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.

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