Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Every Move You Make" by Carla Cassidy

Annalise Blakely is the owner of a company that creates handcrafted dolls. One day she receives a package that includes one of her dolls and a cryptic message. Little does she know, a woman has been murdered and her body displayed just like that of the doll. It seems like somebody out there with mother issues blames Annalise and her dolls for the horrors they suffered as a child. Luckily for Annalise, she has started a romance with detective Tyler King, and he is investigating those very murders. Her estranged father and half-brother have also come back into her life. Could her new happiness be threatened by the psycho on the loose?

As far as romantic suspense novels go, "Every Move You Make" sits at the top end of the scale. It was very refreshing to have two main characters who didn't want to make me reach into the pages of the book and slap them both silly. Annalise isn't some fragile wilting flower, and Tyler isn't some melodramatic alpha-male. They both seem to have their heads about them, lending some credibility to their developing relationship. Annalise's issues with her dead mother, her desire to continue her mother's legacy (she inherited the doll company from her) and her bitterness over what she feels is her father's abandonment of her is believable and provides a good context for her reluctance to fully embrace a relationship with Tyler. No, it's not the stuff of deep intellectual literary drama, but it makes Annalise a much more rounded character than what this genre usually provides. Yes, her heart flutters whenever she's around Tyler, but he's not all she thinks about. Following her journey of personal enlightenment isn't nearly as tiresome as it could have been.

Just to be clear: there's nothing new here. It's probably a little slower-paced than your typical romantic thriller. The killer's motive is as hold as the hills and his identity rather arbitrary (my excuse for when I'm not able to pick it). But all in all, there's not a lot I can really complain about here. I'm a huge fan of TV movies featuring a B-list actress playing a damsel in distress. "Every Move You Make" was like a TV movie in written form. I could easily see this tale nicely fitting a 90-minute midday movie. Take from that what you will, but from me it's a pretty high endorsement. A pleasant surprise.

"Eyes" by Felice Picano

Stu Waehner is a social caseworker, in a deteriorating relationship with girlfriend Jennifer. He is also the object of obsession for Johanna Poole, who lives in an apartment building opposite him. She can see into his apartment, but he can't see into hers. She keeps a detailed, extensive journal on him, noting every step in their progressing "relationship". She starts to call him, but refuses to meet in person. At first, Stu is unsure about the calls, but is soon drawn to the woman he knows as Joan. In fact, he comes to rely on Joan's presence in his life, even after he begins a relationship with Johanna herself, unaware they are one and the same.

The front cover of the book proclaims this as "The Shattering Novel of Love and Terror". I wouldn't go that far, but it certainly is an intriguing and compelling little character study. Originally published in 1975, this one holds up extremely well, and could conceivably occur in any time period. Picano gets deep inside his characters' heads, so that we know their every weakness, insecurity and character flaw. Johanna obviously has more than a few screws loose, but she is not portrayed as some over-the-top loony. She is a pretty, intelligent woman....who just happens to be a voyeur with a demented, idealised view of true love. Her reasons for keeping a journal about Stu are completely rational - to her. This sort of strong character development helps to make proceedings remain believable when a romance does actually develop between Stu and Johanna.

It made for quite fascinating reading as Stu refused to let go of his phone relationship with Joan, despite having the real thing with Johanna. Likewise, Johanna just couldn't let go of her alter ego despite landing the man she had been longing for. Their mutual self-destructiveness leads to risky, poorly thought-out character actions that can only end badly.

Although the book cover and blurb try to sell this as a suspense thriller, I wouldn't really categorise it as such. It is a little too leisurely paced to ratchet up the tension you would expect from the genre, and there are no real twists to the plot. However, it is certainly never dull, as the complex relationship between Stu and Johanna/Joan is explored so deeply. "Eyes" was a change of pace from what I normally read, and a welcome one.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Taboo" by Casey Hill

Reilly Steel is a forensic investigator who has come to Ireland, home of her father, to help bring Ireland's lab into the twenty-first century. Haunted by a mysterious past that has driven her father into alcoholism, Reilly channels her issues into her work, and is highly regarded in her field. Her skills are put to the test by a series of murders in which victims are forced to enact societal taboos before being killed. Brother and sister forced into incent, a husband forced to suicide, a young man forced to eat human flesh....the murders are quite grisly and shocking. Reilly notes that Freudian clues are being left at each crime scene, impressing Chris Delaney, the detective on the case. However, it isn't long before the murderer drags Reilly into things on a personal level.

Although the serial killer in this novel likes to commit murders that shock society, shock is hardly an emotion likely to be experienced by anybody who reads the book. "Taboo" plays it extremely safe with characters straight out of central casting, non-graphic descriptions of crime scenes and standard forensic-investigator mumbo jumbo. Although too much descriptive prose in novels can irritate me, here I could barely even tell the events were happening in Dublin, Ireland. It could have been "CSI: Miami" for all I knew. Hill at least, for the most part, doesn't fall into that tiresome trap of a character saying "real life isn't like TV and crimes can't be solved in neat one-hour packages" blah, blah, blah. That's usually the justification an author will throw out because they secretly know their plot is dull and not going anywhere. The plot here moves along at a decent pace, so events are thankfully never boring.

Unfortunately, "Taboo" is just too routine and familiar to even really get out the starting gate. There is a decent twist regarding the true nature of the event from Reilly's past, which I didn't see coming. However, it renders everything that comes after it as completely ridiculous. I can't give anything away, obviously, but it took me right out of the book and I struggled to finish the last fifty pages. Idiotic revelation, ludicrous motive and silly climax. It dragged down even further what was already a below average crime novel.

On a side note, the killer and Reilly are supposed to be familiar with Freud. However, at one point Reilly is carrying on about the subconscious holding far more information than the conscious. Now, I may have only done very simple, brief work with Freud in my university days more than a decade ago, but I'm fairly certain that Freud never used the word subconscious. He always talked about the "conscious" and the "unconscious". I could be wrong (I usually am), but by that time I was already thoroughly unimpressed by the book and likely looking for little extra things I could nitpick about. What would Freud say about that?