Monday, December 10, 2012

"The Chill Of Night" by James Hayman

Elaine "Lainie" Goff is discovered frozen solid in the boot of an abandoned vehicle. While Detective Michael McCabe looks into the lawyer's life to find suspects and motives, he eventually learns of the existence of a witness. Abby Quinn's claims of witnessing a murder were initially dismissed because she has a history of mental illness and suicide attempts. She is now on the run, so McCabe must locate her before the killer does. And find the killer, of course.

I'm beginning to lose count of the number of thrillers I've read lately in which the lead detective has an eidetic memory, or some super-special skill that gets them inside the heads of serial killers. Michael McCabe has an eidetic memory. Right now I'm reading "The Night Stalker" by Chris Carter, whose on-going protagonist Robert Hunter is highly intelligent and got into university when he was twelve. Or fourteen? I forget. He was young, anyway.

Ever notice that no matter how wonderful, fantastic, skilled or near-supernaturally gifted the lead detective or FBI profiler is, they never manage to find the culprit in under 400 pages? Funny, that.

As you can see from the plot description, there's not a lot going on here. The novel plays out a lot like a "Law & Order" episode, as McCabe questions possible suspects such as Lainie's boss-and-lover Henry Ogden, the director of a teen homeless shelter Lainie worked at pro-bono, and her creepy landlord. McCabe's team, with a seemingly never-ending number of detectives, methodically gather clues and evidence and send it off for testing. Basically, it's yet another police procedural with an emphasis on the procedure. Author Hayman likes to do his research, and it shows. It also makes the book remarkably dull. By page 250, nobody's really learnt much more than what they did when the book began.

The sequences involving Abby Quinn are quite well done, as she's the only character in any sort of danger. Her mental illness is a convenient method for the author to provide an excuse as to why Abby can't identify the killer - only that he has a head of fire and icicles for eyes. It was a bit obvious and lame. But then, if we knew who the killer was right off the bat, it would have made this snoozefest even harder to finish, right?

As for the identity of the killer, it's not my powerful skills of deduction that let me figure it out here. Rather, I recognised the crappy ploys used by crappy writers to keep the killer's identity a secret. Do you reckon the killer is any of the people McCabe identifies as having means, opportunity and motive to kill Lainie? Or could it be some other character never raised as a possible suspect, with a secret motive that will handily be provided once he/she is unmasked? If you guessed the latter, you've probably read more than one thriller in your life and can see through the tricks author Hayman so lazily employs.

Something else highly evident is the author's homophobia. "The Cutting", his previous novel, was pretty terrible on this count. "The Chill Of Night" isn't quite as extreme, but it's still disconcerting that McCabe and his team quickly pick somebody to be their prime suspect once that person reveals he's gay. He's then accused of not just raping and killing a woman, but molesting children as well because, of course, if he's gay he's only one step away from all sorts of sexual depravity. It's an attitude that belongs in the dark ages, and I'm surprised such attitudes could see the light of day in a book released by a major publisher such as Penguin Books.

"The Chill Of Night" is a bore. Who cares if it's accurate? I kept falling asleep while reading it. Aside from Abby Quinn's plight, NOTHING IS HAPPENING HERE, FOLKS. Go watch a "Law & Order" episode instead. It only takes an hour, and it will provide a dozen more plot twists than what you're going to find in this drivel.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

"Merciless" by Mary Burton

A serial killer and rapist have teamed up, in which the rapist gets to have his way with the female victim first, before handing her over to the serial killer, who murders her and then goes through the process of stripping the flesh from the bones.

The bones of aspiring actress Sierra Day are left for detectives Deacon Garrison and Malcolm Kier to discover. Although there are a few people out there with motives, the prime suspect turns out to be Dr. James Dixon, who has recently escaped being convicted of the attempted murder of Lulu Sweet, who is now a reformed prostitute and trying to reclaim custody of her young son.

The case soon involves Dixon's lawyer Angie Carlson, who managed to help get him off, but otherwise wants nothing to do with him, as she thinks there's something funny about him. Malcolm is a complete asshole to Angie, but that seems to peak her interest. In any case, they must work together after Lulu goes missing, and start digging into Angie's past to find what her connection to the killer/s is.

The book cover is decent enough to tell you that "Merciless" is a sequel to "Senseless". At first I thought this was because it featured characters from the previous novel, but like most romantic suspense novels, would veer off on its own course. Not so here. "Merciless" is indeed quite strongly linked to the previous novel, and while you could probably read it as a stand-alone, it is recommended that you read "Senseless" first.

I thought "Senseless" was a pretty decent thriller, and "Merciless" is even better. The plot was intricate and exciting. For the most part, the characters were well-defined and interesting. It was good to see Angie at the forefront. She's smart and capable, and less irritating than Eva Rayburn, who was the heroine of the previous novel. Not that Eva was a horrible character, but Angie had smidgeon less anguish, and less of a chip on her shoulder.

I didn't like Malcolm all that much. You really don't learn much about him and he fails to come alive. He's a detective and he's a complete asshole to Angie. That's mostly it. After 75% of the novel spent being a dick to Angie, his turnaround to grudging respect and then desire and love for her, is not very credible. It seems more of a case of throwing a central romance into the narrative so it could be classified as romantic suspense and not turn off Burton's fan-base. Otherwise, "Merciless" is a fast-paced entertaining thriller that should please readers whether they like romantic suspense or not. So while the romantic aspect doesn't take away from the novel, it fails to add anything to it, either. There's no obstacle to keep them apart other than the fact Malcolm is skilled in the art of douchery.

While I appreciated that the plot tied in closely with events in the first novel, it was also something of a drawback. The plot was going in one direction, and then the links to the past suddenly came into play about halfway through. All things considered, I didn't understand why Angie was a target. I would have thought the killer/s would have been after Eva. Here, Eva is relegated to fetching food for the other characters when they visit the restaurant she works at.

Nevertheless, "Merciless" is the work of a writer who deserves to take her place with the big names. If Mary Burton ever gets brave enough to abandon the romantic suspense formula and template, she could really deliver something special. "Merciless" was engaging and suspenseful.

Friday, December 7, 2012

"Bloodman" by Robert Pobi

Special Agent Jake Cole is in Montauk, Long Island, to see his artist father Jacob Coleridge, who is the victim of encroaching senility and has also just burnt off his hands in a household accident. The two do not have a close relationship.

As it happens, Jake is called upon by Sheriff Mike Hauser. A woman and her son have been discovered skinned alive. Jake has an eidetic (photographic) memory, and has a unique ability to see into the minds of killers. But, really, don't they all these days?

The case quickly becomes personal for Jake, as his mother was skinned alive thirty-odd years ago, and it looks like it is the same killer. When Jake's girlfriend Kay and their son Jeremy arrive to visit, Jake must try to protect them from both the Bloodman and a rapidly approaching hurricane.

This is one of those dreaded "big twist" novels, where everything is set up for that big final revelation. That's fine if you've never read a thriller before and can get fooled by a twist ending that's been done dozens of times already, but if you're not completely stupid, it's frustrating and insulting. Aside of from being completely predictable, this one commits the other sin of being sleep-inducingly boring. This is despite lots of lurid descriptions of skinned victims, and kinky erotic asphyxiation sex between Jake and Kay. Blecch.

Then there's the over-reliance on description. You know what I mean. A hurricane is coming. Entire chapters are devoted to describing it. Entire chapters devoted to describing what a house looks like. And Jake and Mike spend a LOT of time repeating a conversation similar to this:

Mike: "Who would do something like this?"
Jake: "A monster", or "you don't want to know", or something else that manages to be both smug and vague.

As for the big twist, I'll leave you with the clues that let me figure out how it was all going to end. These are not spoilers, as they are all delivered within the first 150 pages. They are all repeated and explained in the finale, as the author assumes you were too stupid to pick up on them the first time around:

* The mother and son victims at the start of the novel are never identified, but all subsequent victims are.
* When Kay and Jeremy wave at tourists, they don't wave back. But they wave back to Jake.
* None of the other characters beside Jake ever talk to Kay and Jeremy.
* When Jake orders pizza, only one pizza is delivered, but he insists he ordered three.
* Jake has a contraption attached to his heart, which keeps him alive. It causes him to black out. A dead body is usually discovered shortly afterwards.

Other questions arise. How on Earth can Jake get clearance for field work when he has a device similar to a pacemaker keeping him alive? Why is his father recreating obscure portraits of a faceless figure as some sort of clue, rather than just revealing the truth? Despite the senility, he's depicted as having several lengthy periods of lucidity.

My answer is that every single element of this novel is contrived and artificial for the purpose of not only trying to keep that stupid twist ending a secret, but to justify its existence in the first place. This is a dull, mechanical and cynical novel. It has complete contempt towards its audience and is possibly the worst I have read this year (and I've read my share of stinkers).

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Never Knowing" by Chevy Stevens

Sara Gallagher is adopted. Pained by a lifetime of disinterest from her adoptive father, she decides to find her birth parents. Her birth mother wants nothing to do with her, however. Sara discovers this is because her birth mother was the only person to ever survive an attack by the Campsite Killer. Sara is the product of a rape and her birth father is a famous serial killer who still hasn't been captured.

When the facts about her history are made highly public on the Internet, Sara is contacted by her father, who calls himself John. He wants a relationship with the daughter he never knew. This prompts her to get in contact with the police, and she eventually becomes part of their team in an effort to track him through the phone calls.

This takes an extreme toll on Sara's life and those around her, including her fiance Evan and her six-year-old daughter Ally. Even worse, John seems to think that she's the only thing in his life that can keep him from killing more women.

"Never Knowing" has a terrific central concept and then fails to do anything interesting with it. After the initial set-up, practically the whole novel consists of Sara receiving a phone call from John, the police telling her which part of Canada he is in but they can't find him, and Sara feeling guilty over the potential danger she is bringing to Evan and Ally, or feeling that it's her fault that another woman might die. Repeat that scenario about fifty f***ing times and there's your book. There are also a couple of face-to-face meetings set up, but it's fairly obvious John is going to cancel, as there's still 200 pages of the book left to go.

