Missing, Assumed Dead by Marva Dasef

Missing, Assumed Dead by Marva DasefCombining a sense of threat with modern love, without either descending into brutality or over-idealising events, Dasef creates a mystery-romance that will appeal to a range of readers.

When Kameron McBride relieves court papers notifying her she is the last living relative of a man she has never even heard of, she considers telling the court she has no interest in his estate. But genealogy is her widowed mother’s greatest joy, so Kam agrees to go. But the wilds of Oregon are very different from her home town, and not all the residents want someone asking questions; even innocent ones. Fortunately, Mitch, the handsome young deputy who found Kam lost on her first day keeps finding her again.

Depending on how a reader views this novel it is either the story of a young woman finding love while investigating, or a young woman investigating while finding love. As such, it could appeal to both mystery or romance readers who do not dislike the other genre.

Where the intermingling of genres might be less appealing to some readers is in the potential paranormal elements. At several points, Kam experiences what might be either hallucinations or visitations. With neither sufficient strangeness to infer they are real, nor sufficient abstraction to infer they are not, they assume a role no more powerful than gut instinct. Therefore – while the ending of the book provides a clearer answer – readers who feel strongly in either direction about paranormal elements might be left with a sense they are there to have another thread rather than because they are part of the world.

This issue notwithstanding, the plot unravels with a pleasing balance of revelation and new mystery, combined with a building level of threat. Both the mundane clock of legal proceedings and the physical threat of unseen enemies hunting Kam serve to drive this forward unceasingly.

Dasef’s portrayal of a tiny settlement in the middle of a rocky wilderness is a suitable mix of social claustrophobia and environmental isolation. This both adds a sense of being trapped, and suggests there are too many places of secrets to hide to ever uncover them.

In parallel with the mystery, Kam and Mitch struggle with the issues of their growing attraction. Unlike some romances, both the attraction and their desire to pursue it is both obvious to both parties and shared between them; and while there are misunderstandings, they are resolved by the troubled party seeking to clarify soon after. The main obstacle – apart from the threat of gun-toting locals – is thus the geographical separation that will come once Kam finishes wrapping up the estate, and the questions that raises. As such, this romance is less likely to frustrate those readers who have found themselves asking themselves why romantic leads never just talk to the other person.

Kam is a well-written protagonist. With a job that doesn’t give her the experience to defeat a massive obstacle and hobbies that don’t make her an unexpected genius at some unexpected skill, she is perhaps less effective in the short-term than some amateur sleuths but seems more strongly part of a larger, normal world for it.

Mitch is similarly – once the initial square-jawed-matinee-idol three-quarter close-up is done – a plausible mix of skill and insecurity. As such, he is as accessible to those readers who dislike the idealised end of romance as the plot. After all, some people are conventionally beautiful, and some of those do end up working in uniform.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to readers who enjoy mysteries with a prominent romance element or vice versa.

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