For decades, Eden has remained hidden in the remote wilds of the Pacific Northwest, “Pastor” keeping his cult's followers in thrall for his personal profit and sexual pleasures. But the Founding Elders are splintering, and Pastor's surrogate son DJ is scheming to make it all his own.
When two of Eden's newest members send out a cry for help, it reaches FBI Special Agent Tom Hunter, whose friend and fellow FBI Special Agent Gideon Reynolds and his sister, Mercy, are themselves escapees of the Eden cult, targeted by the Founding Elders who want them silenced forever. The three have vowed to find the cult and bring it down, and now, they finally have a solid lead.
Neutralizing Eden’s threat will save captive members and ensure Tom’s new friends can live without fear. But when his best friend, ex-Army combat medic Liza Barkley, joins the case, it puts her life—and their blossoming love—in danger. With everything they hold dear in the balance, Tom and Liza, together with Gideon and Mercy, must end Eden once and for all.
Say Goodbye is the third book in Karen Rose’s Sacramento series. It wraps up the three-book arc about the survivors of the abusive Eden cult and their efforts to shut it down. As is usual in Rose’s books, there’s a romance along with the hunt for the criminals. In Say Goodbye, the romance is a friends-to-lovers plot involving FBI Special Agent Tom Hunter and nursing student Liza Barkley. Theirs is one of my favorite romantic threads, but before we get to that, let’s look at the rest of the story. This will be a bit on the vague side. Many of the things I liked most would be spoilers if shared, and I don’t want to ruin anything.
Rose introduced Eden in Say You’re Sorry. In that book, we learned FBI agent Gideon Reynolds had been smuggled out of Eden by his mother when he was thirteen. No one was allowed to leave there. Anyone who escaped was said to have been killed by wild animals, and the Eden leaders provided mangled, unrecognizable bodies to substantiate that. Now, seventeen years later, a necklace involved in a serial killer case offers a new lead to Eden. It also draws him closer to his sister, Mercy Callahan. Their mom smuggled Mercy out years after Gideon left and paid for Mercy’s escape with her life. The siblings found each other but didn’t reconnect emotionally. This first book brings them back together as they rebuild their relationship.
Eden moves to the forefront in the second book, Say No More, as the FBI hunts for its location. The settlement moves from time to time, which makes it harder to find. One of the cult leaders has learned Mercy is still alive, and he wants to drag her back to Eden.
The Sokolovs, a big, affectionate family in Sacramento, took Gideon in after he befriended Rafe Sokolov. They play an important role in all three books. It’s fun to read about loving, loyal families who embrace people not of their blood, like Gideon and Mercy. When Mercy becomes involved with Rafe, that’s just a bonus to them.
The end of Say No More sets up Say Goodbye with a violent confrontation between the FBI and DJ Belmont, a trusted member of Eden who runs errands to the outside world for them. As Say Goodbye opens, DJ is back in Eden and plotting his revenge. The head of the cult, an elderly man known as Pastor, believes Gideon and Mercy are dead, and DJ, the tech expert, will be in deep trouble if Pastor learns otherwise. So he must complete his revenge before that can happen.
We also meet a young, pregnant woman named Hayley and her brother, Graham. They’ve been dragged to Eden by their mother because of Hayley’s pregnancy. She is desperate to escape before her baby is born, in part because there are no medical facilities but mostly because one of the community elders has promised to take her baby for his wife to raise. Graham is very handy with tech and secretly helps her use the computer, which no one beyond Pastor, DJ, and the healer, is supposed to know they have, to send a message to her child’s father. Unfortunately, the young father’s efforts to send help fail for reasons that become important in the story.
Because of DJ’s problems in Say No More, the community has had to relocate. They’re living in primitive conditions with no running water and no reliable food supply. Pastor dispatches DJ for supplies, and he sees this as an opportunity to kill Mercy and Gideon and to feather his nest through his involvement in a criminal gang.
Meanwhile, the FBI is searching for Eden. They’ve recovered information on the past locations but don’t have any leads to its present one. New agent Tom Hunter is the center of the story but not the head of the task force, which leads to problems for him as he pursues his quarry by means his superiors don’t always approve.
Tom is a former NBA star and a computer hacker. His hacking skills are crucial to the investigation, and his background in pro sports figures into the story in an important way in addition to giving his character depth when he deals with fans.
Tom’s close friend, nursing student and decorated former army medic Liza Barkley, offers emotional support and aid to Mercy, Gideon, and the Sokolov family. As Tom and Liza spend time together, however, her old attraction to him increasingly plagues her. Their situation is complicated by his mourning for his fiancée, who was pregnant when she was murdered a little more than a year before the story opens. Liza carries guilt over a former relationship and must come to terms with it while dealing with her attraction to Tom.
I loved the way this friends-to-lovers relationship developed. Liza and Tom’s qualms weren’t about risking their friendship so much as they were about dealing with the past. They’re a couple for whom the timing was never right. Now, when they’re both free, Tom is haunted by loyalty to the woman he would’ve married. Their relationship issues come to a head when Liza makes a decision that brings her into the Eden investigation in a dangerous way.
Rose always writes strong women, but Liza takes that to a higher level that’s very engaging. Her military background makes her choices believable and sympathetic. That’s a vague description but deliberately so. I don’t want to spoil this for anyone.
Back in Eden, Pastor takes a fall on a rocky hillside that causes severe injuries. Although no one in Eden is allowed to go to a hospital, he makes an exception for himself (of course!). DJ takes him and the healer to a clinic recommended by the head of his criminal gang. He considers shooting them on the way because he hates Pastor, but there’s a wrinkle. Eden’s offshore accounts contain over fifty million dollars, and he wants the codes to access them, which Pastor changes regularly. The movement of money and his presence in the clinic offer opportunities to the investigators.
The hunt comes to a head with a violent confrontation on a highway near a ravine. The action is choreographed in a way that’s believable and tense, and the actions of the characters involved are true to the ways they’ve been established earlier.
The resolution to a trilogy, for me, ultimately determines how well I think all three books worked. This resolution was spot on. Rose brings together the storylines of the FBI investigation, Tom and Liza’s relationship, DJ’s quest for revenge, Hayley’s pregnancy, and the fate of Eden in a skillful web. The lead characters from the prior books also contribute to the solution. Nothing comes too easily, which is great. Eden’s fate would not be believable if she had made it simple.
Most of the characters are warm and engaging. The Eden elders, of course, are not, but they are also not cardboard cutouts. They’re layered and complex. The investigation takes intriguing twists and turns in ways that are not predictable, and the action scenes move quickly yet are easy to follow. Then there’s the superb resolution to the trilogy. Say Goodbye delivers on all counts. I highly recommend it.