Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-265584-4
Romantic Suspense, 2018
Meet our resident charismatic psychopath serial killer, Howard Wells or Dr X. I’m sure he’d like to have a better moniker, but alas, Hannibal Lecter is already taken. He’s already in jail, thank goodness, but our heroine, the journalist Abigail Winthrop is not content with this.
You see, back in 2000, her friend Cassandra Martin was murdered by Dr X. Or was she? Tess returns to her Castella Rock hometown to nurse her father, and when the man passes on, she decides to focus on finding out the truth behind her friend’s murder. When Be a Good Girl opens, she manages to meet and confront Dr X, only to have her suspicions confirmed: Dr X claimed to be Cass’s murderer, but that monster didn’t really do it. The man didn’t know whom Cass was, and hence, she suspects that he might be covering up for the actual killer, who is still out there somewhere. Tess has never found peace of mind after her friend’s death, so she is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. Well, it’s a good thing that Cass’s boyfriend at that time, Paul Harrison, is now a FBI Special Agent. That will come in handy indeed.
Yes, this one has a romance that pairs the heroine with some guy who was linked to her murdered best friend. It’s not the healthiest romance, as both are still carrying all kinds of psychological baggage around the place, but hey, at least he’s not her dead sister’s boyfriend. Not that I have anything against this, but I know some readers don’t like this kind of musical chair-like romance, and if you are one of those, well… Hmm, come to think of it, the romance here is so muted that I’m pretty sure you won’t find it too bothersome, heh.
Yes, Be a Good Girl is more of a suspense story with a little romance than the other way around. Again, I have no issues with this, as I’d find it harder to believe if these two started making eyes at one another when there is a serial killer on the loose. The pacing is solid, the atmosphere is great, and this story is almost there as a gripping, terrifying read. Almost, that is – the author downplays the violence along with the romance, to a degree that I feel is a little too much. I never get the chills or the scares here – the so-called monstrous serial killers here never feel threatening or terrifying because their abilities to commit violence are too muted here.
I’m more annoyed, though, by how the author predictably starts downplaying and even casting doubts on Cass’s worthiness of a man’s affections in order to make Abigail more worthy of Paul. I physically cringe when Paul starts comparing his feelings for Cass to those for Abigail. Oh for heaven’s sake, Cass is dead. Can’t the author let the poor girl rest in peace and have Paul and the heroine hook up without adding that “Oh my god… IS CASS A WHORE?” thing in this story? What’s the point? Also, is it really fair to compare what one feels for a woman when one was a kid to what one feels for a woman when one is now an adult? Come on!
Another disappointment that I have is how Paul, who is built up to have PTSD and other “Ooh! I’m brooding sexily!” baggage in his past appearances in the author’s series, is another stock “Ooh! I’m still brooding sexily!” hero that resembles any other bloke written to fit his archetype. Then again, as I’ve mentioned, this story is focused on the mystery first and foremost, so perhaps it is to be expected that every character comes off as tad one-note here as a result.
Oh, and one more thing that I should point out: if you want girl power, this one has it. Abigail may have issues, but when she is mad or if she is threatened, she gets up and does things that can cause even the bad guy a lot of harm. This is no hapless victim dependent on the hero – it can even be said that she is the primary driving force in moving the story to the finish line, and Paul is just there for the ride as the capable back-up.
In the end, Be a Good Girl is a pretty good read from a technical standpoint, but I wish it had been a bit darker and more gripping. Oh, and maybe if the romance had been stripped down even more, so that I’d be spared of the unnecessary “Let’s dump on a dead, murdered girl so that the heroine is made more worthy of the hero’s love” thing.