Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Chosen To Die" by Lisa Jackson

After the cop-out ending of "Left To Die", in which Det. Regan Pescoli was trapped in the clutches of the still-unidentified Star-Crossed Killer, we now get the hotly anticipated follow-up "Chosen To Die". Although I doubt anybody was hotly anticipating this absolute pile of shit.

When your predecessor is a 400-page cheat, you're not exactly getting off to a stellar start. And "Chosen To Die" doesn't do a single thing to try and amp up the plot strands left dangling by the first book. Regan Pescoli is at the mercy of a killer who likes to injure women, nurse them back to health and then tie them naked to trees so that they die of exposure to the nasty cold weather. Her partner Det. Selena Alvarez and Sheriff Dan Greyson frequently point out that they "need to find this bastard", but don't really seem to do much. We get points of view from ancillary characters who contribute little to the plot. Remind me again the purpose of Grace Perchant, the psychic? Why was she even here?

There is absolutely no plot to speak of here.

Just like "Left To Die" felt like a combination of two unfinished books that Jackson pulled out the drawer, dusted off and slapped together, "Chosen To Die" similarly throws in a random subplot in which psychiatrist Dr. Jalicia Ramsby suspects that her patient Padgett Long is not as brain-damaged as she appears. Especially after her brother Brady Long is murdered, leaving Padgett sole heir to a large fortune. It's made clear that the Star-Crossed Killer murdered Brady, but any mystery behind why he did it is left largely unexplored. And there is no connection to his penchant for tying naked chicks to trees.

Jackson is supposed to be a romantic suspense writer, but here she even bungles the romance angle. Since Regan is a captive for the whole book, Jackson relies solely on flashbacks to explain the deep love between Regan and the rebel cowboy Nate Santana who is ignoring the law and looking for Regan on his own. Another character even refers to him as a Long Ranger. I nearly vomited right there. To convince us that Regan and Nate are in love, Nate is all Regan thinks about and is what inspires her to fight and survive. Um....what about her kids?

After more than 400 pages of this puerile rubbish, Jackson can't even be bothered to give a decent motive or identity to the killer. He's a character that has never been introduced in either book, only referred to a couple of times. As for why he's tying naked women to trees, apparently it's because his application to join law enforcement was rejected. Yes, readers get to suffer through two truly awful books just to be offered that stunning psychological insight.

Yeah, that's a spoiler, but it will save you from wasting any time on this pathetic excuse for a book. It makes me so angry that authors like Lisa Jackson can earn a decent dollar for dribbling shit for 400 pages. I will not read another book by her ever again and urge any reader to do the same. She does not deserve it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"The Surrogate" by Tania Carver

DI Phil Brennan is head of the task force investigating the murders of pregnant women who have had the baby removed. It's only after the third murder (which opens the book) that the team decides upon Ryan Brotherton as their prime suspect, having obviously not looked at anybody for the first two killings. He's the abusive ex-boyfriend of the victim and wasn't too happy at the prospect of becoming a father.

Criminal profiler Marina Esposito is brought into the investigation to provide insight into the killer's motivation. As luck would have it, she and Phil had a romantic interlude that ended badly. Even luckier, Marina just happens to be pregnant....

"The Surrogate" wants to be a provocative, shocking thriller. The book cover invites comparisons to Karin Slaughter and Tess Gerritsen. Unfortunately, the only thing you're going to find here is another predictable, run-of-the-mill police procedural with stock characters and situations. Your plot doesn't need to be original (gruesome baby-stealing has been the subject of just about every crime TV show and Gerritsen's own "Body Double"), but you at least need to do something interesting with it. Not here. There's not a single trick up this book's sleeve. Not one moment to make you sit up and say "wow". It plods along from start to finish, as if ticking off an invisible list of all the requisite elements of a standard crime novel.

Beyond this, the characters are flat and uninteresting. Phil Brennan is mentioned as having had a bad childhood and now suffering panic attacks. It would also appear that it has made him a willing lapdog of a manipulative bitch like Marina Esposito. You really couldn't ask for a more unlikeable character. She ended things with Phil because he wasn't there to save her from a psycho who blamed her for his being caught. Yes, her happiness, safety and well-being is the entire responsibility of another person. She keeps this attitude up right until the end of the book. And Phil just sits there and takes it. Further to this, she's been carrying on with Phil behind the back of her live-in long-term partner. But she's aimless and unfulfilled, not sure where her life is headed, so that excuses it.

Um, no.

So there you have it. Intercut with a predictable serial killer tale is the romance between a pussy-whipped douche and a selfish cow.

"The Surrogate" isn't the worst crime novel you'll find on the shelf. It at least moves reasonably quickly and has enough of a hard edge to maintain interest. But there are many other authors out there able to take material that has been done before and do something a little different with it, or at least populate the story with quirky characters you like or can relate to. Here I was just turning pages to get to the end, not racing towards it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Fallen" by Karin Slaughter

Faith Mitchell is returning to her mother's house from on overlong seminar. She finds her baby, whom her mother was looking after, locked in the shed. Inside is one man already dead, plus two more still-alive intruders. She manages to shoot dead the two intruders without much trouble - but her mother is nowhere to be found. As the investigation gets underway, Faith is suspended without pay and her partner Will Trent takes over - with heavy guidance and interference from his boss Amanda Wagner.

Faith's mother Evelyn Mitchell retired from the police force under a cloud of suspicion when her drug force task members all eventually went to prison for corruption. It happened to be an investigation that Will himself headed, and he is fairly certain that, while her retirement prevented any prosecution, she still had plenty to hide. Could something from that investigation be coming back to haunt Evelyn and her family? As a drug turf war erupts (yawn), Will's relationship with Dr. Sara Linton turns romantic as she repeatedly helps out in the investigation.

All the elements that I picked apart in "Broken" seem to be reversed here, and I couldn't be happier. Slaughter has delivered a twisty, exciting thriller that recalls some of her best work. I was of the belief that Sara would spend this novel still pining over her dead husband, but Slaughter has actually moved her forward to the point where she's actually pursuing a relationship with Will. Even though "Broken" hardly pointed towards a believable union between the two, the author does a pretty commendable job of selling the concept. Maybe I was just really relieved that Sara had stopped being a blubbering pain in the ass. She actually has a purpose in being in this book, both with the romantic subplot and the medical assistance she provides the other characters. And there's no sight of Lena Adams to be found!

Unfortunately, Slaughter has seen fit to replace Lena with Angie Polaski (or Angie Trent), Will's flighty and seemingly mentally unstable wife, who leaves him for months on end and basically treats him like shit. Their past was explored in "Triptych", in which Angie was a damaged but still likeable character, and the main female protagonist. Transforming her into a deranged banshee for the sake of providing a hurdle in Will and Sara's relationship is lazy, and doesn't really gel with the melding of Slaughter's two series. If you're going to carry characters over, at least make it consistent.

Otherwise, "Fallen" is a real return to form for Slaughter, with a very noticeable shift away from drudging forensic and police procedural detail towards plot development and more action-oriented pacing. I was never bored, despite really not being a fan of drug turf warfare plots (which this involves a lot of). It's to Slaughter's credit that she can still generate tension from this scenario, as well as continually shifting the direction of the plot. I enjoyed reading this book, and hope that the next one can continue her tradition of (usually) quality output.