Monday, July 11, 2011

"Black Friday" by Alex Kava

College students are planning a stunt at the largest mall in America, carrying jamming devices in their backpacks. Or so they think. They're actually carrying bombs, unwitting pawns in a much larger terrorist plot.

FBI profiler Maggie O'Dell is assigned to the case, where she once again encounters on/off love interest Nick Morelli, who is now the head of the security firm employed by the mall. Further complicating things is the fact her half-brother Patrick Murphy is friends with the college students who carried the backpacks, and has erroneously been identified as a person of interest. He's now on the run, trying to track down another friend - Rebecca Cory - who is being hunted by the real terrorists for knowing too much.

Maggie is contacted by a person connected with the terrorists, who reveals that a second attack is imminent.


Maggie O'Dell is, in my opinion, one of the most useless FBI Special Agents I have ever encountered in fiction. Her track record is terrible. In "A Perfect Evil" and "A Necessary Evil", the killer eluded capture. In "The Soul Catcher" the killer randomly decided to kill themselves, despite Maggie being at their complete mercy. In "At The Stroke Of Madness" and "Exposed", Maggie is knocked unconscious by the killer and nearly killed, needing somebody else to rescue her. Only "Split Second" seems to involve Maggie actually nailing her opponent, as "Black Friday" once again has the main antogonist evading capture.

Can this stupid woman do anything right?

The book fails in almost every other area as well. Plot-wise, it's very thin. Kava suggests the mastermind is John Doe #2, who was spotted by several witnesses during the investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing. Several conspiracy theories exist regarding this possible third terrorist. It's an intriguing theory and Kava fails to do anything with it. Despite some rumblings of Government influence and involvement in the terrorist attack, the mastermind - named Robert Asante here - is never given a clear motive as to why he's doing what he's doing. He's just there, plotting an evil attack and - because Maggie is such a tool - getting away with it. A completely uninteresting, personality-free villian. Furthermore, no definitive answers are given as to the how and why of the attack. Just a lot of suppositions.

Romance-wise, it's a washout. I'm not terribly bothered by that, but this is published by MIRA, who specialise in romantic-based suspense. It also begs the question as to why Nick Morelli is even here. He started off as a small-town sheriff when the series began, became a prosecutor and is now the head of a security firm! It's ridiculous! These job changes are solely to keep him in the series, but his relationship with Maggie is never explored, resolved or moved along.

I don't want to read about an FBI agent who can't sort out her lovelife or do her job even halfway competently. I don't want to hand over my money to an author who clearly doesn't care about what she's writing. Underplotted and confused, this is the final black mark against this mediocre author's name.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"You Belong To Me" by Karen Rose

Lucy Trask is a medical examiner - and now the target of a serial killer, who is leaving his victims for her to find. There is obviously a connection between the victims and Lucy's own past, but Lucy has spent most of her life running from her past, and can't think what she might have done to upset a vicious murderer so much. Detective JD Fitzpatrick is on the case, and there is an immediate spark between him and Lucy. Together they try to find out who hates Lucy enough to make her the centrepiece of his evil plans.

"You Belong To Me" is another efficient offering from Karen Rose, once again hampered by overlength, eye-rolling romantic cliches and - this time - a definite feeling of de ja vu. It's established fairly early on that the killer is seeking vengeance over the rape and murder of his sister, with the mystery lying around Lucy's possible connection to the crime. Although Rose's novels tend to blend in to one another, I'm pretty certain the rape-and-revenge angle made up a large part of "Scream For Me". In any case, there was a real sense of been-here-before hanging over the proceedings. There is initially some intrigue over a subplot involving private detective Clay Maynard chasing down a client he had helped fake his death, who now appears to have been lying wildly about his reasons for wanting to fake said death - but the link between this plotline and the main plotline is revealed fairly quickly. Once that happens, there doesn't seem to be much point for Clay to hang around, but he remains present for much of the novel. Unfortunately, you really could cut Clay from the novel entirely and hardly effect the novel at all. Not a good sign.

Rose's attempts at romantic angst are beginning to get quite desperate also. Lucy feels responsible for the death of her fiance, whilst JD feels responsible for the death of his first wife. He even says at one point: "I killed her!" and then fails to elaborate any further. Is this a homicide detective or a theatre actor? The romantic aspect actually feels toned down compared to other Rose novels, but Lucy and JD behave like such juvenile buffoons it becomes really distracting. All I kept thinking throughout the book was - "Grow up!"

As far as romantic suspense authors go, I'd say Rose is one of the best. There is real promise here for the author to break out from the rigid genre formula and deliver something truly memorable. "Silent Scream" showed signs of that. "You Belong To Me" feels like a bit of a step back - the protagonists get tiresome and the plot isn't as complex as it likes to think it is. But the book is well-developed, very well-paced and easy to read. Even with the current flaws (which I somehow doubt will be ironed out any time soon), Rose delivers work of a consistent quality and seems to be improving on some of her earlier work.