren's baby, Finn, a sensitive 7 year old who after a year still has questions about what happened to his father, and later on we encounter Bren's 15 year old son, Aiden, who is struggling with his feelings as a teenager to begin with but even more so because he has lost his father who he had a very close bond with. Then there is Kevin Bendix, the sheriff of Washington County, who has been friends with Bren and Tom since childhood and would do anything for Bren, but who frustrates her to no end because he thinks she is going overboard with her theories and just wants her to move on and forget about everything. We also meet local equine vet, Jeremy Breakstone, and his wife, Jo, who is Bren's best friend and her shoulder to lean on. Finally, to add a little spice to the mix the tall, dark and handsome stranger, Rafe Langston, shows up from Texas at the right time and in the right place, but the reader is constantly challenged to figure out whether he is there for the right reasons or not.
The suspense throughout this story was intense and the twists shocking. It was like rafting down rapids, where your heart is racing and you can't relax until you finally reach a calm stretch of water and you take a deep breath thinking the worst is over, when all of a sudden your raft shoots over a waterfall. O'Dwyer does throw out fairly frequent clues right from the beginning which allow the reader to form theories about certain aspects of the plot, but she kept me totally in the dark with respect to others, with the end result being high intensity at its best. This story definitely gives the heart a workout in every possible way - suspense that has it pounding non-stop, romance that has it thumping, and frustration, anger and deep sorrow that hold it clenched in a vice. I would definitely recommend Dark Victory. I could not put it down!
Reviewer: Cindy Taylor, www.allbooksreviewint.com