Sunday, May 12, 2013

"The Wild Zone" by Joy Fielding

Will and Jeff are half-brothers who have recently gotten back in touch with each other, and the relationship between them is uneasy at best. They are at the bar The Wild Zone with their friend Tom when they see a lone woman drinking at a table. They make a bet as to which one can chat her up and take her home. This is despite the fact that Jeff is in a relationship with Wild Zone bartender Kristin and Tom is married - albeit unhappily - to Elaine. The woman - Suzy - winds up picking Will, much to shock and anger of both Jeff and Tom. They don't go home together, but none of the men can get Suzy off their minds.

Jeff and Kristin have an open relationship, but Jeff's fascination with Suzy starts to come between them. Will has feelings for Suzy, but likes Kristin a lot and doesn't appreciate the way Jeff treats her. Tom's marriage with Elaine begins to fracture and he slowly loses his grip on reality. As for Suzy, she is married to a controlling, abusive husband, and having three guys so interested in her is not making life with her husband any easier. Their lives are destined to collide in unpredictable and violent ways.

As you might be able to tell from the plot description, The Wild Zone is more soap opera than it is a crime novel or thriller. As it is, it falls into that increasingly frequent - and annoying - category of a melodrama with a little bit of random murder thrown in to pass it off as a suspense novel. Admittedly there was some suspense, mainly in waiting to see how badly Tom would psychologically fall apart, but for the most part, this story went nowhere fast. The characters are very well-drawn, however, and that went a considerable way in keeping me involved in the story.

It finishes off with an absurd twist. While you can tell the author didn't simply pull it out of her hat, it didn't make it any easier to swallow. It meant that certain characters would have practically had to have been psychic to know that everybody would do what they did when they did it. Very silly. It did little to justify the slow, measured build-up that came before it.

"The Girl Who Disappeared Twice" by Andrea Kane

Casey Woods runs her own private crime-solving team known as Forensic Instincts. Also on the team is Marc Devereaux, who is both a former FBI behavioural analyst (profiler) and a former Navy SEAL. The third member is Ryan McKay, the tech expert who is also a buff gym junkie. They are contacted by Family Court Judge Hope Willis, whose young daughter Krissy has been kidnapped. Hope wants them on the case because they can apparently cut all the corners that the local police and FBI cannot. However, this doesn't stop a majority of the novel from focusing on the bickering between the various teams over who does what.

As it happens, Hope's twin sister was kidnapped thirty-two years ago and was never recovered. Even more mysteriously, evidence points to Krissy getting into a car just like her mother's car, with a woman who looks just like her mother. Could the two cases be connected? You think? Rather than focusing on the blindingly obvious, the team are sidetracked by babysitter Ashley's affair with Hope's husband, Hope's father's ties to the mob, Hope's resentful ex-bench clerk and the various people who might be angry at Hope based on how she ruled in their case. Everybody must put aside their differences in a race against time to locate Krissy.

From the looks of things, Andrea Kane is a romance writer trying her hand at crime fiction without the romance angle. While I appreciate any author willing to jump out of their comfort zone and try something new, it's hard to get excited when the result is as flat, predictable and boring as this. Are we seriously supposed to be surprised by the identity of the kidnapper? Am I missing something? Was I supposed to be so caught up in the jurisdictional bickering between teams that I never managed to find the time to put two and two together? Because the majority of the novel seems to involve arguments or discussions between Forensic Instincts, the police and the FBI over who goes where and who questions who and so forth. I have no idea if the situation of having so many teams on the same case is portrayed accurately, but it hardly mattered, as it was so freaking dull and repetitive.

This extends to the relationship between Casey and Hutch, one of the FBI profilers. They get snotty with one another whenever they clash over jurisdictional issues. Unfortunately, their characters are so flat it's hard to get involved in their relationship plight to begin with. You'd think a romance writer would have a better handle on creating a believable relationship. However, the flat characterisation extends to pretty much everybody, with the possible exclusion of Hope Willis, who at least comes across as appropriately frazzled but plucky. I often had trouble telling Marc and Ryan apart. They were both hunks and brilliant at their respective skills, and that's about as much as I learnt about them. The other major problem is that we're always told rather than shown. We're frequently told how brilliant Casey, Marc and Ryan are, but it's rarely put into play. An extended sequence where they want to plant surveillance footage in a building (I won't say what kind in case of spoilers) fizzles out because breaking in proves to be really easy because "it's not Fort Knox".

As a minor quibble, the inclusion of psychic Claire just did not work for me. I'm bringing my own personal prejudices to the table, however, as I personally believe psychics are frauds. But there are so many other problems here that it ultimately doesn't matter much. The Girl Who Disappeared Twice is dull and predictable and will likely disappear from memory as soon as you've finished it.