Smoke Screen – Terri Blackstock

Smoke Screen Terri Blackstock
Smoke Screen by Terri Blackstock
Also by this author: Aftermath, Aftermath, Private Justice, Shadow of Doubt, Word of Honor, Trial by Fire, Line of Duty
Published by Thomas Nelson on November 5, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Suspense
Buy on Amazon

One father was murdered. Another was convicted of his death. All because their children fell in love.
Nate Beckett has spent his life fighting wildfires instead of the lies and rumors that drove him from his Colorado hometown. His mother begs him to come back now that his father has been released from prison, but it isn’t until he’s sidelined by an injury that he’s forced to return and face his past. But that means facing Brenna too.
Fourteen years ago, Nate was in love with the preacher’s daughter. When Pastor Strickland discovered Brenna defied him to sneak out with Nate, the fight between Strickland and Nate’s drunken dad was loud—and very public. Strickland was found murdered later that night, and everyone accused Roy Beckett. When the church burned down not long after, people assumed Nate set the fire to get even for his father’s conviction. He let the rumors fly and left town without looking back.
Brenna is stunned to learn that the man convicted of murdering her father has been pardoned. The events of that night set her life on a bad course, and now she’s fighting a brutal custody battle with her ex and his new wife where he’s using lies and his family’s money to sway the judge. Brenna is barely hanging on, and she’s turned to alcohol to cope. Shame and fear consume her.
As Nate and Brenna deal with the present—including new information about that fateful night and a wildfire that’s threatening their town—the past keeps igniting. Nate is the steady force Brenna has so desperately needed. But she’ll have to learn to trust him again first.

It’s difficult to summarize the plot of Smoke Screen. I’ve tried a dozen different ways and keep coming up short. Terri Blackstock has delivered a full story with a complex plot that proves to be either its saving grace or its weighty downfall, depending on your perspective.

In short: Nate has been away from home for fourteen years. He left the day after the church burned down, leaving many to think that he was the culprit. It probably didn’t help that he took a job fighting fires not too long after. It also didn’t help that his dad had been convicted of murdering the pastor – who was also the father of Nate’s secret girlfriend.

His homecoming was always going to be awkward, but even more so because it coincides with his father’s release from prison…and return to a town that believes he killed a beloved community leader. It’s even more awkward when he runs into Brenna, his former girlfriend. Not only is Brenna dealing with Nate’s father’s release from prison, but now she has to deal with Nate’s return – on top of a nasty custody battle with an ex-husband from a wealthy family.

It’s really quite a lot to take in, as Terri layers storyline after storyline in a real and complex way. As the characters reunite and resume their relationships, the past that haunts them begins to loom larger and larger. Questions that were never asked are now being asked. Old questions might have new answers. And the truth of what really happened that fateful night may eventually come out.

Unfortunately, the book is so weighted down with storylines that Terri never really gets the opportunity to develop any of them with the depth they deserve. It would have been enough to read about an alcoholic single mom dealing with a custody dispute against her wealthy, politically-connected ex-husband. It would have been enough to read about Nate’s return home, or his reconnection with his father, or their quest to find the real killer. It sometimes seems like Blackstock dumped three or four books worth of storylines in this novel.

Yet, I still found the story entertaining. The complexity makes the characters seems real and three-dimensional. They find themselves dealing with multiple problems at once, dealing with traumas both past and present, which is a very real and human thing. But the complexity of plot also means simplicity of storylines. Things happen too easily simply because Blackstock has another storyline to pursue. It feels cluttered.

And yet perhaps this is part of the point. Life can be cluttered at times, suffocatingly so. Going through present struggles often leads to reliving past traumas, leaving you disoriented and vulnerable. That aspect really comes through in the story. I wish this had been two novels, maybe a trilogy. I wanted more time with these characters. And there’s both the good and the bad: it’s good enough to leave you wanting more…but it doesn’t deliver on that more.