Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Pretty Little Things" by Jilliane Hoffman

Laney Emerson is your typical 13-year-old girl, facing problems with her stepfather and trying to fit in at a new school. And as her luck would have it, her Internet boyfriend is actually a sick pervert who kidnaps her at their first special meeting. He keeps in some underground cavern, where there appear to be other girls held captive.

Special Agent Bobby Dees is the guy at the head of the task force dedicated to tracking Laney down. They've been galvanized into action by the media's response to Laney's mother's sob story, even though she appeared to care little for her daughter, figuring she had run away. Dees had previously been considered a Golden Boy due to his ability to locate missing children, alive or dead. But since the disappearance of his own daughter a year ago, some are questioning whether it is appropriate for him to be a part of this task force.

It soon becomes apparent that the kidnapper is making this personal for Bobby - sending him communications through a journalist who is attempting to reignite his career through Laney's story. Meanwhile, Bobby's wife Luann simply wants to move away from town due to the stress of not knowing what has happened to their missing daughter.

"Pretty Little Things" is so routine and derivative that it's hard to believe anybody could be bothered to write it. It dances around the sordid subject matter (whether that's for better or worse is hard to decide) and simply goes through the motions as Bobby and his team try to track down the kidnapper. The chapters concerning Lacey's plight do have a bit of an edge, but not nearly enough to make this stand out from the pack. Author Hoffman is former attorney herself and her previous novels have had a strong courtroom setting which is sorely lacking here, as this element is clearly her forte. All the stuff involving police and FBI procedure, forensics etc etc smacks of research, and is fairly laboured. As for the revelation of the kidnapper, it's so groan-inducingly obvious it's hard to tell whether it was meant to be a secret. Basically - who else could it have been?

A killer/kidnapper who hoards his victims in underground caverns has been done by, of course, James Patterson in "Kiss The Girls", but to also much better effect in Chris Mooney's "The Missing" - and probably countless other serial killer thrillers. You may as well track down any one of them, as I imagine it won't be much different to this one. As for Hoffman, go grab her debut novel "Retribution", which is an exciting and gripping combination of both serial killer thriller and courtroom thriller. The sequel "Last Witness" isn't as good, but sets up some intriguing scenario for a further sequel (which I'm still hoping might one day surface). Don't even bother with "Plea Of Insanity". I know that the crime market is very large and authors are going to inevitably cover the same material, but that doesn't mean we have to put up with such by-the-numbers fare such as this.

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