Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4926-2823-1
Romantic Suspense, 2016
Gone Too Deep pushes ahead with the mystery of the headless corpse that started in Hold Your Breath, but I feel that this one can stand alone quite well. All necessary background details needed to follow this story boils down to “okay, headless dead body”, after all. The rest of the details needed to catch up are here.
Our heroine Ellie Price is doing her own thing one day when she receives a frantic phone call from her father, who is yammering about someone getting his head chopped off and how the killers are after him too, so he’s going to hide in her grandfather’s cabin. Oh, and don’t come looking for him. Of course she now wants to look for him. You see, her father is possibly schizophrenic – no diagnosis was made as he refused treatment – and his ex-wife has given up on trying to help that man. Ellie won’t give up on him, however, so she’s off to the wilderness of the Colorado Rockies, where it’s still snowing and she’s not dressed for all the trekking she is about to do.
Fortunately, George Holloway – who really is Mr Tall, Handsome, and Quiet – eventually agrees to help her look for her father. There is danger, and there is romance. Oh, and it turns out that her father is not crazy after all, there really are bad guys out there. Oh, and don’t forget the headless corpse. This is what they get for doubting a raving old coot.
Let’s start with what works well here. Let’s start with George. The whole tall. quiet, and mysterious shtick is actually overdone in the romance genre, but the author gets it right here. George is quiet and capable, and what I really like here is that the rest of him is in character too. He’s not some oversexed playboy or any other same old appended to romantic suspense heroes – this guy is more of the silent, grouchy type who becomes a big softie once Ellie cracks open his shell. Much about him feels real, and his lack of polish especially when it comes to Ellie is endearing, mostly due to how I never get the impression that he is a cruel or malicious man even at his most grouchy moments. George is just a sweet, prickly adorable hedgehog who just happens to be good at doing action hero stuff.
Ellie is also a pretty fun heroine. She’s out of her depths, but she’s rarely stupid… unless the author wants her to be for the sake of plot. Thus, while Ellie has good chemistry and rapport with George, there are bizarre moments such as Ellie being ambushed by a creepy guy in her motel room, only to later shrug it off and never mentioning that to anyone, not even to the motel lady who apparently gave her room key to the bad guy. Surprise, this guy turns out to be the evil villain who catches our heroine for the grand rescue! And the heroine falls into his clutches because all he has to do is to knock on her door and – even after all the deadly drama she has gone through – she opens her door wide for him just like that. Okay, she thinks that he is someone else, but seriously, just opening the door without even checking to see who is at the other side at that late stage of the story? As I’ve said, the heroine can be very stupid – often, suddenly stupid – just for the author to get Ellie into a damsel in distress situation, and it’s quite annoying.
This kind of character inconsistency is all over this story. The author believes that there is no situation in which her characters can’t wisecrack as if they are trapped in a bad fanfiction of one of Shonda Rhimes’s TV shows, so her characters can be all serious and even sad in one scene and making quips a few paragraphs later. That crackhead quip diarrhea-bot of a heroine of Hold Your Breath is the worst offender – she’s here, and she acts like she’s perpetually high, making unfunny quips about everything and anything in a way that screams “Katie Ruggle is trying way too hard!” Maybe one day, the author will manage to rein in her enthusiasm for all these Yandere Manic Pixie Girl characters, but until that happens, be prepared to cringe every time Lou and Ellie’s boss say something here.
Also, because there are two obviously bad guys here, and the last few chapters are meant to be a “Dum… dum… dum… SURPRISE! HERE’S A SECOND BAD GUY!” moment, the surprise is anything but. The suspense subplot is straight out of a B-grade straight-to-video action flick, which is not necessarily a bad thing as it has its campy charms, but the lack of suspense and too-obvious handling of potential suspects certainly bog things down.
At any rate, Going Too Deep is an uneven read. It has its fun moments, but this is one effort that could use a few more rounds of polishing, especially in the character consistency department.