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!