Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Don't Look Back" by Scott Frost

Lt. Alex DeLillo and her partner Dylan Harrison are called to the scene of a dead body that has been discovered at a sports stadium. The body belongs to the daughter of a high-powered lawyer who went missing several years ago. There is a painting at the scene, copied from the work of Spanish artist Goya. When more bodies start to show up, each with some sort of reference to Goya, it is obvious a serial killer is on the loose. It appears the murders are likely connected to the cover-up of child abuse in the church. When the chief of police confesses his own participation in the cover-up, he becomes a target as well.

I've previously read "Never Fear" by Scott Frost, but you wouldn't know it from reading this book. Usually when I pick something up featuring characters I've encountered before, I can recall character traits and relationships, but absolutely nothing registered here. There is absolutely zero character development. None whatsoever. I'm assuming that Frost is relying on familiarity from previous installments to do the work for him, but why would he be so....well, arrogant to assume that a reader has read all the previous books? Despite occasional references to previous books, DeLillo and Harrison are merely figureheads as the plot races from point to point. And from a purely technical standpoint, "Don't Look Back" really scores. The pace is consistent across the board, with new twists and plot info thrown at the reader at every turn. But with so little emotional investment in the characters, it's hard to get drawn into the story. I simply didn't care. And when one character proclaims: "they were murdered by the Vatican!" my interest dwindled completely. It's like a switch flipped in me and the book lost me completely. This is more a personal preference that a plotting flaw. I just don't care for religious conspiracies. They don't interest me. At all. I encountered the same issue with Kathy Reich's "Cross Bones". I finished it merely because I had started it. That was the case here, also. When DeLillo managed to have a personal conversation with The Pope himself, that was all she wrote. I managed to make it to the end, though.

Other issues arise. Why does DeLillo keep making claims along the lines of: "I know this killer", only to be surprised by each new thing he does? And what exactly was Goya's motive? Was he systematically slaughtering those covering up the abuse or those seeking to expose it? The plot wasn't entirely clear on that, as some victims were doing one while others were doing the other.

Scott Frost's skill with pacing and plotting means he's an author that can't be immediately dismissed. I always complain about too much time being spent on trivial romantic and character interplay. The fact that this one dispensed with that element completely was one of it's biggest drawbacks. If you don't care one iota about the main characters, you're kind of lost. At least in other books when I want to shake the drippy female lead out of her whining inertia I'm invested in the character (albeit through revulsion and irritation). Here, despite the consistent action and plot twists, I simply couldn't muster up any enthusiasm for the proceedings.

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