MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-660-X
Romantic Suspense, 2003
Laurie Breton has finally gotten published by a New York publisher – congrats is in order, methinks. Especially when I think that there will be more readers who can now read Final Exit, which is an above-average romantic suspense that deftly balances suspense and romance like a real virtuoso. Until the last third of the book, that is, but we’ll get to that later. This is not one of those strange “cops have sex and sex and sex and uh, catch a serial killer and that’s it” hatchet-jobs by wannabe authors.
However, Final Exit is a derivative serial killer tale through and through. Readers familiar with the formula can tick off the plot of this book easy. FBI Special Agent Carolyn Monahan is of course suffering from Mommy and Daddy issues and there is a violent death of a female family member in her past (her sister in this case) that is linked to the present case she is investigating. The man is of course her ex, this time it’s homicide cop Connor Rafferty. There has to be a religious figure (a priest) to steady our lead characters in times of weaknesses. Don’t forget the fiend murdering and raping young girls around town. Did I mention that the serial killer starts sending messages to the heroine? It’s all here. Final Exit won’t be revolutionizing romantic suspense anytime soon.
If Carolyn and Connor start out as stereotypes, while they never transcend the formula, they manage to become more fully-fleshed characters by the end thanks to the author’s taking time and effort to develop her characters. Her messy love life aside, Carolyn is capable and generally an intelligent woman who knows what she is doing. Connor is refreshingly devoid of misogynistic issues. The heroine’s mother turns out to be a mere human being, not some caricature, and it’s the same with Connor’s girlfriend (the one he is halfheartedly seeing when Carolyn comes back into his life).
The police work is well written and it is nice to see cops and FBI working together instead of the usual “FBI good, cops useless hicks” things I see on TV or read in books. What I enjoy is how the author manages to balance the drama and the suspense: somehow the quiet scenes blend in seamlessly with the scenes of police work. There is no forced sex scenes to merely fit some “romance novel” editorial requirement – the romance and the suspense seems to come together like hand in glove.
It can’t be easy, I guess, because the author loses control of this fine balance altogether towards the end. As the characters become more and more developed and their drama comes close to being melodramas, the suspense plot actually fizzles into a bewildering anticlimax towards the last few pages. The killer’s identity is pretty easy to deduce, but seriously, the “climax” is wretched in how the author seems to just throw everything down and wraps her story up in a few throwaway paragraphs.
Apart from the very unsatisfactory closure – another hundred pages could easily overcome this problem, and the generally derivative feel of the story, Final Exit nonetheless has a compelling storytelling style and likable, sympathetic characters to make it one of the better romantic suspense books around. I just hope the next time in her next book, the author makes a more satisfactory and elegant final exit.