Sara is a completely insufferable character. Whiny, self-absorbed, and wishy-washy. The author seems to want to explore how having a serial killer be your father can make one wonder about their own dark nature, but with Sara it all keeps coming across as immature whining. Basically, Sara constantly complains about the situation she is in, but it's her own decisions that have put her there in the first place. An inordinate amount of time is spent with Sara asking Evan what she should do, only for her to then go and ignore it and do what she wants anyway. Why doesn't he understand HER decision? Why can't he see it from HER point of view?

Sara's also a total martyr. If I had to read the sentence "it was all my fault" one more time, I could have thrown the book across the room. She HAS to remain a part of the case, because she's the ONLY one who can stop him.

The rest of the characters don't fare much better. Her father's indifference and self-absorption borders on sociopathy. There's never an attempt to explain why he's such an asshole, other than he didn't really want to adopt. Sandy, one of the detectives on the case, throws massive guilt trips on Sara and engages in conduct that would likely to get a real-life detective fired or suspended on the spot. Her birth mother, Julia, is a miserable bitch who calls Sara up or invites her over to either tell her to leave her alone, or say outrageously unfair things to her. Sara's complete inability to tell these people to f*** off (instead she panders to them) made me like her even less. Her daughter Ally's bratty behaviour even became tiresome at times.

Like the author's previous novel "Still Missing", the story is told through sessions with Sara's psychiatrist. While that approach worked in "Still Missing", it is not appropriate here. Sara's tendency to drop everything to race to see her shrink only added another irritating element to her character. Can she do anything without overreacting or consulting fifty different people? I'm not sure why Stevens would go to the same well in terms of writing style; it smacks more of the author having used up her bag of tricks. Should have just told the story in a linear fashion; the shrink sessions add nothing.

Any positives? There are a couple of sequences in the last quarter of the book that generate the suspense necessary for a thriller of this type. If only it didn't take so long to get to them, or that all that time had to be spent with somebody so idiotic and annoying.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Watch Me Die" by Erica Spindler

Mira Gallier has a successful career as a restoration artist for windows. Her latest job is restoring a beautiful church window of Mary Magdalene. Despite professional security, Mira is still a complete wreck after the death of her husband Jeff during Hurricane Katrina six years ago.

When a church is vandalised and the priest killed, her connection to the restored windows of that church draws the attention of detective Spencer Malone. He's also coping with breaking in new partner Karin Bayle, who has just come back to work after an emotional breakdown.

Mira is conflicted by her feelings for Connor Scott, Jeff's best friend, who took off to serve in the army shortly before Jeff's death. She's also being haunted by Jeff's scent in her home, and what appears to be phone calls from him.

Other victims begin to pop up. They all have a connection to Mira. This, combined with the phone calls, have Mira believing she might be going crazy. Spencer and Karin argue over whether Mira or Connor are the killer, or working together. As for Mira, she also suspects all the people in her life as having something to do with her current predicament.

I think Erica Spindler's work is beginning to regress. For a while there, she was delivering well-plotted thrillers with strong female protagonists. With "Watch Me Die" we have another female protagonist, much like the one in "Blood Vines", who spends much of her time dramatically throwing herself into the arms of the nearest man to rest her head against his solid chest because it's ALL JUST TOO MUCH.

Everything in Mira's life is ALL JUST TOO MUCH. It's been six years since her husband's death and she still can't let go. After a while you just get tired of hearing about it. I imagine in real life there are plenty of people who can't move on from a dramatic, traumatising period in their life, but it sure ain't fun to read about. Mira is a really exasperating character. She seems to have no common sense. Despite having consultations with psychologist Adele Jasper for several years, she only just decides Adele is untrustworthy because Adele was recommended to her by a casual acquaintance of her mother-in-law at Jeff's funeral. She didn't think to check Adele's qualifications back then???

Similarly, she begins to think Jeff might still be alive because of the phone calls. You see, his body was recovered, but could never be properly identified because of all the damage to it. It never occurs to her that if Jeff were still alive he would have probably made contact with her in the space of SIX YEARS. But the combination of phone calls, being a murder suspect, and having Connor back in her life and revealing startling truths about what Jeff was really like is ALL JUST TOO MUCH.

The book desperately tries to paint Connor as a prime suspect, but Spindler has reverted too fully into the typical romantic suspense template for it to truly succeed. After that, there's only one person who it could really be....

"Watch Me Die" is Spindler's weakest effort in recent memory. An insipid heroine sinks it, and an obvious, predictable plot torpedoes it.

And what was with Mira's assistant Deni calling her up and saying she'd seen Adele driving around with a passenger who looked just like Jeff? Who was her mysterious lover Bill Smith? These plot strands are raised and never explained. Lazy.

"Killing Kelly" by Heather Graham

Kelly Trent is a daytime soap actress on the hit show "Valentine Valley". She plays Marla Valentine, a man-hating advice columnist. But it seems somebody can't discern between fantasy and reality, and wants Kelly/Marla gone forever. A near-fatal accident on-set sees Kelly's character put on indefinite hiatus. Her agent suggests she take on a role in a music video clip for hot band Kill Me Quick's new single "Tango To Terror" to keep her face and profile in the public eye.

Since Kelly can't dance, a dance instructor is brought on board. Luckily, Doug O'Casey is both a former cop and licenced private investigator as well, so he can teach her to dance and act as her bodyguard as well. When real-life advice therapists start showing up dead, and more attempts are seemingly made on Kelly's life, she must figure out if somebody she already knows is obsessed with knocking her off permanently.

This is a follow-up to "Dead On The Dance Floor", which I have read, but can't remember too many details of it. I dare say it wasn't as tedious, obvious and far-fetched as this effort. A dance instructor who is also a former cop with a private investigator's licence? Talk about contrived. Of course, being a romantic suspense writer, Graham throws in multiple characters from previous books, to the point where it is difficult to keep them all apart. For God's sake, if you're not going to progress the characters from previous novels, or their relationships, just leave them out!

Kelly Trent herself is an extremely annoying character. Understandably, she doesn't want the death and destruction around her to be because of her, as that means her life is really is in danger, but she uses this an excuse to be blatantly naive, and do whatever she wants, no matter how dangerous it is. Any reasonably intelligent person who wanted to remain skeptical, could at least show some freaking common sense. Kelly has none. Zero. Zilch. She deserved to be knocked off by an unstable fan.

The suspects are all interchangeable. Graham at least has the decency to make the culprit one of the suspects, rather than pull some Scooby-Doo surprise villian out of her hat. Their motive and execution of it still lacks coherency, however. I had picked up a couple of extra Heather Graham novels (cheaply) because "Ghost Shadow" was such an unexpected above-average surprise. But "Killing Kelly" is a meandering, contrived, loosely plotted mess filled with badly-developed characters.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Killing Britney" by Sean Olin

Britney Johnson used to be a geek at high school, but now she has transformed herself into one of the "Hockey Wives", the girlfriends of the players on the highly successful high school hockey team. She's dating Ricky Piekowski - at least until he is viciously run down by a killer in a red pick-up truck.

This isn't the first time Britney's life has been touched by tragedy. A couple of years earlier, her mother died during a family rafting trip, her body never recovered. Britney went through a really rough period after the death, which seemed to prompt her change from geek to chic.

Adam Saft is a friend of the family, staying with Britney and attending high school with her. He learns from Britney's former friends Bobby and Melissa that Britney isn't all she's cracked up to be. More people begin to die and it looks like Britney might be the final target.

Even though it clocks in at 234 pages, this teen thriller - with slasher undertones - has less depth than a 160-page quickie from R.L. Stine. Just what was the author aiming for with this? Despite being called "Killing Britney", there never really seems to be a discernable threat against her. Sure, some of the people around her are dying, but why? Some of the links between victim and Britney are really tenuous. A couple of characters are identified as disliking Britney, but that's also very undercooked. Both Adam and Bobby, presented as suspects, seem more in love with her than wanting to kill her.

The book decides to remain vague for a large part of the proceedings, seemingly in the hope that you won't guess the highly obvious twist ending. As for the twist ending, all it really does is leave you with a huge pile of unanswered questions.

I also wonder about the "Killing Britney" title. Is it a coincidence the main character's name is spelt the same way as the famous singer Britney Spears? I've heard that "Britney" is an uncommon spelling of the name - usually it's Brittany. Is it also a coincidence that the book's cover has a picture of a girl that vaguely resembles the singer? Were the publishers hoping that Britney Spears fans would see the cover and the title and pick it up over the possibility it was about the singer?

It turns out that Britney killed her own mother with the help of Karl, Melissa's older brother. Britney and Karl then murdered anybody who got too close to the truth. The problems here:

Why did Britney suddenly decide to become one of the popular kids? If anything, it exposed her to more people who could learn her secret. In particular, Ricky!

Why was she acting suicidal after her mother's death? It only made Melissa and Bobby scrutinise her, when the last thing she wanted was any scrutiny!

Who wrote the love letters to Karl? Britney's mother? Or Britney herself? It's brought up, and then never mentioned again, nor explained.

Was there any connection to the couple of deaths mentioned in the early part of the novel?

Did Bobby murder Britney's father? Or did Britney? And if it was Britney, at which point did her father ever get anywhere near to figuring out she killed her mother? If it was Bobby - um....why?

Why did she sleep with Adam?

There's no suspense, no believable plot twists, and no guilty pleasure that you would typically find with a teen thriller. Guess I'm back to hunting down the popular 90s teen thriller again.

"Charley's Web" by Joy Fielding

Charley Webb is a controversial columnist for the Palm Beach Post who lives in the shadow of her two younger, more successful siblings. Anne is a bestselling novelist and Emily is a highly regarded journalist. She spends a lot of time looking out for youngest sibling Bram, who can't seem to get his crap together. She is also re-establishing a relationship with her mother Elizabeth, who walked out on the family when Charley was eight (she's now thirty) to live in Australia with a lesbian lover. Her father now refuses to speak to Charley because of this relationship, and the other siblings are also resistant to letting their mother back into their lives.

