HQN, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-77027-8
Romantic Suspense, 2005
Part of my new me resolutions is to be a nice and gentle soul when it comes to reviewing books by fresh meat, er, new authors. Jennifer Skully’s Sex and the Serial Killer qualifies as her debut romance. But how can I be nice and gentle when this book is completely devoid of logic? Nothing the characters do in this book makes sense. It’s not that I want to pull no punches, dear people, but Ms Skully in this case pretty much paints a dartboard on her face and dares me to take my best shot. What is she thinking when she comes up with this story?
I do like the main characters, Roberta “Bobbie” Jones Spivey and Nick Angel when they are introduced. Bobbie comes off as a realistic woman who chooses to deal with her husband’s desertion of her in an aggressive “let’s get even!” manner that I can actually relate to. Nick seems like a great, if a little stereotypical, tortured outcast hero stuck in a town that hates him. I do question though Bobbie’s sanity when she, upon their shrink’s advice, hooked her husband up with his high school flame Cookie, arranged their correspondences, and even let him take off to meet Cookie alone. Just because the husband is depressed and therefore impotent does not mean that you happily send him off to a weekend cozy trip to meet his old sweetheart, surely? Needless to say, Bobbie is the only one shocked when he calls and says that he’s not coming back. She should have just hired a hooker, if you ask me, because at least then she is allowed to watch and make sure that he comes back to her afterwards. Hey, she can even give directions, come to think of it.
She decides to turn into a woman that is completely 180 from Roberta. Bobbie Jones will have a new attitude – no more mousy meekness! – as well as new wardrobe. She will also capitalize on her physical assets and maybe even get laid for some rebound fun! What’s a better way to do all this than to take off after no-good Warren to smalltown Cottonmouth, California, and show him what he is missing?
Unfortunately, once she’s in Cottonmouth, Bobbie mutates into a stereotypical heroine, with her getting a waitressing gig at the eatery run by a mouthy sassy old broad that every small town seems to have. She learns that her neighbor Nick Angel is known to the rest of the town as a former pornstar (don’t ask) and current serial killer, who had wronged a gal in his past and refused to show up for his mother’s funeral, and who buries dead bodies in his garden. Naturally, Bobbie is intrigued with this serial killer Batesian porn-star because he looks great shirtless while digging a grave for a dead animal in his garden.
While I am ready to enjoy this book as a silly romp, inconsistencies start to pile until I am practically reeling in confusion whenever I turn the page. For starters, how about some huge inconsistencies in the premise alone? Why is Nick so hell-bent on living in a town where he is treated like dirt? The author tries to say that he’s serving some sort of atonement for himself, but frankly, Nick comes off instead as a sadistic fool who must really love to have his pride used as the town toilet bowl. Why is Bobbie so determined to get back – and later, when Warren is incriminated in a crime – and defend Warren when it becomes so clear that the guy is an impotent selfish idiot? I mean, come on – he’s freaking impotent when it comes to Bobbie, so it’s not as if he’s even good for that one thing. But no, Bobbie insists on sticking with Warren, to the extent that she does so even if it means leaving Nick to face the music meant for Warren, and frankly, her actions make no sense. Which makes the entire story, which relies heavily on Bobbie’s nonsensical motivations, just as nonsensical.
Then there are the small annoying inconsistencies or illogicalities in the characterizations of Bobbie and Nick. Nick keeps saying that he doesn’t want to sleep with Bobbie because he doesn’t want to be used as a rebound sex toy by a hot woman. Okay, what kind of man will turn down a no-strings-attached affair with a hot woman? Since he’s stuck in a town where people supposedly hate him, it’s not as if he has any reputation, or anything else, come to think of it, to lose. Bobbie makes the move on Nick and then, when there is no reason for her not to take a ride on the horse she wants to tame, suddenly remembers that she either has a reputation to maintain or isn’t looking for sex, depending on what chapter I happen to be reading. Frankly, the whole Why They Can’t Shag One Another conflict comes off like an overlong-drawn plot contrivance designed just to make the story go on and on beyond its shelf life.
The author isn’t even above damaging her story’s continuity for the sake of sequels. She makes a big fuss about Nick being hated, boo-hoo-hoo, and suddenly reveals that there are two handsome studly men in town – one of them being the local law officer to boot – who are still talking to Nick. Wow! And I bet it’s just a coincidence that these guys will be getting their stories next, just as it is an unfortunate consequence that suddenly Nick doesn’t seem so much like an ostracized outcast like he keeps saying he is when suddenly more and more good people (people that matter in the story, that is) start saying that Nick is just misunderstood. Aww. Thus, Nick comes off as an even bigger and idiotic martyr than before, since it’s now apparent that he has allies in Cottonmouth but he’s just too busy getting off on being hated by the gremlins in his mind.
These are just a few examples of the many illogical or inconsistent problems that plague the characterization and plotting in this book. I am willing to overlook some rough edges but a whole book full of them is another matter. When these flaws cause the characters to embark on a downward spiral of increasingly nonsensical behavior that causes unnecessary problems for everyone involved, yes, that is definitely another matter altogether. A matter that smells and requires a huge dose of aspirin to work my way through.
I do like the author’s high-spirited and bouncy prose and like I’ve mentioned, when Ms Skully isn’t making her lead characters do stupid, stupid things for the sake of unbelievably contrived conflicts, Nick and Bobbie are sympathetic and likeable characters. But since Nick and Bobbie are too hell-bent on being martyrs and idiots of the first order, reacting stupidly and often viscerally without caution, all my goodwill flies out the window soon enough.
The author thanks her critique group in her dedication. I suggest that she initiate a nice long talk with them about giving her a serious critique about plausible character motivation and character consistency for her next book. If Sex and the Serial Killer is anything to go by, this horrifically bewildering and therefore unreadable book is Ms Skully’s SOS signal for improvements in those departments.