Uncovered is book 10 in the Hearts of the South series from Linda Winfree. While there has been something in each book that has been hit or miss for me, the entire series has been a winner for me. There's something very appealing about Winfree's voice, pacing, and characters. (and seriously, this cover makes me drool)
My recent complaints about previous books in the series have centered around one of the main characters, Tick (dubbed by me and Holly as Tick the Dick). He has always been a high strung guy, but in the last several entries, he really has become just a nasty dude. In this book, Winfree gives him a terrific excuse for his all-out surliness. And a fix. It was wonderful to see him working together with his wife, Cait, again as a team. He's good again. Nuff said.
The focus of this book is supposed to be on the main couple, Madeline and Ash. Madeline is a cop who grew up with Tick, and their past ties them together. They share some sort of "incident" from their teen years that drove Madeline to leave town, and Tick to pretty much hate her. She comes back to town as an interim investigator, hired by her brother-in-law Stanton (hero of book 4). As she and Tick begin to work out their differences, they come to realize that the cold-case murder they're working on is related to their past together. It drives Madeline to both face her past and open up to Ash.
What I liked: I thought that this book was much better balanced than the past few entries in the series. By that, I mean that there was a better balance between the relationships and the suspense element. Also, I liked that there is finally some resolution to Tick's nasty behavior. And it's a believable, totally plausible one. Fully explained, and not one-sided either.
I also liked that he reached out to Madeline, but wasn't out of character in doing so. He was still a bit surly in his efforts, as was she. Tick compares Madeline to his wife Cait, but I found more similarities to Tick himself; surly, putting up emotional roadblocks, not wanting to face issues that put her "out there" and vulnerable. The person who sees right through her, and directly into her from the start is Ash. If there was any area where this book felt underdeveloped at all, it was in the love story between Madeline and Ash. Winfree tried to accomplish a lot in this book, and for the most part, succeeded. The resolution of Madeline's past, the resolution of her relationship with Tick, the resolution of Tick & Cait's issues - all well done. But it left little time or room for a romance. Mad & Ash squeezed in as much romance as they could into the remaining pages. This was more of a "struck by lightening" romance. Ash accepts this almost immediately, and moves forward, but Madeline fights it every step of the way. I found myself wondering more than once why on earth Ash was still trying to make a go of a relationship with her.
Ash. Just a great, unassuming guy. Accepts Madeline as she is, faults and all (and there are a lot!). Plus - he is 42. Yes - he isn't a baby hero. I love that! Either a 42 y0 guy is going to come with a ton of baggage, or he is going to be at peace with himself. Ash has come to terms with his baggage and is at peace with himself. I love that.
What I didn't like: First, this series seems to be becoming more and more focused on Tick and Cait. I'm hopeful that now that they've resolved their issues, the subsequent books will focus more on the main characters, and they can move off to be peripheral characters once again.
Next, and perhaps more important, Ash is portrayed as being Tick's best friend. I don't recall him being mentioned in any of the previous books, even in passing. It's always been my impression that Cookie was Tick's best friend. So to now have Ash rise up from the... well... ashes, and be mentioned as Tick's best friend, and have Cookie be an "also seen", was a bit jarring. As well as disruptive to series continuity.
Madeline was certainly less likable than Ash. While he had come to terms with his baggage prior to the opening of the book, this is her 'coming to terms' story. And while I want to say that she was unaccepting of Ash's support for a good deal of the book, I must acknowledge that it takes place over a two week period. That's fast, especially for an avoider such as Madeline. So a little leeway, but noting that he was much more likable than she.
Lastly, the ending was very abrupt and felt unfinished. The resolution comes in an epilogue, not in an ending. I felt that Madeline and Ash deserved an ending, not an epilogue.
Overall, a fairly solid entry in the series. Once again, I like Winfree's voice, her storytelling, her ability to draw me in. But this book felt less like the Madeline and Ash story, and more like the Tick and Cait story. And they already had their book. So I'd like to move forward. Looking ahead to the next entry.