Charley is a single mother whose children both have different fathers. However, she is a very, caring protective mother, so she's understandably shocked when she starts receiving e-mails from somebody dubbed "a person of taste" who threatens both her and her children.

She sees her chance at respect in her own field when she is contacted out of the blue by Jill Rohmer, a young woman on death row for the vicious sex murders of three young children she used to babysit for. She is a huge fan of Charley and wants her to write a book about Jill's life. Although hesitant at first, she does see the career possibilities and starts meeting with Jill.

Jill is a strange woman, and obviously unbalanced. Charley doesn't like Jill's insistence that the two of them are alike. However, Charley keeps getting drawn back into Jill's story as she investigates Jill's past. Jill also eventually drops a tidbit about a man named Jack who supposedly coerced Jill into committing the horrendous deeds. Charley feels herself losing control in her relationship with Jill and with the other people in her life. Meanwhile, the threats against her and her children continue to come in via e-mail.

"Charley's Web" was particularly successful in exploring the theme of how people see themselves and others. Charley often thinks about her critics and family members: "you think you know me, but you don't". Jill also says this to Charley during their conversations. And to a large extent, Charley spends a lot of her time judging how the people in her life go about their daily business, but resents it when other people do it to her. She sees how much she loves her own children, and can't understand how Elizabeth could abandon her own. She can't understand why Anne would give up custody of her own children and have them live with their father. In this respect, Charley is a very well-developed and explored character, and it made her feel like a real person. More importantly, despite lacking the ability to be truly introspective, she is still very likeable. It was easy to get behind her. I understood her drive to prove others wrong, and to earn the respect that the others in her family have achieved.

The relationship between Charley and Jill is also quite complex and enthralling. Although we don't get to see inside Jill's head - we only see what Charley sees - she is nontheless compelling. How could she have done the awful things she did? How can she possibly justify it? The novel deals with some strong themes, so the story maintains an edge and an undercurrent of suspense even when not immediately focused on the threat to Charley's children or the truth of Jill's murders.

Perhaps less successful is the threat to Charley's children. There are only a couple of e-mails, and the novel isn't clear enough as to whether they are genuine threats or some Internet crackpot messing about, nor whether they are connected to Charley's dealings with Jill and investigation into her past. Nevertheless, the issue is still highly relevant, especially with the likes of Twitter and Facebook exposing just how vile people can be under the supposed veil of anonymity.

I did occasionally get tired of the time devoted to Charley's issues with her siblings and her mother. It is certainly the main crux of the novel, more so than Charley's interactions with Jill. I like my thrillers to be a little more certain about what the threat is and where it is coming from. Here, it is too vague for too long. However, like I said, there is suspense to the proceedings despite this, thanks largely to the psychological battles between Charley and Jill. Also, as I understood where all the characters were coming from, it was easy to relate to their family issues.

Finally, the climax was a bit of a letdown. Fielding was doing a terrific job of building up genuine tension, and kind of blew it with a "oh, that's it?" resolution to the proceedings.

Despite its flaws, "Charley's Web" is the best novel I have read by Joy Fielding. The characters were exceptionally well-drawn, the central themes easy to relate to, and easy to understand. The relationship between Charley and Jill was exciting enough to carry me through the occasionally dragged-out moments of family melodrama.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Bait" by Karen Robards

Maddie Fitzgerald is in New Orleans to land a big account for her struggling firm Creative Partners. Somebody breaks into her hotel room at night and tries to kill her, and she barely escapes with her life. The next day, she discovers that there was another woman by the name of Maddie Fitzgerald staying at the same hotel - and she is now dead.

Special Agent Sam McCabe is on the trail of a killer who leaves him various clues about his next victim. Sam isn't too quick on the uptake, as several people are already dead. Strangely enough, the killer doesn't leave any clues about Maddie being the next victim, but Sam is on the case, trying to figure out what connection Maddie has to the other victims. So far, there are no connections at all.

Sparks fly between the two as Sam decides to keep a watch over Maddie in case the killer comes after her again. Which, of course, he does. However, Maddie has a few secrets in her past she isn't telling him (or the reader, for that matter) and it puts them both in danger.

Golly, was there even a plot here? Actually, what's so frustrating about "Bait" is that it gets off to really good start, with the creepy sequence as Maddie is attacked, and the initial intrigue as to whether the killer was after Maddie, or if it was a case of mistaken identity. The cat-and-mouse element to the relationship between Sam and the killer also showed some promise.

Unfortunately, it's all frittered away on the usual romantic thriller cliches and stupidity. After the first 100 pages, which really got me into the story, it settles into a typical romance plot and the thriller element is abandoned almost entirely. Maddie drops a few hints about her past, but doesn't divulge the full details until the book's protracted climax is already upon us. It might have upped the suspense if I knew a bit more about what Maddie was potentially facing. Instead, the climax was mostly a let-down, as there were no new places for the narrative to go, or plot twists to really throw at us.

There's also the matter of the cutesy subplot involving the dog Zelda, the pet of the lady who's lucrative account she's just landed, over which Maddie takes ownership. It made my teeth hurt. It felt like it belonged in another novel entirely, and further pushed the "thriller" element of the novel into the background. I wanted more intrigue around Maddie's past and who wanted to kill her.

And God save me from female romance authors who over-use the word "damn". Seriously, is there some unwritten rule out there that mandates it gets used every other sentence? Actually, it's not too bad here - Robards is nowhere near the level of Lisa Jackson - but it is noticeable, particularly in the scene where Maddie and Sam finally get it on. I'd really like to meet someone in real life who says "damn" as much as the people in romance novels do. I understand these novels are at least part fantasy, but I'm sure it is possible to have impossibly pretty people spout believable dialogue.

Like I said, the main problem with "Bait" is that it could have been so much better. The plot opportunities are wasted. The romance element is basically the same as every other romantic thriller out there, although thankfully free of the overwrought anguish you might find in, say, a Karen Rose novel. But I wanted more than what I got. Dare I say it, but Karen Robards is a good writer. It would be great to see her applying her skills to something that isn't so routine and predictable.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Don't Tell" by Karen Rose

Caroline Stewart is a secretary at a college and beginning a romance with new professor Max Hunter. But she hides a big secret. Seven years ago, when she was known as Mary Grace Winters, she faked her death to escape from her vicious, abusive husband, Rob Winters, a police officer. Even now, she still lives in fear that he might find her and her fourteen-year-old son Tom.

When her car is pulled out of a lake, the jig is up. Rob quickly figures out that she is still alive, and is obsessed with finding her, and particularly his son. The FBI also get involved, with Special Agent Steven Thatcher eventually discovering Mary Grace faked her death - and that Rob is indeed a murdering psychopath.

Caroline, of course, has no actual idea that her psychotic husband is after her. She's all caught up in her new romance with Max, but both have a mountain-load of issues to work out before their relationship can be successful.

This is Karen Rose's first novel, and clearly not one of her best. The plot is a fairly simple "Sleeping With The Enemy" knock-off that blows out to over 500 pages thanks to a seemingly never-ending supply of emotional turmoil for the characters to sort through. It really is ridiculous, even by the standards of this genre. Caroline, of course, has her past as a severely abused wife to work through. As for Max, he blames himself for an accident in which his father was killed and also ended his hopes for a career as a star basketball player.

And that's just for starters! Max is still bitter over his forced career change from sports star to college professor. He's embarrassed by the cane he now has to use to walk, and the scars he has from his accident. But wait - Caroline has scars too from her abusive marriage and worries what Max might think if he sees her naked.

Caroline never had a family she could rely on, but Max has a loving family he keeps running away from. She can't marry him because legally she's still married to Rob and she would never want to be a bigamist. But is she really just wary of trusting again? Max thinks she doesn't want to marry him because....


There's more where that came from, but this review would blow out to about 300 pages trying to fit it all in. Basically, "Don't Tell" is about 20% thriller and 80% hand-wringing soap opera dramatics. Heck, even Special Agent Steven Thatcher could have been removed from the proceedings entirely and it wouldn't have affected much. There's not much suspense when your main character doesn't even know she's in any danger. There's just lots of padding until - boom! OH MY GOD HE'S FOUND HER! There are far too many characters running around in the book's busy finale, and the cringeworthy moments really build in the final chapters, too.

Karen Rose has gotten much better since this first effort, and her books are usually good enough to be worth slogging through the main characters' anguished backstories. Not so much here. I found myself wishing that Caroline and Max would have heeded the advice of the title "Don't Tell", and spared me all their torturous insecurities.

Friday, November 9, 2012

"Hot Pursuit" by Suzanne Brockmann

When Congresswoman (or rather, assemblywoman) Maria Bonavita starts receiving threats, the Troubleshooters team comes to the rescue. I think it's to teach Maria and her team how to be safe, but I'm not sure. They bring an entire team of Navy SEALS, which I thought was a bit of overkill. They're lead by Alyssa Locke and her husband Sam Starret.

Romance quickly develops between Dan Gillman, one of the SEALS, and Jenn, who is part of Maria's team. Maria herself finds some time to hit on Izzy Zanella. Little do any of them realise, but the threats to Maria are by a psycho who is obsessed with Alyssa, and has used this as a way to lure her to him. I think. Anyway, this psycho just happens to be a serial killer called "The Dentist", who is apparently Alyssa's nemesis.

"Hot Pursuit" is actually book number fifteen in what is known as the Troubleshooters series, and it is basically plotless drivel. The back of the book goes out of its way to describe the novel as being about a former FBI agent going up against a deadly serial killer called The Denist.

That couldn't be further from the truth.

The Dentist plot takes a backseat to the author catching the reader up on what is going on in all of the characters' personal lives. I guess if you've read the previous fourteen books, that would be okay. But publishers, in their neverending quest to cheat readers out of their money (okay, so this one only set me back $5, but still....) try and pretend that you're reading the blurb of a stand-alone thriller. I could still follow what was going on - believe me, this is one of the less complicated books you're ever going to read - but it hardly made me want to go and track down any of the other fourteen books. Especially not if they're as transparently plotted as this.

