I have been trying to review this book for a while, but it has been slow going. Mostly, because I don’t like reviewing from memory, and re-reading a book that hits you so hard, there are times you can’t breathe, is…well, it’s fucking hard.
At the same time, I know that there are few followers/readers of the blog who are fairly new to romance, and nothing would please me more than to introduce them to amazing books.
Cry No More is just that: amazing. It works on so many levels that calling it simply a romantic suspense sells it short.
However, it does need a couple of content notes: it begins with a brutal child abduction; the child in question is an infant, less than two months old, and its mother is almost killed trying to fight off the abductor. There is graphic language, graphic sex, and graphic violence. Reader, be warned.
Oh, and the review? Long as hell.
Cry No More, by Linda Howard
I think this was a watershed book for many Linda Howard readers. It’s not that she hadn’t written dark, bloody books before (Dream Man, Mr Perfect, to name but two), it’s that she amped up the intensity of the feelings, both for characters and readers, over and over and over again, throughout the course of the book.
She finished it with an even bigger bang.
Karen Scott wrote, almost ten years ago, how she cried her way through the book, “a beautifully poignant book, which is emotionally compelling, yet at the same time, manages to retain a fast and furious pace of mystery, danger and excitement.”
Anna Campbell, in her review for RomanceNovelTV a couple of years later, wrote: This is one of the most deeply emotional romance novels I’ve ever read. (Holy shit, is it ever!)
Here is the blurb from my hardcover copy:¹
Count your blessings; they can be snatched away in an instant. It is a sentiment Milla Edge knows too well. With an astonishing blend of savvy, instinct, and passion, Milla displays an uncanny gift for finding lost children. When all seems helpless, desperate souls from across the country come to her for hope and results. Driven by an obsessive desire to fill the void in other people’s lives, Milla throws herself into every case–all the while trying to outrun the brutal emotions stemming from a horrific tragedy in her past.
Traveling to a small village in Mexico on a reliable tip, Milla begins to uncover the dire fate of countless children who have disappeared over the years in the labyrinth of a sinister baby-smuggling ring. The key to nailing down the organization may rest with an elusive one-eyed man. To find him, Milla joins forces with James Diaz, a suspicious stranger known as the Tracker who conceals his own sinister agenda.
As the search intensifies, the mission becomes more treacherous. For the ring is part of something far larger and more dangerous, reaching the highest echelons of power and influence. Caught between growing passion and imminent peril, Milla suddenly finds herself the hunted–in the crosshairs of an invisible, lethal assassin who aims to silence her permanently.
The first chapter is basically a prologue, where Milla and her husband, David, are introduced (read: a few paragraphs of info dumping in the first six, seven pages). David is a gifted surgeon who has pledged to work a year in some obscure Mexican town,² for some sort of Doctors Without Borders organization. Milla helps the team out with some paperwork and record keeping, but mostly she’s just David’s wife (and Justin’s mother) at this point in their marriage.
Then her baby is literally ripped from her arms, and nothing–particularly Milla herself–is the same after.
Ten years later, Milla lives in El Paso, Texas, right on the border with Mexico. Within a year of the kidnapping, David and her are divorced, and Milla has founded, manages, and directs Finders, a small non-profit that searches for lost children and other missing persons. She is also very often personally involved in these missions, for Finders is very small and depends heavily on people volunteering their time–and often risking life and limb to find children who didn’t just go missing, but who had been taken.
Because she never knew what a case would demand of her, whether it was running down a city street, or climbing rocks, she worked hard at staying in good physical condition, but none of it came easily or naturally to her. She intensely disliked sweating, almost as much as she disliked bugs and getting dirty. She did it, though, because she had to, just as she had learned how to handle firearms even though she hated the noise, the smoke, the smell, everything about them. She was at best mediocre in her marksmanship, but she had kept practicing until she had achieved at least that. To track the men who had stolen Justin, she had learned to deal with many things that she disliked, had turned herself into someone else. The woman she’s been before couldn’t have dealt with these things, so Milla had forced herself to change. (Cry No More, pp 51-52, mmpb)
Above and through all this, Milla is still looking for Justin, and following any and all leads to what, she is convinced, is a baby smuggling ring. For most of this time, her only real clue is that one of the men who took Justin is very recognizable. Or became so, after Milla ripped out his eye. Again, literally.
In the last couple of years, a name has been mentioned repeatedly in connection with her inquiries: Díaz. Milla tends to believe that this is the one-eyed man, though there is nothing concrete linking the name with the deed. Still, the name keeps coming up.
Turns out that Díaz has his own reasons to investigate the shenanigans in this area of the Texas/Chihuahua border. He is one mysterious, totally badass character, who at first refuses to help Milla in any way. However, as some new things come to light, tying those baby kidnappings with a number of recent murders, Milla and Díaz start working together.
In a manner of speaking.
It’s difficult to work together, particularly when investigating underground dealings, when you don’t know, let alone trust, your partner.
