Grand Central Publishing, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-54152-7
Romantic Suspense, 2009
I have to confess that when it comes to the various sub-genres in romance, romantic suspense ranks pretty low on my list of preferences. This is because of all the subgenres in romance, romantic suspense is the one where I find especially hard to suspend my disbelief. You have a man and a woman in a critical situation, be it defuse the bomb, arrest the killer, protect the President, or infiltrate a baby trading ring. So who has the time to fall in love? Also, many romantic suspense authors don’t do characterization – they do piling up of tragedies after tragedies onto the main characters instead. I don’t know why we need so many miserable law enforcers in the world of romantic suspense, especially when most of the time the case has already taken up most of the story, and most of these stories would have done just as fine with an ordinary hero or heroine instead of a walking poster person for Prozac.
One Scream Away is a well-written story with good pacing and build-up, but it is also a story that fits exactly what I described above. We have Beth Denison, a woman with a daughter, who is living in fear. You see, the man who was responsible for a horrific ordeal in her past is out of prison and is stalking her. Our hero is an ex-FBI agent Neil Sheridan who, thanks to the usual angst and guilt that every other hero of this kind must have, has hit the bottle. He walks around with a sad face which is no doubt sporting manly and sexy stubble because angst makes a romance hero so pretty. I don’t know how he, a civilian, can get to be so involved in an official investigation, but because there is a series of murder that follow a similar pattern to the one he used to investigate before he was consumed by angst and tragedy, he is asked to help. A big clue leads him to Beth (the murderer is her tormentor), but Beth of course refuses to tell him anything because all romantic suspense characters are supposed to be walking dysfunctional tragedy magnets.
And oh my goodness, both characters really are tragedy magnets. Neil, fortunately, becomes a functional hero once he’s distracted from his pity party by all that action. Therefore, all that tragedy in his past isn’t actually necessary for the story, it’s just an excuse to get him so personally connected to the plot in order for the tired “redemption” angle of his. After all, in the world of romantic suspense, every serial killer has murdered a law enforcer’s younger sibling in the past. It’s a cosmic law. Meanwhile, Beth has me shaking my head. Much has been made by the author about Beth having a gun, but of course she can’t use it. And yet, does that stop her from rushing out alone to meet the murderer? That scene is meant to be emotional and dramatic, I’m sure, but when the hero finds her whimpering and huddled in a corner like a terrified cat, I find myself rolling up my eyes instead.
Beth has two big secrets to play the martyr for. One, she wants to protect her daughter, an excuse that I find puzzling since she’s not going to protect that irritating brat Abby if she is going to run into danger and start flailing around like an epileptic llama when her nerves fail her. Besides, I’d think Beth will have taught Abby not to talk to strangers or wander around in the woods if she is concerned about Abby falling into the hands of evil villains, but I guess if Beth was wise and Abby wasn’t an idiot brat, we won’t have that dramatic denouement late in the story. As for Beth’s other secret, when I learn of it, I feel like resting my forehead against the table and groan. The other secret seems plausible, but given how the rest of the book has followed closely the formula of a typical romantic suspense, I can’t help thinking that the author is just looking for an excuse to make Beth light up even more on that beautiful cross of hers. It is a good thing that Neil is there to save her, because Beth isn’t just a victim here, she’s actively looking for ways to become an even bigger victim than before.
One Scream Away is actually a very readable story. I read this during a long flight and having to endure a tedious two-hour delay during transit became far more entertaining ordeal as a result. It’s just that I also feel that the author made it too obvious to me that she is following the formula of a typical romantic suspense very closely here.