The identity of The Dentist is completely arbitrary - barely any of the characters outside of the Troubleshooters and their gang get any dialogue, so nobody is built up as a potential suspect. Most of the book is devoted to the developing romance between Dan and Jenn, and it made me slightly ill. She's constantly described as being plain and big-boned - but much prettier if she put some effort in, of course. And of course, Dan is a complete hunk and she just can't believe he wants to be with her and blah, blah, blah. Actually, Dan just wants to get laid. He's a bit of a prat.

The author does have a refreshing attitude towards gay couples, with one gay partnership fairly prominent in the plot, and another secondary character identified as gay. And none of the SEALs, even in that macho sort of environment, could care less. It makes a pleasant difference from the usual representation, which is either totally flamboyant, sexually deviant or as outright perverted murderers. Here they're just normal guys.

But still not enough for me to hotly pursue the fourteen-or-so other titles in the series.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

"The Price" by Alexandra Sokoloff

Will Sullivan is a district attorney in the race to become the next governor of Massachusetts. His political ambitions and his perfect life with wife Joanna and five-year-old daughter Sydney come to a crashing halt when Sydney is diagnosed with a cancerous tumour.

She is treated at Briarwood Medical Centre, where Will soon starts seeing a mysterious man in the endless hospital corridors. He appears to be some sort of counselor, helping those who are dealing with having seriously ill loved ones.

Except some people who are surely at death's door miraculously become better - an AIDS sufferer, a cop with a nasty bullet wound to the chest. And the hospital insists that this counselor - whom Will knows as Salk - does not exist. When Sydney, also at death's door, suddenly has a new clean bill of health, Will suspects something not quite right is going on.

As Joanna's behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre, he fears she must have struck some sort of bargain with Salk to get Sydney better. Is this the case? Or has the stress of his campaign and Sydney's illness sent him a little crazy?

I think "The Price" is what you call a metaphorical horror tale. The question of how far you would go to save a loved one is timeless, but this novel takes a long time to put forward it's relatively simple hypothesis. Instead, imagine 100-odd pages of a guy walking down hospital corridors and seeing something strange and then wondering whether he saw it at all. It got very dull very quickly.

The book also never explains what is really going on at Briarwood Medical Centre. Maybe the author thinks it's spookier if the truth is left up in the air, but most of the book is based on Will seeking answers. Spending an entire novel following a guy trying to find out the truth, only to find out absolutely nothing, is very frustrating. I think it would have been more interesting to explore what prices various characters are willing to pay to save another person. It's a fascinating concept, but this book leaves it mostly unexplored, despite it seemingly to be the point of its bloody existence.

I also felt a disconnect with the character of Joanna, who is the one who seems to have made a bargain with Salk. Since the book is told only through Will's eyes, I never got to understand what was driving Joanna. I only knew that Will loved her and wanted to save her.

I admit I am not a fan of ambiguous horror stories. So I'm likely not the intended audience for this novel. Nevertheless, I was never scared. There was no suspense. I didn't feel any emotional connection to the characters or the situation - Will seems far more concerned with his wife's health than his daughter's. An exploration of the bond between Joanna and Sydney would have made much more sense and given me a stake in the proceedings.

If you like your horror full of symbolism, descriptive prose and half-explored supernatural themes, there might be something for you here. I cottoned on to the central concept early, only to have to wait until the end of the book for it to be confirmed, with far too many unanswered questions along the way. It really wasn't one of the more thrilling books I've read.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Blind Rage" by Terri Persons

FBI Agent Bernadette Saint Clare is convinced that a series of supposed suicides by drowning are actually the work of a serial killer. The victims are all psychologically troubled women. When a woman is found drowned in a tub, Bernadette believes the killer has evolved to take a more active part in his killings. With her boss Tony Garcia, the suspect pool is narrowed down to Professor Finlay Wakefielder, Dr. Luke VonHader and Luke's younger brother Matthew VonHader.

Wakefielder runs a class on Suicide in Poetry, which was attended by some of the victims. Luke is a doctor who treated some of the victims. What could be the connection between them? Which one could be a killer? Bernadette, who also has a psychic ability to allow her to see through the killer's eyes, must find the culprit before another emotionally unstable woman becomes the next victim.

The back of this book claims this is "the most unique thriller you'll read all year". If by unique they mean reading about the world's most incompetent FBI agent who can't even use her psychic ability properly to help her solve a case, then they might be on the money. Otherwise, "Blind Rage" is a completely by-the-numbers effort that would be a lot shorter if the main investigators had two brain cells to rub together.

I loved how Bernadette is told by a student in the same class as one of the victims that she never spoke to the victim, only for Bernadette to then respond: "did she ever indicate to you she was having problems with a boyfriend?" Yep, Bernadette, you're real sharp. When her limited questioning skills fail to result in a suspect confessing all and sundry, she petulantly flat-out accuses them of murder, or in one case, attempting to murder her. Great way not to show all your cards at once, Bernadette. The author should have renamed her Bernadolt.

The red herrings that abound are clumsy and obvious. I wasn't able to pick the killer through any carefully laid clues. I simply picked a person who was never a suspect and just happened to be right. While I do like it when I'm right, since it doesn't happen very often, I think I prefer it in a mystery thriller when I'm proven wrong. That's the nature of a mystery, right?

The actual circumstances of Bernadolt's second sight are flimsy. She can handle an object and then see through the killer's eyes. She can also see dead people. In fact, the dead people she associates with are able to take corporeal form and use computers and move objects. Huh? Later in the novel, any injuries that befall the killer also happen to Bernadolt. Except, conveniently, when the killer is shot. Double huh? The author is unable to maintain any sort of consistency whatsoever with the supernatural angle, which basically renders the whole enterprise as ridiculous and tedious.

I've since found out that Terri Persons - which the book cover heralds as a "new" voice in crime fiction - is actually a pseudonym for Theresa Monsour, who previously published three books featuring Detective Paris Murphy. I read the first one - "Clean Cut", which was utterly routine and I didn't bother with any further entries. By the looks of things, Persons has now vanished off the radar again, since the next entry "Blind Sight" was published in 2009 and there hasn't been anything since. And if she does pop up again with a different name, I probably won't know until it's too late, because I will have already read the thing!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"The Memory Collector" by Meg Gardiner

Forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett, who normally gets involved when a subject is dead, is called upon to unlock the secrets of a live specimen. His name is Ian Kanan and he is suffering from anterograde amnesia, which leaves him unable to form new memories. Basically, every five minutes he forgets everything he's just learnt. He's caused a bit of an incident after trying to disembark from a plane - while it was still in the air.

Things only get more complicated when he manages to escape, leaving Jo and Lt. Amy Tang struggling to keep up with what he might be trying to achieve - since he can't remember himself! As the story progresses, we learn that his son, Seth Kanan, has been kidnapped. We also learn about something called "Slick", an unstable biological agent formed through nanotechnology - and very likely the cause of Ian's incurable amnesia. Even worse, it's contagious, and other people on the same flight as Ian are beginning to suffer similar symptoms.

The only thing about Ian Kanan they know for sure is that he's determined to complete his mission, but they can't decide whether he might be friend or foe, or if innocent lives might be lost in the crossfire.

Before I go further and point out what irked me, let me just say - wow! I re-read my review of "The Dirty Secrets Club", which I still remember disliking, and can't believe that a series could go from quite terrible to absolutely terrific. "The Memory Collector" is a real keeper. While the predecessor synthetically injected action sequences into its standard narrative, this effort was much more reminiscent of the Evan Delaney novels, in which the action was an integral and believable part of the proceedings. This one hardly lets up!

Gardiner does an admirable job of releasing plot information at the right time to both keep an air of mystery about the proceedings whilst not leaving the reader in a state of confusion as to what is going on. It's much easier to enjoy the action sequences when you understand why they are occurring. Towards the end, her bag of tricks begins to empty out, but it's a minor quibble - everything about this novel is designed to keep you on the edge of your seat, eagerly flicking through the pages.

Of course, the whole thing is slightly ludicrous, but it's just so entertaining. I'm sure the anterograde amnesia thing has been done before, but it's delivered so well here. Ian Kanan keeps flicking between unstable bad guy and determined good guy, so you're never sure what's going to happen next. He's a really intriguing, well-drawn character with a genuinely involving character arc. The pacing is dead on and there are some good plot twists.

Any complaints? Of course! I still don't understand how Jo's job differs from anything an every-day detective might do. She's supposed to decipher a person's life - but so do detectives! I don't think I'll ever be fully sold on her profession. Secondly, I really couldn't stand the character of Gabe Quintana, Jo's boyfriend. The same problem with "The Dirty Secrets Club" is evident here. Gabe has absolutely zero personality. He's straight out of romantic suspense central casting. While I don't think this novel would classify as romantic suspense - it's too good - Gabe belongs in some second-grade Lisa Jackson book. Get rid of him!

So, yes, this one stretches credibility, but it's just so flat-out entertaining that I didn't care. I didn't care that Jo's job description is ill-defined. I didn't care that Gabe Quintana is a personality-free bore. I was able to forgive a seemingly never-ending icky sex scene. "The Memory Collector" was well-plotted, provided non-stop action and a fascinating character in a fascinating situation (Ian Kanan). It's one of the best books I've read this year and I'll be checking out the other entries in the series.

"Kill Me If You Can" by James Patterson & Marshall Karp

Matthew Bannon is a struggling artist who finds a way to turn his fortunes around when he stumbles across a bag full of diamonds, likely worth several million dollars. Unfortunately, he has taken them from Walter Zelvas, a member of the Diamond Syndicate, who has just been murdered by top international hitman The Ghost.

By skipping off with the diamonds to start a new life with his girlfriend Katherine Sanborne, Matthew has angered the high ranking members of the Diamond Syndicate, who want him killed and the diamonds returned. Not only do they have The Ghost on his tail, they also hire Marta Krall, a hitwoman, and two crooked detectives.