I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about the plot, because part of the wonder of this book is to follow all the twists and turns. The mystery aspect works really well for me, and while at least one of the villains is introduced pretty transparently quite early on, the circumstances are complex enough that just knowing he’s a bad guy doesn’t really answer any questions.
The world is, sadly, pretty crowded with bad guys, doing a whole host of despicable things.
Milla is an incredibly intense person. She has channeled her incredible capacity for love into the search for her child. She is self aware enough to understand why David divorced her, and to wish him true happiness with his second wife…and his other children. She herself, however, cannot move on with her life until she knows what happened to Justin; until she knows that he’s safe, and healthy, and loved.
As events unfold, we get to know Milla really well. Her devotion to her missing child has cost her her marriage, and has damaged, probably irreparably, her relationship with her siblings (who, by the way, are selfish, callous assholes). She tries to find a sense of balance, and to retain a sense of self, by indulging herself with some of the things that, once upon a time, gave her pleasure. Taking care of her skin, a pretty dress, a nicely kept house. Little things that mean all the more for being normal.
As her feelings and sexuality have been basically in the freezer for the better part of the last decade, Milla is pretty much defenseless in the face of her intense attraction to Díaz. She senses that she can trust him with her life, that he won’t abuse her physically; more, she knows if and when he commits to it, he’ll help her and protect her. But she doesn’t know him, how can she fall for him so deep, so fast?
And then there’s the fact that, within days of meeting, he offers to kill a man for her.
Who exactly is this man, other than an assasin, a killer for hire?
It is very interesting to me that, even though we get scenes from Díaz’s point of view, he is a very obscure, detached, cold, character. He keeps himself apart from the world, by nature and by choice.
He had told Milla he didn’t kill for money, and he’d told the truth, as far as it went. He’d killed, and he’d been paid for it, but money was never the reason he did it. There were some people whose crimes were sickening, yet if they were ever brought to trial, they would be given either light prison sentences or probation–and that was assuming they’d even been found guilty. Maybe killing them wasn’t his decision to make, and maybe he’d answer for it in the hereafter, but he’d never felt bad about it afterward. A child molester, a serial rapist, a murderer–those people didn’t deserve to live. To some people that wold make him a murderer, too, but he didn’t feel like one. He was an executioner. He could live with that. (Cry No More, pp 129 mmpb)
Rosario, in her wonderful review, touches on the vigilantism issues in the story. As she says, it is interesting how Ms Howard makes the reader, not only care about characters who are so blatantly engaging in it, but pretty much cheer the characters on. It is problematic, to say the least, and yet, that’s some powerful writing right there.
Díaz is a very unique character, not only in Ms Howard’s oeuvre, but generally as a romance hero. His detachment is not put on. We are not told about it, we see it. The way he interacts–or rather, doesn’t interact–with most other characters in the book reinforces his difference. He truly walks alone in the midst of a crowd.
Even after he and Milla get involved, Díaz doesn’t suddenly become a warm, gentle person. He is who he is, only his intensity has another outlet, Milla the center of his attention.
Did I mention that the sexual tension is off the charts? It is. And the sex is really well written.
Also, I absolutely love that, a dozen years ago, Ms Howard has her characters talk about protection and sexual health–beyond contraception–and it’s neither awkward nor tacked on. Instead, their exchange expands on the characterization. It is earnest, and frank, and strangely sweet.
Eventually, the suspense thread of the novel is unraveled, with a number of things being revealed that rock Milla’s world on its axis. There’s a first climax to the story, if you will.
Then, Díaz does something pretty Neanderthal, which hurts Milla, deeply and unforgivably.
And then she does something so incredibly brave, that it makes her devotion and dedication of the previous decade seem trivial in comparison.
The last fifty or so pages of the novel are cathartic in a way I have no words for. The groveling is both epic and understated, and I love, love, love the ending. I mean, this book has a “ten years later” epilogue, with kids and connubial bliss, and I liked it!
Yes, Cry No More is just that good. 9.75 out of 10.
¹ Because I do this, I also have a mmpb copy of the book right now; the back cover blurb is a condensed, Díaz-less version. Seems to me they were trying to brand this edition as nail-biting suspense, no romance-cooties. I wonder how that worked for them.
Fueled by an obsession to fill the void in other people’s lives, Milla Edge finds lot children–all the while trying to outrun the brutal emotions stemming from a tragedy in her past. Traveling to a small village in Mexico on a reliable tip, Milla begins to uncover the dire fate of countless children who have disappeared in the labyrinth of a sinister baby-smuggling ring. The key to nailing down the organization may rest with an elusive one-eyed man. As Milla’s search for him intensifies, the mission becomes more treacherous. For the ring is part of something far larger and more dangerous, reaching the highest echelons of power. Racing into peril, Milla suddenly finds herself the hunted–in the crosshairs of an invisible, lethal assassin who aims to silence her permanently.
There is yet another, slightly different blurb for this book at Fantastic Fiction, but I have no idea what edition that one is for.
² I’m still peeved we are not told quite where–the Mexican state of Chihuahua is rather large. Not every town there is a border town.