Repressed by Elisabeth Naughton

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by The Other Kate. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Romantic Suspense category.

The summary:

Hidden Falls is exactly as Samantha Parker left it—small, insular, and prone to gossip. Eighteen years have passed since she witnessed her brother’s murder, but she’s still the talk of the town. Until a handsome child psychologist with haunting memories of his own arrives.

Dr. Ethan McClane isn’t exactly a newcomer. If it weren’t for his latest case, he’d never set foot back in Hidden Falls. Thankfully, no one seems to recognize him as the troubled teen from years past. Not even Sam, the delightfully sharp and sexy high school chemistry teacher he can’t stop thinking about.

When Sam and Ethan work together to help one of her students, sparks ignite. But Sam’s hazy memories of a long-ago night concern Ethan, and unlocking the repressed images reveals a dark connection between them. As the horrors of the past finally come to light, their relationship isn’t the only thing in danger. A killer will strike again to keep an ugly secret hidden. This time no one will be safe.

Here is The Other Kate’s review:

Repressed is the first book in a new series, so it’s easy to jump into. Sam Parker is back in her Creepy Hometown to sell her late mother’s house. We know from the beginning that when Sam was a child, she witnessed a Horrific Event in the Creepy Shack behind the house. Now, she’s working a temp job as a teacher of Creepy Students while she repairs the house and counts the days until she can leave.

However, someone is targeting her with vandalism, threatening messages, and increasingly dangerous harassment. Everyone assumes it’s just the Creepy Students, most likely one specific students, a teenage boy named Thomas, who—everyone in the Creepy Town is convinced—is Up To No Good.

Ethan McClane is a psychologist assigned to Thomas’s case. He agreed to take it because he had a Troubled Past himself (CHEKHOV’S GUN ALERT!!), which has something to do with the Creepy Town. Ethan and Sam have instant pants feelings for each other, but both of them have past trauma and present threats to deal with.

There are four main threads to this story—the present-day dangers, Sam’s repressed memories of her childhood trauma, Thomas being framed for increasingly serious crimes, and the romance. All of these are well balanced, and the three suspense storylines connect in ways I did not expect. By the halfway point of the book, I had my guesses about how it was going to end, but the author ended up surprising me. The mystery was decent, the atmosphere was enjoyably sinister.

(TW for readers who are concerned about the violence: there are a lot of murders, an attempted rape, and allusions to rape/torture. A dog is imperiled, but THE DOG IS FINE. Overall, though, it’s not super-gory or twisted—more like a standard R-rated thriller movie than a Director’s Cut horror flick.)

The biggest obstacle to a relationship between Ethan and Sam is that Sam has undergone years of therapy that left her with a fear of “shrinks” messing with her head. She’s had years of night terrors brought on by the Traumatic Event, and she believes herself to be incapable of keeping a relationship without panicking and ruining it all. Sure enough, when she realizes that things between her and Ethan have the potential to be serious, she reacts badly—then is devastated by the realization that she’s only hurting herself.

Sam’s internal conflict was, actually, my favorite thing about this book. I found her combination of self-doubt and determination to keep going to be very relatable. She knows she has issues, but she still takes a chance on Ethan, and is able to take steps toward dealing with her trauma.

For a chapter or so at the start of this book, I was worried that Ethan was going to fix Sam with Magic Psychology Mind Games, which would have been squicky. However, there is no mixing of relationship and therapy. From the start, Ethan treats her as an intriguing, attractive woman rather than a patient, and when Sam eventually does get help to deal with her Repressed Memories, Ethan only connects her with another doctor who can help. Yay for avoiding creepy patient/therapist relationships!

After several seconds of silence, she couldn’t take it anymore. “Why are you still here, Ethan? Any sane person would have cut and run at first light.”

He reached for his coffee. “I have to tell you a secret, Samantha.”

Her eyes widened, and she held her breath while he took a sip, almost afraid to hear what he had to say.

He set his mug back down on the table. “I’m not entirely sane. Every shrink I’ve ever met—and I say this from a clinical perspective—teeters on the tightrope of sanity. We’re just really good at hiding it.”

The breath she’d been holding whooshed out, and she closed her eyes and smiled because he’d just done it again. Eased every bit of fear and anxiety inside her with one look.

“I’m telling the truth. Ask any shrink.”

Sam laughed. “You said you weren’t a shrink. You corrected me with the term ‘therapist.’”

“I’m a professional. I’m able to use whatever label suits me.”

If I haven’t talked about Ethan as much, it’s because he didn’t stand out to me as much as Sam did—but he was still a perfectly serviceable romantic lead, who makes his girl breakfast in bed and takes her out for a late-night picnic and slow-dance on the football field. Ethan has his own Traumatic Past, but it’s part of the mystery, so he doesn’t get as much of a character development storyline as Sam. Still, I liked the role he played in Sam’s plot arc.

There weren’t many things I didn’t like about this book. The only thing I disliked was the slut-shaming—the two most important female characters after Sam are “black widow” predators, uncontrollably screwing everyone that crosses their path for Teh Evulz. On the other hand, the men of Creepy Town are also pretty sinister, so it was less a case of “women competing for men” and more just “evilness manifests as sexual misconduct.”

Overall, this was an enjoyable read. It didn’t keep me up at night, but it kept me intrigued, and I’d be open to reading more books by this author.

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