Matthew must find a way to stay one step ahead of multiple assassins and assorted killers in order to get the diamonds valued and sold to the highest bidder.

I guess I was a little over-confident after enjoying Patterson's "The Beach House", as "Kill Me If You Can" is a predictable, underplotted affair, which I doubt would convince many readers to give Patterson's other works a go. I guess the biggest problem is simply the stupidity of a person taking off with a bag full of diamonds in the first place, especially when you've just witnessed the current owner's vicious assassination. Right from the get-go, I simply wasn't in Matthew Bannon's corner. He deserved the mess he brought down on him. His girlfriend Katherine wasn't developed enough for me to give two shits about her fate.

The plot twist that is delivered half way through the proceedings didn't really help either. I admit I did not see it coming, though I probably should have. I guess if you have low expectations it is easier to be surprised, but I digress. All the twist does is lower the suspense level even further, as it no longer involved the protagonist being out of their depth. Later chapters involving Bannon's mates were particularly cringeworthy.

Speaking of cringeworthy, we have a charming subplot involving Nathaniel Prince, another member of the Diamond Syndicate who is carrying on an incestuous relationship with his daughter Natalia Prince. We get plenty of smarmy, far-too-detailed accounts of their lovemaking. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Actually, the sex scenes between Matthew and Katherine were pretty yucky too, and quite frequent. If this were a movie, it would probably wind up being a soft-core porno flick.

Nevertheless, like any James Patterson offering, it moves quickly from one plot point to the next, leaving little time for the reader to get bored. Plenty of action sequences and plenty of sex. Pity the sex is so gross. I'll likely give Patterson a bit of a break, until I'm once again bored by plucky female forensic investigators, world-weary cops and brave alpha males.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"Beach House" by James Patterson & Peter De Jonge

Jack Mullen is a law student who returns home to Montauk, near East Hampton, only to find that his younger brother Peter has been brutally beaten to death. However, the police - led by Det. Frank Volpi - refuse to see it as anything other than an accidental drowning. Jack, his family, his friends and the wider community are all outraged. When they start their own investigation into the truth, they start getting followed, find themselves out of work and even threatened with death.

Jack is certain that Peter's involvement in the wealthy world of the rich East Hampton folk (albeit as a valet) somehow lead to his death and that their endless wealth is making sure that justice isn't done. Jack himself has links to that world through his girlfriend Dana Neubauer, the daughter of Barry and Campion Neubauer, one of the wealthiest and most powerful couples in society. However, Dana is quite the sweetie-pie she initially appeared to be.

When Jack discovers that Peter had money in his account far more than what you would expect from a valet, his suspicions are outright confirmed. His fight for truth and justice only brings on an even more intense defence from the Neubauers, forcing him and his friends to take drastic action.

Back in 2002, it would seem that James Patterson wasn't writing absolute crap. These days I've come to accept him as a guilty pleasure - his books have zero depth but they move quickly and can be quite enjoyable. I've particularly liked "The Quickie" and "Now You See Her". However, "Beach House" has a more consistent plot than what you'd find in one of Patterson's current thrillers. It doesn't stray into ridiculous sub-plots or scenarios - until the final quarter, I guess. But even the silliness of the concluding chapters can't detract from this being exactly what the book cover describes it as - a summer read involving wealth, betrayal, sex and murder.

Of course, this is commercial, cheesy and manipulative as hell. I wanted to applaud the heroes and boo and hiss at the villians. The characters are all pretty one-dimensional, but what can I say? I like heroes like Jack Mullen who are honest, down-to-Earth and want to see justice done. No whiny heroines or stoic alpha-males, no world-weary cops or cluey forensic investigators. It's something of a worry that a James Patterson novel could be less cliched than most thrillers out there.

It was a fun read. Trashy, but fun. I sometimes think a lot of authors are so intent on being accurate with procedure and science of crime investigation, or legal aspects, that they forget to inject the fun. They're so often just going through the motions. Even if Patterson and his co-authors are delivering a bit of nonsense, at least they're trying to give you a bit of a buzz too. After a glut of procedural-laden by-the-numbers thrillers with exceptionally irritating main characters, "Beach House" was a welcome, if silly, change.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"The Watcher" by Grace Monroe

A serial killer dubbed The Edinburgh Ripper is killing red-haired prostitutes and removing their hands and feet. One victim is found with the message "More Will Die" written on her body in lipstick.

American tourist Thomas Foster is arrested for the crimes, and his obscenely rich father organises Brodie McLennan to be his lawyer. Brodie is certain that Thomas is innocent, but Detective Inspector Duncan Bancho is equally certain of his guilt. The two frequently clash over their opinions.

Little does Brodie know, but somebody is watching her. Since she has red hair herself, it appears she could be a target. And so could her thirteen-year-old half-sister Connie.

I don't know why I'm revealing less here than the plot description on the back of the book. The book happily states that Connie is kidnapped by the killer, but this doesn't actually happen until the 200-page mark, whilst the novel falls short of 400 pages. So, yes, half the book is mostly filler until the "big" event occurs. The book description also mentions Eastern European human traffickers and a "depraved" Internet chat room, but both of those elements are touched upon quite infrequently.

"The Watcher" was a really terrible book. It was badly written. Character actions rarely made sense. Why was everybody always slamming each other up against walls? I particularly disliked the character of Brodie. She was a strident, holier-than-thou pain in the ass. If a serial killer is breaking into your home, leaving you messages, making all sorts of personal contact, you call the police, don't you? Not Brodie. She thinks the police will only make it worse because she doesn't like Duncan. Of course, she's the only one who can handle the situation. That must be why she has a complete breakdown. Ugh. I wanted to reach into the pages of the book and throttle her. I really detested her.

There are a couple of creepy moments, but these are undermined by the ending in which (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) The Watcher is revealed to not really be a killer at all and kidnapped Connie to protect her from the real killer. I'm sure there are better ways to protect a person than breaking the law and making the family members go through hell. Especially since Brodie and her extended family have connections to POWERFUL, SCARY MEMBERS OF THE CRIMINAL UNDERWORLD FOR F***'S SAKE! Maybe a quick anonymous phone call to say "Hey, head's up, but I think Connie could be in danger. Get your criminal underworld mates who love her dearly to keep an extra eye on her, huh?" END OF SPOILER END OF SPOILER END OF SPOILER.

Slow-paced, unlikeable characters and non-sensical plotting. It's not hard to see why this series ended after the next book (this one was the third). Although how even four entries saw the light of day is hard to understand.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"The Playroom" by Gloria Murphy

Victoria Louise is a beautiful woman who has just moved into a house in the town of Bradley. Little does anyone realise is that Victoria is really Rosalie Salino, the former occupant of the house, who used to be a fat, unpopular high school student. Plastic surgery has transformed her into a stunning sexpot, but she's unfortunately just a teensy bit psychotic as well. She still hasn't recovered from the tortures visited upon her during her high school years, and has developed a very special plan of revenge.

She hires Rusty Erlich to do up her house's playroom. Rusty is the one boy Victoria/Rosalie loved, and he wasn't as much of an asshole as the rest of his friends, so she spends a lot of time trying to seduce him, but he only has eyes for Rae Lemkin, another girl from high school he never really knew existed. When she isn't busy coming on to Rusty, Victoria is tracking down the remaining high school folk who bullied her, luring to them house under false pretenses, drugging them and tying them up in a separate room of the house. Once the playroom is finished, Victoria has a major party for everybody planned.

Ahhh, the treasures you can pick up at an Op Shop for 50c! I really enjoyed "The Playroom". It reminded me very much of some lost 80's movie classic rendered obsolete by the advent of DVD. Although marketed as a horror tale, this one is more of a psychological thriller. There's no sex and very limited violence. Rather, it provides a long, tasty build-up to the 'party' that Victoria has planned for everybody. As for Victoria, although she's a complete loony, she's strangely sympathetic. This kept me involved in the story. I also liked Rusty. Sure, he stood back and let the bullying happen as a high school student, but he felt bad about it, and never participated. Thankfully, he never lets his guilt make him a martyr.

"The Playroom" has just enough nastiness to give it an edge without making the proceedings unpleasant. While I did get annoyed with the sudden introduction of a character called Sally late in the novel (why did we spend so much time with her?), it was not enough to take me out of the book. This is a well-crafted suspense tale, and while a thorougly B-grade affair, it's a damn good one. It wasn't until I was doing a little research on the Internet that I found out Gloria Murphy authored the novel "A Whisper In The Attic", about a psychotic child, a book which I read a couple of years ago and really enjoyed as well.

I'll definitely be doing what I can to check out more of her work.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Catch Your Death" by Louise Voss & Mark Edwards

Sixteen years ago, Kate Maddox was a volunteer at the Cold Research Unit, where she met and fell in love with Dr. Stephen Wilson. However, her stay ended when the research centre burnt down and Stephen was killed. She has virtually no memories of her time at the centre, and eventually went to live and study in America.

In the present day, Kate has fled to England with her son Jack to escape from her controlling, overbearing exhusband, Vernon. Unexpectedly, she runs into Stephen's twin brother Paul Wilson, who has a letter from his dead brother that he doesn't understand. Suspecting that something sinister must have happened all that time ago, they team up to uncover the truth.

Unfortunately, Dr. Clive Gaunt from the centre, and his cronies, have kept their eye on Kate all this time and aren't happy she's back in England. He immediately sends out his psychopathic lackey John Sampson to do away with Kate. That proves more difficult than expected because John has lustful feelings towards Kate. Complicating matters is Vernon, who has tracked Kate down to England to get his son back.

I'm not sure what it was about "Catch Your Death" that just didn't work. Maybe it was the badly drawn characters. Maybe it was the simplistic, unexciting conspiracy being uncovered. It certainly moved along at a good pace, but I never found the proceedings particularly enthralling. I was able to put it down for several days at a time and to be truly honest, had to force myself to finish it.

