Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Dead Ringer" by Lisa Scottoline

Bennie Rosato heads up the law firm Rosato & Associates, overseeing three younger associates. It looks as if she is facing bankruptcy, as her latest client cannot afford to pay her. But salvation comes in the form of Robert St. Amiel, who wishes to start a class action suit against eye-lens manufacturers in America who are illegally trying to freeze out international competitors. If she can be lead counsel on the matter, the money would roll in.

However, strange things are happening, with Rosato being accused of getting drunk and kicked out of a restaurant, when she only had one drink and left on her own accord. Then she is arrested for stealing diamonds from a jewellery store. She realises this must be the work of her estranged twin sister, Alice Connelly, whom she defended on a murder charge two years earlier. Alice is back and seemingly wants to destroy Bennie's life one aspect at a time.

There's also a murder thrown into the storyline to tag this as a "crime" thriller, but it comes late in the proceedings (the book is more than half-way through), so to divulge any details would possibly be a spoiler.

Suffice to say, Dead Ringer is exceptionally dull. And for a lawyer who runs her own firm, Bennie often comes across as exceptionally dense. She's being questioned over a crime she didn't commit and doesn't seem to have the common-sense to stay quiet? Instead she keeps on digging a deeper hole for herself with her behaviour and answers. I mean - really? I certainly wouldn't want Bennie as my lawyer - I'd probably wind up in jail, guilty or innocent.

Characterisations are so cutesy it makes your teeth hurt, or else they're straight out of central casting. Bennie's best friend Sam is not just gay, he's flamboyantly gay. Her associates aren't just quirky, they're flamboyantly quirky. Mysterious potential love interest David Holland is a stoic, ex-Navy SEAL, who knows just what to do to make a woman melt, and offers bodyguard protection at no cost. Bleccccchhh.

The murder mystery aspect is practically throwaway. A couple of red herrings and then Bennie magically figures out the culprit in the most roundabout, ridiculous way that you can imagine. Who needs detective work? All murder mysteries should be that easy to solve. I still can't figure out why this book needed to be 444 pages long when, really, barely anything actually happened.

Having several subplots floating along with each other with no real depth might be okay if this were a television series - and the hackneyed characterisations certainly suggest these folks would make good TV fodder - but not in book form, and not when there is no suggestion that the plots in this book would even carry over into the next.

Dead Ringer is crime fiction-lite, and not one I would recommend.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"Killing Cupid" by Louise Voss & Mark Edwards

Siobhan McGowan has had one novel published, but not much success since, and is now running a writing class. One of her students is Alex Parkinson, and it doesn't take long for him to fall desperately in love with her. Unfortunately, it's a one-sided love and Alex begins stalking Siobhan. His obsession is so overwhelming that it results in the death of another member of the writing class, a woman named Kathy, who had the beginnings of a close friendship with Siobhan, one that Alex was quite jealous of. But just how much did Alex really have to do with the death?

I've read some truly terrible psychological thrillers, such as "Hanging Hill" by Mo Hayder and "Bloodprint" by Kitty Sewell, and some underwhelming ones like "The Executor" by Jesse Kellerman. So it was great to read a psychological thriller done right, as it is in "Killing Cupid". I hadn't been too impressed with these authors' other book "Catch Your Death", so I was very pleased that I really enjoyed this one. Once again, it just goes to show that you shouldn't write off an author based on one misfire.

The strong point here is the characterisation. The book is told exclusively through the point of view of Siobhan and Alex as they write in their journals. While I've never understood how people could remember entire conversations word-for-word to put in their journal, it was something I was able to gloss over because Siobhan and Alex came across as real people. People I could actually meet in real life. And even when they were doing outrageous things, I still liked them.

I really must emphasise how well-drawn the characters are. They are so clearly defined that you understand and believe their actions. This is particularly important in the second half of the book when the fortunes of the characters begin to change and Siobhan's behaviour descends into stalker-like territory of her own. Since she seems like a real person with real feelings and insecurities, her actions make sense.

