In Monster in the Closet, Karen Rose takes us back to Baltimore where we are reunited with practically all the characters she has introduced there in the previous four novels.
Taylor Dawson takes a job at the Healing Hearts ranch owned by Daphne Montgomery which provides equine therapy for traumatised children and begins working with two young sisters, Jazzie and Janie Jarvis, who have recently lost their mother. The police believe Jazzie witnessed her mother’s murder but she hasn’t spoken a word since, however she begins to respond to Taylor and Detective JD Fitzpatrick is keen for Taylor to work with Jazzie to unlock the truth. No stranger to fear herself, Taylor is determined to help Jazzie even if it means putting her own life at risk.
However, Taylor is keeping a secret of her own and her real purpose for working at the ranch is so she can observe Clay Maynard from a distance and decide whether she wants to reveal she is his daughter. Clay has been searching for his lost daughter for over twenty years and is dejected after his latest attempt failed so he is ecstatic when he sees Taylor at the ranch. Since Taylor is the spitting image of her late grandmother, Clay knows who she is right away and he is anxious for her to stay in his life. However, Clay is horrified by the extent of the lies Taylor’s mother told her to keep them apart and the two have a lot of healing to do before they can build a relationship.
According to Karen Rose, Monster in the Closet was only ever supposed to be a novella revisiting the story of Clay and his long lost daughter, however it expanded into a complete novel and ended up being more like a Baltimore reunion novel. It gives us a chance to catch with some of the characters who were the main protagonists in the previous Baltimore novels, however it is mostly Clay Maynard, JD Fitzpatrick and Joseph Carter who are at the forefront. Since Joseph Carter’s younger sister, Holly, is about to get married, Rose also adds Deacon Novak to the mix who is now featuring in the Cincinnati series. As you can imagine there are a lot of characters to juggle and Rose wisely doesn’t even try to give them all the same amount of screen time, however if you haven’t read the other books in the series you may struggle to work out where they all fit in as a unit.
While it is nice to check in with these characters, there are times when it feels a bit too much like extra padding, especially all the baby stuff. Rose takes the opportunity to tie up a few loose ends but I have a feeling she isn’t finished with Baltimore as there are a few characters still waiting on their happy endings. Rose also introduces an organised crime villain who could make life interesting for some and it would be a pity not to explore this angle.
The storyline with Jazzie is adequate enough but not one of Rose’s best, although I get the feeling it wasn’t meant to be as prolonged as it was and it would have been much neater in a shorter story. Although the story is mainly focused on Clay and Taylor, there is a romantic element introduced between Daphne Montgomery’s son, Ford, and Taylor. The romance happens really fast, again due to the tight timeframe and it just isn’t given enough time to breathe before they get hot and heavy. I was also a tad uncomfortable hearing about Ford’s constant physical reaction to Taylor but I’m sure it is because we were first introduced to Ford as a young teenager in the earlier books and I’m probably still thinking of him as a boy rather than a grown man. We are thankfully spared a graphic sex scene between the young couple as Rose saves those for the older characters but I still think she is failing to get the balance between love and lust as correct as she did in earlier books.