The book's biggest liability is the main character of Kate, unfortunately. She's one of the more stroppy protagonists I've come across in thriller fiction. The authors frequently use the word "wail" to describe the state of her dialogue. She worries constantly about being a bad mother - and for good reason, really, because she is. She goes on and on about keeping Jack away from Vernon, but the book never adequately explains why he's such a monster father. Sure he's an arrogant, unlikeable hothead who controlled Kate's life and cheated on her during their marriage, but he does seem to love his son. Running off to England with him because she's sure she won't gain custody is akin to kidnapping and very selfish. Then, despite having all manner of dangerous people on her tail, dumps Jack in the care of her sister, as she feels he would get bored traipsing around the country with her. Plus, she wants to jump Paul's bones.

Not that taking Jack out of the story is such a bad thing. He's an annoying brat. All the characters remark about what a well-behaved boy he is, but they must have been reading another book. All he did was whinge and be a pain in the ass. I know that's probably what young kids are like in real life, but I sure didn't enjoy reading about his snotty behaviour.

I enjoy a good "deadly virus" conspiracy thriller, but this one fails to deliver. There's no decent motive behind Dr. Gaunt's actions, and the narrative is mostly a routine chase story until a deadly virus is introduced in the later part of the book, and the unexciting truth about Kate's stay at the Cold Research Centre is revealed. I thought to myself: "That's it?" The plot for "Catch Your Death" didn't reach the feverish pitch it needed, and the characters left me cold.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Beyond Fear" by Jaye Ford

Jodie Cramer and her friends Hannah, Louise and Corrine head off to an isolated B & B near Bald Hill for their annual getaway. Jodie is the organiser this time, and isn't too happy when the weekend starts off with a near car-crash, stranding them on the road at night. The incident also seems to trigger memories of an attack she suffered as a teenager, in which her friend was raped and murdered by three men, and Jodie herself stabbed six times whilst escaping.

With the help of haunted ex-cop Matt Wisemore, the women eventually make it to the cabin, but Jodie is now totally paranoid. She thinks two men who stop past the cabin are there for nefarious purposes. She sees two flashlights roaming the grounds at night. She hears a car make two laps of the cabin around 3am. When she airs her fears to her friends, they believe she is overreacting and heading towards a breakdown.

But they should have listened! When Kane and Travis Anderson stop by for a seemingly innocent visit, events quickly spiral out of control and the four women - plus Matt - must try and survive a night of violence.

Think light torture-porn meets your typical romantic suspense novel and you get some idea of the uncomfortable melding of genres that is "Beyond Fear". Matt is straight out of central casting, an alpha male haunted by his inability to save innocent lives during a hostage situation, and wary of getting involved in anything that might require innocent people to depend on him. Jodie is a too-stupid-to-live heroine haunted by a long-ago attack after which she vows she would never leave people behind again. They carry on and on about their respective issues to the point of martyrdom. Jodie in particular is so focused on saving her friends that she probably does them a disservice. She states at one point that she can't leave them behind because she could never live with herself if she did. So, really, it's all about her.


One of the women does eventually manage to ecape and run away. And she calls the cops. An act that you would expect any rational person to do. Except stubborn, selfish Jodie, apparently. No, she can't leave people behind, she can't live with the possible consequences of that decision. Well, boo hoo. How about making the decision that would best serve everybody? Ugh, it really made my blood boil.


Light torture-porn is probably being a bit harsh, but the women do get knocked around a fair bit. The novel also holds the threat of rape over the reader as a rather heavy-handed way of creating suspense. And, to be fair, there are some suspenseful scenarios, but not enough of them. The novel danced around the various possibilities of taking the violence further, but always backed away. It's hard to say whether this is a good thing: the book could have done with being grittier, but then it might not be so enjoyable. I think the author might have taken the less difficult route. In the hands of Karin Slaughter, for example, I imagine things would have gotten very rough.

Jodie's unfortunate unlikeability meant that my sympathy eventually lay with Corrine, Hannah and Louise, so I was fearful for their safety, and this was the source of much of the suspense. There wasn't as much guarantee they would necessarily make it to the end in one piece. However, their characters are pretty much abandoned in the final act so we can watch Jodie and Matt develop feelings for one another whilst playing Rambo.

The other element that really irked me was that if Jodie was so paranoid about safety and not being placed in vulnerable situations, what on Earth was she doing organising a getaway in an isolated cabin? She mentions she didn't think it would be that isolated when looking at the cabin's website, but why risk something even slightly isolated in the first place? Why not a nice luxury resort with lots of people around? I know there wouldn't have been a book if they went to the Hilton, but Jodie really lays the safety lessons on thick. Even though I knew (because I was the reader) that Jodie was right to be worried, I was just as annoyed at her as her friends were.

I appreciated what "Beyond Fear" was trying to do. The set-up was suspenseful, but the execution didn't pull it off. Instead of a tense, unsettling home-invasion thriller, I got a tentative mix between gritty thriller and romantic suspense novel. It didn't quite gel.

"Covet" by Tara Moss

Makedde Vanderwall is studying to become a forensic psychologist, but supports herself through work as a model. She has to return to Australia for the trial of Ed Brown, the sadistic serial killer who nearly made her his final victim. This also brings her into proximity with Andy Flynn, the detective she became involved with during Ed Brown's killing spree.

Before the trial can even go ahead, Ed Brown unexpectedly changes his plea to guilty. Everybody believes this means they can put the past behind them. Little do they know, Ed has seduced Suzie Harpin, a guard at the facility he was being kept. Together they have arranged his escape during an organised visit to a crime scene in which he claims one of his victims can be found. His escape severely injures several police officers.

After learning of Ed Brown's escape, Makedde decides to take off to Hong Kong for a modelling assignment. Suzie, who has murdered her own brother so that she and Ed can live together in her brother's house, isn't too happy when Ed insists on dragging her along to Hong Kong so that he can finally finish what he started with Makedde.

"Covet" is a direct sequel to "Fetish", which I have read. It was a generic but readable serial killer thriller, if not particularly memorable. The follow-up "Split" was a much more accomplished and suspenseful novel, despite the familiar plot-line. Unfortunately, any promise in her previous novels is absent for this plodding, so-called thriller. The narrative holds zero surprises, and the proceedings have absolutely no suspense. Ed Brown's escape, supposedly the driving force behind this sequel, doesn't even happen until about half-way through the book. Up until that point, it's mostly taken up with some tawdry sex scenes, emotional soap-opera style ups-and-downs regarding Makkede and Andy's relationship, and Ed Brown repeatedly saying to himself I'm coming for you Makkede, like something out of a really bad Lisa Jackson novel. After the fifth chapter in which he says this, I'd had more than enough.

It really only got worse from there. The remainder of the book is just in a holding pattern until a rushed climax. Ed Brown continues to promise Makkede he's coming for her. Makkede keeps reassuring herself that everything is fine and Ed Brown isn't in Hong Kong. Realistically speaking, if she wants to hide from a sadistic serial killer who's obsessed with her, taking a high-profile modelling job in Hong Kong isn't the best way to go about it.

Strangely enough, although Makkede is deeply traumatised by her previous experiences at the mercy of Ed Brown, there is nary a mention of the turmoil she experienced in "Split". Actually, there's one reference, but Makkede shuts the enquirer down with the explanation that it's a no-go zone. Why is it a  no-go zone? Is being at the mercy of a killer who hunts women for sport somehow less traumatic than a killer who cuts off toes? Or more?

I actually really wanted to like "Covet" not only based on the fact that the previous books demonstrated an author who was only getting better, but also because if you see Tara Moss on television you'll see an extremely attractive (she was a model herself) and intelligent person. I guess I expected more than a one-note plotline with soapy overtones and zero - and I do mean zero - plot twists.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Skin And Bone" by Kathryn Fox

Detective Kate Farrer has just returned to work after suffering a traumatic experience in her previous case. It's not long before she's called to a crime scene with new partner Detective Oliver Parke, in which the burnt body of a woman has been discovered in a house fire. Investigations soon reveal that she was killed before being burnt, likely through a blow to the head.

Even more work gets thrown on her plate when her boss asks the duo to investigate the apparent disappearance of Candice Penfold. Her parents Robert and Janine are fairly certain that her former school coach Mark Dobbie might have something to do with it, as he was apparently obsessed with Candice's prettier, smarter older sister Lesley. When Candice's car is discovered with blood in the backseat, things are not looking good.

The more Kate and Oliver investigate, the more links they uncover between the two cases, as Kate struggles to come to terms with her past horrors.

I wish there had been a little more detail as to what horrors Kate experienced when she was kidnapped by a killer, presumably in the previous book. The book makes various references to it here and there, but I guess doesn't want to ruin the end of the previous book for those who haven't read it, and therefore remains frustratingly vague about the torment Kate suffered. Since Kate is such an insolent, immature and narky pain-in-the-ass for much of the novel, a bit more detail about her trauma would have gone a long way towards me being more tolerable of her tiresome attitude and behaviour.

Although "Skin And Bone" is an efficiently plotted and decently written thriller, there is absolutely nothing here to elevate it above your standard police procedural. The attempts to build mystery around the character of Oliver - is he a good guy or a bad guy - are pretty feeble and see-through. And since Kate doesn't think highly of anybody - seriously, she doesn't have a positive thing to say about anything - her opinion of Oliver doesn't exactly count for much. He could feed a thousand people with a small piece of bread and she would likely just roll her eyes and call him a show-off.

Another irritating element, though minor, was Kate's continual pining for Bobby, apparently a boyfriend of hers who died ten years ago. I know we need characters to come with a little baggage, but Kate's inability to get past the loss of her teenage love suggests a woman who, well, refuses to grow up. Which is more than evident in the immature manner she constantly displays to everybody.

Like I said, this is a police procedural through and through. It's not the worst of its kind - far from it - but as it stands is so generic that in two months I'll likely forget I even read it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Maelstrom" by Michael MacConnell

Special Agent Sarah Reilly is involved in an operation to capture a serial killer targeting prostitutes. Just as she is about to land her man, mysterious figures swoop in and nab the killer for themselves, spiriting him away and later killing him.

