Thursday, November 26, 2009

"You Can't Hide" by Karen Rose

Tess Ciccotelli is a psychiatrist whose patients are dying in mysterious circumstances - and she looks like the prime suspect. Detective Aidan Reagan thinks she's a cold-hearted bitch, but slowly comes to change his mind the more he gets to know her. It doesn't take long for the police department to figure out that Tess is being set up. And she's being set up by somebody who obviously really, really hates her. Soon, not only are her patients targets, but so is anybody who knows her - friends, family, mere acquaintances and those who simply have the misfortune to say hello to her.

This being a romantic thriller, much of the focus is on the developing relationship between Tess and Aidan, but I have to admit that it was handled quite well here. The main barrier to their happiness lies in a previous case where Tess gave evidence in court that let a child-killer live out the rest of his life in a psychiatric institution, as opposed to rotting on death row. Aidan discovered the body of the last victim, and can't believe she could help effectively set a killer free. This sort of material is deeper than much of what you find in this genre, so it helped the two characters feel like real people, as opposed to two people who simply get together because that's what's supposed to happen.

The plot is also well-constructed. While there are a few plot strands that simply feel like filler, Rose for the most part delivers a twisty suspense tale. I'm happy to announce that I didn't figure out the identity of the killer - the clues are there, and I was pleased that it all went right over my head.

"You Can't Hide" arrived earlier in Rose's career, and I suspect that might be why it is of a much higher standard than her current work. Since she's now churning out a couple of thrillers a year these days, the quality has slid. Nevertheless, it's always a pleasant surprise to come across something much better than you were expecting it to be. Refreshingly clear of many of the cliches found in the romantic suspense genre, "You Can't Hide" is one that should be hunted down.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Close Enough To Kill" by Beverly Barton

This is another one of those romantic suspense novels where the lead characters spend as much time thinking lustful thoughts about each other as they do hunting a serial killer. The culprits this time around are Sheriff Bernadette "Bernie" Granger and her new deputy Jim Norton, who was once a big-time football player. She had a big crush on him when she was a teenager, so she tries to keep her feelings in check whenever he's around. As for him, he's taken the job to be closer to his son, whose mother has spent a lot of energy on keeping the two apart. Although a lot of effort is spent on establishing that Bernie is a plain woman, Jim slowly develops feelings of attraction toward her (despite taking a couple of cracks at her sister first - what a guy!)

Oh yeah, and they're hunting a serial killer. He's called The Secret Admirer, as he first seduces his prey with innocent notes and gifts. Then he proceeds to send them kinky S&M sketches, before kidnapping, raping, torturing and murdering them. Quite a few women become victims, and the finger points at all the handsome, eligible bachelors in the town. I figured the killer the moment he was introduced. I kept thinking: "Oh come on, it really can't be that obvious! I'm not THAT clever!" Seriously, the killer's identity was meant to be a surprise?

"Close Enough To Kill" works fine on a trashy level. There's lots of sex, rape and death to keep you occupied, all delivered with a complete lack of class. The writer has a curiously blunt approach to her descriptions. My favourites were: "After raping her in the anus with a wooden phallus..." and "Damn, what a pair of tits!", the latter being Jim's internal response when he finally gets Bernie out of her bra. But to be fair, Barton generates at least a little suspense in the sequences where the women are being initially stalked - one woman's car breaks down, and another woman is nabbed despite having police protection.

Fairly indistinguishable from much of the genre's output, and I doubt romance readers are going to appreciate Barton's unimaginative, crass descriptions of rape and murder.

"City Of The Sun" by David Levien

Nearly two years after their son disappears, Paul and Carol Gabriel are forced to get the help of private detective Frank Behr when the police appear to be doing nothing. Behr is haunted by the death of his own son, so this latest case hits closer to home. He's eventually convinced to let Paul accompany him in the investigation, which opens up leads that suggest the boy is still alive.

"City Of The Sun" has rave reviews from other writers, amongst them being quote-whore Harlan Coben, but also from Michael Connelly and my own favourite - Robert Crais. So I did hold out hope that this would be a dark, suspenseful experience. And while it is a dark story, there just wasn't enough going on for me to be truly gripped. Behr's sources, which help him in developing new leads, conveniently pop up when needed. And the answer to the "mystery", when it comes, is pretty by-the-numbers, with a pretty outlandish climax.

With precious few plot twists (if any) to ratchet up the tension, it's pretty much the reader wallowing in the misery of depressed, burnt-out characters. A follow-up has just hit the shelves, but I might pass on it.

By the way, the long absence between posts is due to a faulty laptop, and a lack of funds in obtaining a new one. In that time, I've also read "Life Sentences" by Laura Lippman. But it was a boring, pointless pile of shit that doesn't really warrant a review - and is the first book I've ever taken to a second-hand bookstore. Both that and "City Of The Sun" were simply too easy to put down, so that's why I've done little reading in the last couple of months.