Claire O'Brien is a private investigator still haunted by the fact her father Tom O'Brien murdered her mother and her mother's lover, plus the fact her evidence helped put him away. An earthquake has allowed Tom to escape from prison, and he is determined to prove to his daughter that he is innocent. He believes that he is the victim of a significant frame-up. Unfortunately, the only person with the evidence to take it further - Oliver Maddox - has just been found dead. However, the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death are enough to make Claire look into his story more closely. She begins to doubt her certainty that Tom was guilty of the murders.
FBI Agent Mitch Bianchi has worked his way into Claire's life by pretending to be a writer. He wants to track down Tom O'Brien. Tom has helped Mitch capture other escapees who absconded during that prison break, so he also suspects that Tom might be innocent of the crime that landed him with the death penalty. Mitch has genuine feelings for Claire, but understandably worries that could all be blown away should she discover that he has been lying to her. Meanwhile, the assassin who really did murder Claire's mother (and her lover) has an obsession for Claire that has lasted for over a decade, and he's finally ready to let his true feelings be known. Can Claire and Mitch's relationship survive his dishonesty, the uncovering of a major conspiracy and the fact an assassin can't decide whether he wants to bang her or kill her?
"Playing Dead" is actually quite a decent romantic suspense thriller. The conspiracy is really well-handled. I hate it when an author tries to keep too much hidden for too long. Here, bits and pieces are revealed at a steady rate, ensuring that you remain involved in the mystery being uncovered. The reader also only discovers facts when the main characters themselves do. We don't have to follow around a detective while they decipher clues that have already been uncovered several chapters earlier. Here, we find stuff out at the same time as Claire and Mitch. It helped keep me in their corner. Plot-wise, Brennan is really in control and there's not anything I can fault.
This being romantic suspense, however, there are aspects that irked me. Mitch's pretense at being a writer is the crux of the "barrier" between him and Claire finding everlasting love, which I understand. But his behaviour really is appalling. He doesn't think twice about hopping onto her computer and checking her e-mails after she has left the house. This is a major no-no in ANY relationship, romantic or otherwise. He's not the least bit concerned about it - he's only worried that she'll be upset he lied about being a writer. He's never even taken to task for this particular breach of trust. Finally, his soppy, overly melodramatic "don't die on me, Claire!" theatrics during the finale really took me out of the book. It detracted from what was actually quite a nasty, hard-edged final confrontation.
Yes, there's a lot of repetition here, as is common for the romantic suspense genre. Claire is constantly going on about how her life has been turned upside down by her mother's murder, her father's arrest and now his possible innocence. Mitch constantly agonises over his "necessary" betrayal of Claire. But I've come to accept this as a necessary evil in the genre, and was able to focus on the many positive aspects of the novel. I was not too impressed by "Killing Fear", the first book in this trilogy, but "Playing Dead" was an accomplished, involving romantic thriller.