Before she can investigate these vigilantes, Sarah and her partner Special Agent Drew Dyson are called to the scene of the latest homicide of a serial killer dubbed The Lakeshore Killer. Both agents and police chief Seth Adams are convinced there is something not quite right about the scene.

With the help of Sarah's father Harry Reilly, they deduce that it is actually the work of a copycat. As it happens, Harry - who is a highly regarded former FBI agent after capturing a vicious serial killer - believes that this copycat has been operating undetected for decades, using the modus operandi of other serial killers to hide his own crimes.

Eventually, their hunt for this killer becomes personal, and their case inevitably collides with that of the mysterious vigilante team that has been murdering serial killers.

While you can't deny that "Maelstrom" moves quickly, it doesn't move quickly enough that you can't overlook how utterly ridiculous all of it is. It begins as a fairly typical, cliched and unoriginal serial killer thriller before steadily becoming more and more ludicrous as it races towards its finale. I certainly wasn't expecting a showdown involving vigilante Afghanistan war veterans versus a serial killer who suddenly had numerous mafioso enforcers acting as sentries, but that's what I got here.

While I'm pleased that the book wasn't dull, my willing suspension of disbelief can only go so far. "Maelstrom" doesn't ask you to just suspend disbelief. It asks you to snap it in two and throw it right out the window. I found it difficult to get into a story that was so far-fetched, which detracted from otherwise efficiently written action sequences. Eventually I felt like I was reading a novelisation of a bad "A Team" episode, or a bad 90s direct-to-video action potboiler.

Characters are perfunctory for this sort of thriller, though none are inherently dislikeable. The main serial killer - dubbed the Violet-Eyed Man - could learn the art of "Shut The F*** Up", that's for sure. He's also not the most consistent character to be found here - for a guy who has operated under the radar for decades, he certainly doesn't seem to mind suddenly announcing his presence to all and sundry and enlisting the aid of the mafia (!) to achieve his goals.

Yes, "Maelstrom" moves quickly and has plenty of action. It would make a hell of a film (or a bad "A Team" episode, I guess, depending on the director). Just don't expect a shred of believability.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"Frantic" by Katherine Howell

Sophie Phillips is a paramedic whose world is thrown into turmoil after her husband Chris is shot in the head and her infant son Lachlan kidnapped. Found at the crime scene is a note instructing someone to keep their mouth shut. Luckily, Chris survives the attack.

Detectives Ella Marconi and Dennis Orchard think that Chris might be the one who made an anonymous tip to the media over corrupt police officers being behind a series of violent bank robberies, and that the kidnapping and warning are related to this.

Despite the note, dim bulb Sophie believes the shooting and kidnapping are related to her. She thinks it is the work of Boyd Sawyer, who blames her for the death of his wife and newborn baby, as her paramedic skills were unable to save them. Sophie also pretends to be a police officer and goes door to door, checking out any occupants with an infant. She is soon relying on help from Chris' partner Angus Arendson, a man she had a one night stand with. Her desperation to find Lachlan takes her down a path of dark moral ambiguity.

How long should a novel take to set up its story? Or at the very least draw you into the story? I can tolerate about 30 to 50 pages of exposition before I begin to get slightly annoyed. "Frantic" takes over 90 pages to get to its precipitating event of Chris being shot and Lachlan kidnapped. I know this is a precipitating event as both the book's tagline and blurb refer to it. Why is it taking me 90 pages to get to it? It's fine to spend time detailing how Boyd Sawyer lost his wife and child, as it features heavily later (if only to set up the requisite red herring), but Katherine Howell - who used to be a paramedic herself - seems to want to demonstrate she knows her stuff.

All well and good, but I started getting bored. I was waiting for Chris to get shot and Lachlan kidnapped. The events that were supposed to kickstart the novel. Instead, I was getting a lot of filler about paramedics.

Next we have Sophie hysterically accusing every parent she comes across of stealing her baby. She goes from door to door, checking to see if the occupants have an infant. I understand that the author wanted to show that Sophie was desperate and frantic, and didn't want to sit around on her ass, but it was a bad way of doing it. Firstly, is a crime novel really going to resolve itself by having the heroine miraculously stumble across her stolen baby at a random house with random characters? Would any crime novel reader really want a book to end in such an anti-climactic manner? Her wild door-knock appeal only made her look foolish.

No. The trick here would have been to de-emphasize Ella Marconi's presence and find a way for Sophie to uncover vital clues on her own. Hell, even Ella admits that the case is only solved because she and Dennis happen to stumble across Sophie and Chris after they have figured it out for themselves. It would have made Sophie appear smarter and possibly upped the tension, with Sophie getting in over her head.

Don't even get me started on the actions taken by Sophie later on in the novel. Actually, I don't have to, as that would spoil the novel. Suffice to say, it makes her look even more stupid.

Her husband Chris is a petulant pain in the ass. He behaves like a four-year-old child at every opportunity. He blames everybody else for his depression without even attempting to explain to anybody why he is depressed. He had a real "me me me" attitude that was utterly infuriating. A conversation late in the novel where he blames his mother for driving his father away when he was four years old really sealed the deal. He's been hanging on to that since he was four? Time to get over it, pal.

Basically, I severely disliked Sophie and Chris. I felt they deserved what happened to them and that they deserved each other. I felt sorry for Lachlan, since he'd be raised by two self-absorbed morons for parents. He was probably better off in the hands of his kidnappers. Yes, it's a horrible thing to say, but I'm hoping we live in a world where children like Lachlan are removed from the likes of Chris and Sophie by Child Protections Services.

I usually like to read more than one book by an author, just to be fair, so I had a look at Fantastic Fiction (a great website, which can be found at to get a brief plot description of Howell's subsequent books. They all feature Ella Marconi (she was a little dull, but not unlikeable), but they also all feature a female paramedic as the secondary character. EVERY ONE OF THEM. That prospect was a little more than I could bear, so unless I find a cheap second-hand copy, or a library copy, of the other titles, I'll be sitting future entries out.

"Killer Move" by Michael Marshall

Bill Moore is a real estate agent with perhaps more ambition than brains, and is currently trying to convince the owner of a block of expensive condos - Tony Thompson - to spend a little money on upkeep and improvement. He aims to one day own his own real estate agency. Life is pretty good for him, with a beautiful wife and expensive home - until he finds a card left on his work desk with just the word "modified" on it.

Other mysterious events start to occur. Items he never ordered on the Internet start arriving. Photos he never took appear on his laptop. E-mails he never sent start appearing in other peoples' Inboxes.

Meanwhile, a man by the name of John Hunter has just been released from prison and appears intent on getting revenge on the people who put him there. He shoots and kidnaps a man so that he can torture the names of the people he wants out of him. What is the connection between Bill's current situation and the parolee bent on revenge? Eventually, the two plot strands connect....

"Killer Move" is a huge, huge, HUGE improvement over Marshall's previous novel "Bad Things", which I thought was one of the worst books I have read. Marshall has thankfully dropped the supernatural, mildly sci-fi elements of "Bad Things" and "The Intruders", and returned to the conspiracy-based themes that permeated his Straw Men trilogy. He does an excellent job of releasing pertinent information at the right time to let the reader know how the two plot strands are connecting. Small snippets you read about earlier gain significance later on. And he doesn't try to draw out the revelations. He's able to drop clues here and there to help connect the dots without leaving the reader completely in the wild, but also without giving the entire game away. After a slow start (the first 30 pages or so aren't exactly thrilling as Marshall goes into WAY too much detail about real estate), this one really kicks into gear and keeps you furiously flicking the pages.

Ultimately, I think Marshall bit off more than he could chew. As the novel progresses, it begins to get a little messy. References to the Straw Men are thrown in at the last minute in an attempt to wrap up all the different storylines. It was a cheap tactic, as this is not a Straw Men novel. Even though I devoured the novel pretty much in one sitting, hindsight has uncovered more than a few plot holes. I can't really get into them here without spoiling everything. So this is the point where I do this:


Cassandra, who had been presumed murdered but is actually very much alive, is revealed to have been behind much of the mayhem, as she was recruited to "clean up" the mess generated by the "Modified" game, and keep an eye on David Warner's serial killing activities. But if she was supposed to terminate the "Modified" game and clean up loose ends, what is she doing killing a person and writing "Modified" on a bedroom door with their blood??? Then faking her own death???


"Killer Move" is definitely worth a read. It reels you in and keeps you hooked with nicely timed revelations and plot twists. Marshall may not have figured out a good way to tie everything together, but he certainly gave it a good shot. Those driven away by the truly terrible "Bad Things" should give this one a shot. It may not match the suspense of his Straw Men trilogy, but it's the closest he's come so far. While the references to the Straw Men found here are gratuitous, it gives hope he might re-visit those themes in future novels.

"In The Blood" by Jack Kerley

Det. Carson Ryder and his partner Det. Harry Nautilus have two different cases that they must investigate. One involves the discovery of the body of ultra-conservative preacher Reverend Richard Scaler. It looks like he died during some sort of S & M sex session. The other case is that of an abandoned baby discovered in a boat. When the baby is nearly kidnapped from the hospital and killed, the detectives realise that there are more people out there who might want this baby dead. They must find out what it is about Noelle (the name they give the baby) that has ignited such murderous passion, how she links to the case of the dead Reverend, and how this all fits in with the activities of modern-day white supremacists.

I have yet to be truly disappointed by a Jack Kerley novel, and "In The Blood" continues his tradition of well-plotted, suspenseful thrillers. This novel confirms that it is not so hard to combine seemingly disparate storylines into a cohesive whole. Everything presented here happens for a reason. There are no peripheral characters around to boost the word count. I worry that these would seem like spoilers, but I don't think they are. Isn't it good to know that several storylines are all somehow related? That little nugget of information could have helped me out with all the novels I've read in which multiple storylines have nothing whatsoever to do with each other.

