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Unable to have a child of their own, Kate and Richard Ryan successfully apply to a Louisiana adoption agency. Before long a young woman, Juliana Starr, recently arrived from Washington DC, chooses the couple as the adoptive parents for her unborn child. The reason she's chosen the Ryans? From the description the couple have provided to promote their case, Juliana has fallen in love with Richard and she hopes that by refusing any contact with the adoptive parents, she'll be able to seduce Richard while Kate is occupied with her new baby.
Meanwhile, the child's natural father has tracked Juliana down to New Orleans. He's a rogue CIA killer who has abused Juliana since her childhood. Having already murdered her mother in his quest to find Juliana, it appears that John Kane will stop at nothing until he's has got Juliana back under his control and killed the child.
I had previously read and enjoyed one of Erica Spindler's novels and when I accepted "Cause for Alarm" from a friend, I had assumed that this one would involve the same central characters. In actual fact this is a stand alone novel and does not use characters from Spindler's other novels although, like her other novels, it is set in the New Orleans area. Disappointingly the setting is neither here nor there as it has no particular relevance to the story, nor does it successfully capture the essence of that fine southern city in spite of occasional reference to the grand houses associated with New Orleans area.
After a couple of chapters I realised that "Cause for Alarm" didn't feature the characters I'd met in the other Spindler novel I'd read and so I turned to the back cover blurb. Curiously for a thriller, the blurb basically outlines the entire story, omitting only the "hows". The plot, however, is paper thin; even if I hadn't read the blurb, I'd have pretty quickly have worked out what was going to happen.
There was only one detail that I wasn't certain of. Kate is the owner of a coffee shop and when she returns from adoption leave her staff tell her what's been going on while she's been away; there isn't much to tell but the coffee shop does have three new regular customers. The reader is left to wonder whether these customers are really who they say they are and that there are three such characters provides plenty of opportunity for armchair detectives to get those grey cells working overtime. The basic idea is not a bad one but Spindler reveals too much and does it too soon. In the second paragraph we learn the identity of the novel's "baddie" so there is very little in the way of suspense.
Some of the details are thoroughly unrealistic. In desperation Juliana contacts the CIA to enlist the help of an old "friend" of her mother's. Incredibly she calls the American version of Directory Enquiries for the number of the CIA (I don't think so!) and as of that wasn't unlikely enough, the person she is put through to tells her that man she is asking about no longer works there - do the CIA really give out details about who does or doesn't work for them?
Another unlikely scenario comes in the form of Luke Dallas, an old college friend of Kate and Richard who is no a best-selling author of thrillers - in fact just the sort of person to know how a CIA agent might think and act.
I didn't have much to complain about when it came to the credibility of the characters though I didn't find any of them very engaging. I did find the idea of Juliana falling for someone from a brief description on paper quite unlikely but I suppose it's possible that someone who had been abused for so many years might latch onto a kind and generous family man. The problem I had with the characters was much more to do with depth - or rather lack of it - than credibility. John Kane is obviously a very complex man but he's only very superficially drawn. The only thing we learn about him is that he's tough, mentally and physically. But I had so many questions about him and was frustrated about how underdeveloped the character was.
With one dimensional characters, poor dialogue, a lack of suspense and unlikely scenarios, "Cause for Alarm" must rank as one of the most un-thrilling thrillers ever published. I suspect that my opinion may have been heightened by comparing this novel with the author's other work, even so, I would struggle to find many positive things to say about this novel.