Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Breakneck" by Erica Spindler

Detectives Mary Catherine "MC" Riggio and Kitt Lundgren are back (after "Copycat"), this time when first MC's fiance Dan and then her cousin Tommy are murdered. Different weapons and methods had been used for both, so they are unsure whether the deaths are related. However, Tommy's murder certainly seems connected to a series of other deaths, most of them impressionable young college students who shirk socialising for excessive computer use. Each have a reputation for being a "cracker" - a computer hacker who uses their knowledge to illegally obtain others' funds over the Internet. Certainly, the victims exhibit wealth beyond their means, including Tommy, even though MC refuses to believe he could be involved.

The detectives' meeting with FBI Special Agent Jonathan Smith alerts them to the existence of a skilled hitman named "Breakneck", whose signature is that he never uses the same weapon twice. Ah, a possible connection to Dan's murder! However, MC must also deal with the fact that Dan might not have been the man he claims he was - the youth centre he worked at with good buddy Erik Sundstrom seems connected to the events as well. So what secret did all these victims share that got them all killed?

Interestingly, this offering from Spindler is not courtesy of usual publisher Mira Books. Was there not enough romance in her books anymore? Because certainly, Spindler is showing a refreshing tendency to move away from "terrifying situation brings about true love" and towards the issues faced by couples once they're in a relationship. The focus here is on Kitt and her partner Joe's relationship and the difficulties it faces after the death of their child and the demands of Kitt's job. Of course, I didn't really give a shit about any of this, especially since I got tired of Joe banging on about it all being Kitt's fault. However, the more Spindler writes, the more she seems to be abandoning the strict genre formula conventions, when the opposite is usually the norm.

Disappointingly, "Breakneck" is not one of her better efforts. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it was never gripping enough, and just didn't seem to hold together from start to finish. Basically, young folk are dying, they were all "crackers", and a deadly assassin was offing them all over some stolen money. There are a few loose strands in which you wait and see how they connect to the proceedings, but it was not enough. Not to mention one strand which seems to exist solely so a gay character can be revealed as a sick pervert, but which has nothing to do with the main plot. He's outed, exposed as a freak, kills himself, and that's the end of that. Never mentioned again. It was so offensive I nearly put the book down right there. The other maddening element is MC's constant hand-wringing over what sort of person Dan really was. He's dead now, honey, it doesn't matter too much anymore! Part of the problem was the forced nature of MC and Dan's relationship. Spindler has to repeatedly ram down our throats just how much they're in love in only a short time before he's murdered for the sake of the plot. At the end of the day, the relationship could have been removed entirely and not affected events all that much. It also presents the problem of how MC stays on the case with not one, but two, people close to her being the murder victims. Despite the chapter in which Kitt effectively blackmails the police chief into letting MC remain involved, it is unconvincing at best.

The book also attempts a subplot over the relationship between MC and Kitt and how much they trust each other. I'm sorry, but their friendship never seemed real enough for me to be invested in the betrayal Kitt felt whenever MC would race off and do something without her. Especially when most said transgressions were pretty damn piddly.

Nevertheless, "Breakneck" provides a bit of mindless entertainment. Despite the shaky, padded plot, there are one or two decent twists along the way, and MC and Kitt, despite minor faults, are fairly likeable. Nice to see two reasonably strong female characters as the leads. And the novel is another example of the evolution of a writer who has enough talent to try something different and move her writing in another direction. It's worth sticking around to follow her progress.

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