It would have been better if events capped off with something truly exciting. Here, a lot of the concluding chapters are devoted to explaining just how all the events are related. So my only true complaint would be that the novel didn't quite deliver the action and tension evident in other Kerley novels. The previous novel "Blood Brother", for example, had me practically leaving burn marks on the pages, as both the action and the plot twists were really exciting. On a side note - what happened to Alice Fogler from the previous novel, who was suggested as a possible love interest for Carson? No mention is made of her. In fact, other than one brief reference to Carson's brother Jeremy, it's hard to even identify this novel as part of an on-going series. On the plus side, it means readers unfamiliar with Kerley's novels will be able to get into this one without getting lost.

"In The Blood" moves along quickly, expertly draws together multiple plot strands, and paints a scary picture of the racism that still exists in our society. Fans of Kerley will be happy, and new readers will discover a talented author and get to track down his previous efforts.

Friday, September 7, 2012

"First You Run" by Roxanne St. Claire

Adrien Fletcher works for some sort of bodyguard company, and his latest mission is to track down the baby given up for adoption - through a black market adoption ring, no less - by Eileen Stafford, who is in prison for murder. And dying of cancer. And most likely innocent of the crime. The next woman on his list is Dr. Miranda Lang, who has just published a book refuting the claims of the Mayan calendar that the world will end in 2012. The way he can be certain that he has the right woman is that the baby was marked with a tattoo. Lucky for him, this would typically involve him getting the woman naked - and into bed. He figures he can do this with Miranda - but this being a romantic suspense novel, his feelings soon get in the way.

Miranda appears to be at threat from a lunatic fringe group that don't want her spouting her theories about the world not ending in 2012. They are going to extreme lengths to get this message across. Therefore, Adrien must not only find out if Miranda is the daughter of Eileen Stafford, he must also keep her safe from harm and help her find out who is sabotaging her book tour.

"First You Run" is a fairly standard romantic suspense novel, but quickly paced with a plot that makes for a nice change from the usual cop-hunting-a-killer-and-falling-for-damsel-in-distress scenario. The Mayan calendar angle was interesting and well-researched. Miranda Lang isn't a passive screamer or snotty princess. She's smart, capable and grounded. That helped keep me in her corner. Adrien Fletcher isn't too bad as far as alpha males go. However, as well-researched as the rest of the novel is, I can't help but feel that the author simply re-watched "Crocodile Dundee" in her effort to create Adrien, who is Australian. Think of the broadest Australian male cliches possible, and you'll find them here. He calls women "sheila". I don't think Alf on "Home And Away" even does that anymore. There are token references to Aboriginal tribes and bunyips. I didn't actually bother me too much. I found it more funny than anything. I'm sure most Australian readers will find it all quite amusing.

Not so amusing is the author's ploy to have us purchase the next two installments in the trilogy. The mystery behind who framed Eileen Stafford is not resolved here. I prefer trilogies that hang together with distinct stories for each part that can be read individually with nothing being lost. Karen Rose often does it. It's not fair that I have to hunt down subsequent entries for a resolution to one of this book's plot strands. Roxanne St. Claire has demonstrated here that she can deliver a diverting tale with occasional edginess and good plot twists. That's enough for me to give further books a chance. I don't like these Lisa Jackson-style tricks; they're not necessary for me to come back for more.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"Last To Die" by Tess Gerritsen

Three teenagers - Claire, Will and Teddy - are all survivors of massacres that killed their entire families. When their foster families are then slaughtered, yet they survive again, it is obvious something sinister is up. That is what Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles believe, but they have to investigate on their own time, as the head detective on the case - Detective Darren Crowe - is insistent on following a different lead that is closer to home.

The three orphans are now at Evensong, a special learning institute for children whose lives have been affected by serious crime. It is run by Anthony Sansone and Lily Saul, who were introduced in Gerritsen's previous novel "The Mephisto Club". It is also now the base for Julian "Rat" Perkins, who was introduced in "The Killing Place", and is now an important part of Maura's life after surviving the near-fatal events of that book. Jane and her partner Det. Barry Frost track down leads to try and determine whether the person who is after the three orphans is trying to get into Evensong - or might already be there.

I always look forward to the next Tess Gerritsen novel. You are always guaranteed a fast-paced, entertaining read, and this is no expection. However, it is not quite up to the standard of her usual work. The plot is interesting, but we simply spend too much time with Claire, Will, Teddy and even Julian, and their high school club "The Jackals". We also learn a lot of background about peripheral Jackal member characters who have little bearing on the plot. Jane jokes that "The Jackals" is basically CSI High School and that's unfortunately not far off the mark. When you have several teenagers running around with their trusty dog Bear, the proceedings start to feel suspiciously like Enid Blyton's The Secret Seven. The novel started to take on a distinctly juvenile tone and basically lacked the edge that typifies your usual Tess Gerritsen novel.

My mum finished the book around the same time I did and suggested that Gerritsen is ready to develop her own young adult fiction series centred around The Jackals. Kathy Reichs and Harlan Coben have both started their own series of young adult books, so this possibility seems frighteningly likely. It's a pity their introduction had to take up so much space here.

Another irksome element is the inclusion of a lot of family drama. Jane's father has decided he wants to get the family back together - right when Vince Korsak has asked Jane's mother to marry him. Jane's mother is torn over her decision, as family is so important to her. I appreciate that the family drama does carry over from one book to another - the strand isn't conveniently dropped by the time the next book rolls around - but it just feels so out of place. When you're dragged out of an intriguing mystery to spend an entire chapter centred around this family drama, all you really want is to get back to the action. I'm not at all bothered by the inclusion of the family drama in the TV show "Rizzoli & Isles" as it is a character-driven show with a lot more output (15 episodes a year, usually), so it can afford to put time aside to explore the relationships in depth. With the novel, I'm more interested in the mystery/conspiracy at hand. But that's just me.

It was good to see so many characters from previous novels pop up here. In particular, it made me want to go back and read "The Mephisto Club"! Darren Crowe is a good antagonistic character, and more should be done with him. It was also nice to have Detective Thomas Moore show up in a few chapters. He was the main protagonist in "The Surgeon", the very first novel in the series. And despite my concern about the focus on The Jackals, I quite liked the character of Julian Perkins. Always good to have a teen character around who isn't bratty and annoying.

If anything, perhaps it was my high expectations that let me down. "Last To Die" is a lot better than most stuff out there, with a well-developed mystery and some solid twists delivered in the conclusion. But it is definitely not up to par with Gerritsen's usual output, and I will be most annoyed if my mum is proven right and a teen novel centred around The Jackals does show up on bookshelves in the near future. Though I would probably still check it out!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"The Lake" by Richard Laymon

Deana West is out on a date with her boyfriend when they are attacked and chased by a demented man in a chef's hat. The attack results in the death of Deana's boyfriend. When police sergeant Mace Harrison and his police partner Mattie get involved, they are able to identify the attacker as Nelson, a chef who works at the restaurant owned by Deana's mother Leigh.

The story then shifts eighteen years into the past when Leigh was eighteen years old and shipped off to stay with her aunt and uncle because of her troublesome behaviour. At a lakeside home, she soon meets shy Charlie Payne, who seems reluctant to get involved with Leigh because of his crazy mother. However, it isn't long before they give in to their teenage lust. However, things end tragically....and we learn how Leigh got pregnant with Deana.

It would appear that psychotic Nelson is the least of Deana and Leigh's worries. There is another psycho out there, one who remembers what happened between Leigh and Charlie all those years ago. Somebody who is determined to make them pay.

The identity of this person is pretty easy to figure out, and I'm not sure if it was supposed to be a surprise. I sure hope it wasn't meant to be a surprise. I grabbed "The Lake" because I am a fan of Richard Laymon's work. He has a terrific writing style that plays out like a perfect exploitation/grindhouse 70s or 80s horror movie. You can see events happening as he describes them. He has a knack for creating creepy and scary scenarios that would be perfect for the big screen. However, his novels are usually so whacked-out, violent and nasty it would take a brave movie studio to actually adapt his work.

I was after something a mindless, nasty and fun. I was a bit over all the "safe" and "predictable" crime novels/romantic suspense novels I was reading, and ready for something a more edgy, which is what Laymon usually provides. "The Lake" does have Laymon's typical smattering of over-the-top gore, but it was in a book that simply did not hold together from chapter to chapter. Now, Laymon died in 2001 (a great loss to the horror-writing community), and this book was published in 2004. Perhaps the publishing company put out an unfinished manuscript without bothering to hire an editor to see if the story was actually fit to be published. It's the only explanation I can think of to justify the release of such a disjointed, badly plotted novel.

There are two twisted psychos at play here. On the one hand I can't really complain, as plenty of crime authors pull that trick (hey, James Patterson!). On the other hand, Laymon has typically been above that sort of ploy. Check out "Among The Missing". It could rival any typical crime novel. His previous works have always been so carefully plotted. What was the rationale behind the "creatures" who attacked Nelson under the bridge? They're mentioned in one chapter and never heard from again. What was the point of the "Mommy Dearest" character that Deana keeps encountering, and her strange retirement home? It ultimately has zero relevance to the main plot. Why did the suggestion of one character's psychic powers suddenly become fact right when needed? For about 90% of the book, there is no indication that the plot is operating in some sort of supernatural realm! I would accuse the writer of being lazy, but there's no way to tell if Laymon actually considered this manuscript fit for publication!

I won't get into the ridiculous character moves or the author's obsession with womens' breasts and nipples. They've been a factor in all his novels, even the really good ones. Although some of the significantly stupid character moves here will make your jaw drop. There is also lots and lots of sex, perhaps more than usual. Laymon has never shied away from being smutty, but it began to bore here.

On a positive note, and a surprising one, there is no rape to be found here. Sure, the female characters suffer all sorts of abuse and violence, but not rape. I have always been a bit uncomfortable with Laymon's exploitative approach to rape, but I usually enjoy his novels so much that I usually get past it. It's a real pity that one of the few times he doesn't resort to it is in such a below-par novel.

"The Lake" is terrible, perhaps one of the worst I've read. But I won't hold it against the author, as he isn't alive to defend, justify or explain it. It does have its moments, but they are few and far between. There are still other Laymon novels out there I haven't read yet, and this bomb is hardly likely to make me give up on him. He truly is one of the best horror writers you're likely to find.