And perhaps that's one of the books failings - it works so well as a character study that it never quite ratchets up the tension you would expect in a really good thriller. Don't get me wrong - I would highly recommend this as a psychological thriller that's done right - but there's just not a sense that things will go terribly wrong, especially after Siobhan's behaviour goes more-and-more off the rails. The idea that Kathy's death may or may not have been a murder isn't explored enough to have much impact, and therefore there's not a feeling that any of the main characters are in potential danger.

It's hard to explain why the book works so well despite the lack of genuine suspense. I liken it to "Eyes" by Felice Picano - the events are extremely fascinating, but not as exciting as they could or should be. The appeal here is getting inside the heads of two interesting characters and understanding their actions, even when those actions go against what is acceptable in society. The fact they both remain likeable is a real testament to the skill of the authors. After all, there are a lot of books out there where I've truly detested the hero or heroine.

If you enjoy a good psychological thriller, "Killing Cupid" should be right up your alley. There's no random murder thrown in like most in this genre to pass it off as a psychological thriller. Rather, the crime elements (or even lack thereof) arise naturally out of the characters and the proceedings. I've already downloaded "Forward Slash" (love the title) onto my Kindle to see what else these authors have in store for me. It's always good to have a second chance pay off.

Monday, September 2, 2013

"Have You Seen Her?" by Karen Rose

Special Agent Steven Thatcher is on the case of a serial killer who is abducting and murdering cheerleaders across the state. Making things difficult is his home life - youngest son Nicky is still traumatised after being kidnapped (which happened in Rose's previous "Don't Tell"), and oldest son Brad is misbehaving, and his grades are dropping.

Jenna Marshall is Brad's teacher and concerned about his failing grades. She organises to speak to Steven. Of course, the attraction is immediate. Complicating things for Jenna, however, is the fact that she has failed student Rudy Lutz and gotten him kicked off the baseball team, angering his father and friends, and she is now the subject of a campaign of terror in an effort to make her back down and let Rudy back on the team.

Although the book cover states that "finding the (killer) is Steven's over-riding objective", Steven spends most of his time acting like a complete moron in his romantic pursuit of Jenna, who may wind up being the next victim of the serial killer.

A better title for this pile of shit would be "Have You Seen The Plot?" Because there is none to be found here, folks. I hated this book. I really, truly hated it. To call this "romantic suspense" is a stretch, because suspense is at a complete minimum. The complete and total focus here is the romance between Steven and Jenna. And the multitude of issues that prevent them from getting together.

The cause of most of these issues is Steven. He is a complete imbecile. If you want to read a romance about an emotionally-stunted, tantrum-throwing manchild, you've come to the right place. If you want to read a romantic suspense thriller, you're better off throwing this piece of junk into the fire and picking up one of Rose's other novels. While all her novels contain a somewhat exasperating degree of emotional and romantic angst, they generally all contain complex, interesting plots.

Not this one. The serial killer murdering cheerleaders is very much in the background. More focus is actually given to the terror campaign mounted against Jenna by Rudy and his friends. The rest of the book consists of Steven being a complete juvenile prick towards Jenna and Jenna constantly forgiving him because she just can't resist him. I have detested more than a few book characters in my time, but Steven Thatcher earned a new level of contempt from me. What an appalling, disgusting, pathetic character. I quickly grew sick of his childish antics and melodramatic behaviour. Grrrr. I spent most of the book wanting to throw the book across the room because I hated Steven Thatcher so much.

"Have You Seen Her?" is worthless. It's shit. There's no other way to describe it. It's Rose's worst novel, and easily tops my list of worst books I've ever read. I'm angry that an author can dribble 500 pages of shit like this. Good thing I've read and enjoyed so many other novels by Rose, because if this was the only book of hers to go on, I'd never, ever read her again.

Avoid like the plague.