HarperTorch, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-056539-X
Romantic Suspense, 2005
Now this one is interesting. I find Adrianne Byrd’s Deadly Double both a very good example on how to tell a good story and how not to write a romantic suspense novel. At first glance, this story seems like something like that movie Gothika, where our heroine wakes up in a mental hospital realizing that people are telling her that she’s not really herself but someone else instead.
Let me give a synopsis first before I confuse you people any further. Our hero Dr William Hayes is said to be a dead ringer for George Clooney. Quick, guess which TV medical drama Ms Byrd must be watching when she is inspired to write this story. William has a bit of a problem in his hands. When a woman shows up in the Keystone Mental Institute, he recognizes her as Josephine Farrell, the woman he had a thing with in France sixteen years ago. However, the records show that this woman is Michelle Andrews who tried to kill herself. William is convinced that there has to be a mistake… and sneaks her out of the Hospital so that he can take care of her himself. However, at the same night, another doctor in the hospital is murdered, which brings in the cops to make the situation messier. Then another woman who claims to be Josephine shows up. So who does William have under his care, Michelle or Josephine? If the woman is Michelle, why then is she saying that she’s actually Josephine? And what is going on with that dead body thing and all?
This could have been a very interesting mystery but unfortunately, Ms Byrd happily takes a pin and takes out all the air from her balloon, so to speak, so that by the seventh chapter I can already deduce what is going on. Ms Byrd quickly lets me know – in the prologue – that Josephine is being taken to the Keystone Mental Institute against her wishes. Quickly, I’m told that Josephine and Michelle are twin sisters and Michelle is the evil twin. From that point onward, it’s such a simple matter of joining the dots to get the big picture ahead of everyone else in this story.
Deadly Double would have been ten times more suspenseful if I am left in the dark a little longer about the identity of the woman under William’s care. The contrast between Michelle and Josephine is a “evil/good” contrast of cartoon proportions so Michelle isn’t a compelling villain as much as a caricature one step short of being completely whacked-out. Instead of choosing to create an actual suspenseful story, Ms Byrd opts to let the readers know ahead of her characters all the details of the mystery. Therefore, instead of a claustrophobic urban thriller or something, this one is pretty much like a plane on autopilot zooming on a predictable set course. Because the suspense part is given more priority over the romance, the main characters and their relationships don’t really come alive. Josephine and William are likable characters but they are rather cardboard in nature as the good guys. The bad guys are of course evil to the core.
What this book is, however, is an excellently paced and very entertaining story. There may be not much suspense in this book but the story is nonetheless deftly narrated and the pacing never flags. This is a story that demands to be read in one sitting. If I want a well-written and most entertaining story, I have one here. Of course, a little more suspense and a little less black-and-white depiction of the good and bad guys will be good, but because it is what it is, Deadly Double has to settle for being merely an entertaining but flawed read.