Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-265582-0
Romantic Suspense, 2017
Such a Pretty Girl is badly mismarketed from the start, and I can only wonder whether Avon is setting up the poor author to fail. This is not a “romance” like it is labeled on the spine. The romantic aspect of this one is so thin that it’s best described as a police procedural thriller with a touch of romance. The synopsis on the back cover is off. The victims don’t look like our heroine Grace Sinclair – which is a bit of a bummer as one of the victims is male and hence, if the synopsis is accurate, things can get pretty interesting indeed. Well, let me explain what the real deal is first before I get into my opinion of the story.
Grace Sinclair wakes up at 6.00 am to do her keep-my-body-sexy routine and then make her way to the neighborhood counseling centre, where she does her best “Don’t stop believing! Hold on to that fe-eee-eee-ling!” thing to aid troubled teens to find their confidence to do magical things. And then she goes off to be the top profiler at the FBI, strutting her “Olivia Pope can eat my dust, bitches!” thang as she does her thing, and sometime after she has the time to write bestselling and wildly popular award-winning novels featuring a fictitious female FBI wunderkind. Yes, a high profile author who is also an FBI profiler – while I’m not sure whether such a thing is allowed, but I am not surprised when she attracts attention from all kinds of weird people. Such as people who will send her notes after committing murder.
Two years ago, Grace slept with Special Agent Gavin Walker. It was great. He did great. So she left the morning after, and never responded to his calls. He got the message, and stopped calling.
Well, they’re together now, as they have to solve what seems like a straightforward, if violent, murder when the bodies start piling up over the next few days, all of them apparently the work of someone who enjoys sending taunting notes to Grace.
That’s basically the story. It takes place over a matter of days, so the romance is just sort of there in the background, as the main characters rightfully focus on their job. I mean, I’d be giving them the side eye if they know someone is going to die soon but hey, let’s bounce off the special agent carrot first because the readers want to read about the sexing. I actually like this suspense first, romance only when there is time approach as it makes the main characters look like professionals and it’s easier for me to take them seriously.
Grace, especially, is just right for the role. I know some people consider her too perfect, and I quite agree with that. I don’t know why the author has to make Grace a bestselling author when the killer in question turns out to be not a crazy Twitter warrior or jealous JD Robb fan. There are just too many unnecessary superlatives attached to Grace when her being just a profiler – not the top profiler, because who cares as there isn’t a competition for FBI profilers here – would have suited the story just fine. However, if I pay attention to Grace – just Grace alone – when she’s on the job, she is a refreshing antidote to the typical heroine of a romantic suspense: despite being a romance heroine who works as a profiler, Grace is not wildly emotional or prone to jumping to wild conclusions based on following her heart or some other twaddle. She makes her observations based on evidence she finds on the scene of crime as well as from her experience and knowledge. She is also pragmatic and even cold at times, which makes those moments when she thaws and lets her guard down here and there with Gavin feel even more precious.
Gavin is a nice guy. He has been through his share of injuries and traumatic assignments, but he doesn’t have baggage to dump over Grace’s head. No “I’m a man, so I must be in charge” posturing at all. The author doesn’t force Grace to be a complete moron so that the hero will never be overshadowed. Rather, Gavin respects her and, as he tells her, given that she’s his partner now, she can count on him to take a bullet for her. How professional and sweet all at once.
The first half or so of this one is solid. The pacing is great, the sense of atmosphere is solid, and the main characters have a good rapport going between them. And then the killer starts sending Grace notes, and that’s when the story falls apart completely. From that point, the author seems to have taken a handbook out of Jayne Ann Krentz’s handbook of romantic suspense tomfoolery: the villain just pops up once the good guys stumble upon his agenda, to blab his plans and posture like a buffoon, and worse, the villain’s whole plan turns out to be completely meaningless. Why go through all that trouble if she won’t make the immediate connection? If he has to actually write to her to clue her in, the plan really needs some rethinking, if you ask me. And why not just kill her straight away? The killer’s entire shtick turns out to be a pointless fecal matter show, the poor victims die because the killer takes lessons from the worst romantic suspense villains around, and I feel like I’ve completely wasted my time reading the whole story.
Perhaps it is the greatest dose of irony that the romance (or what little of it) ends up being the most intriguing aspect of this story. And it’s probably intriguing because the author shows so little of it. She is aiming for a more “hardcore” suspense with Such a Pretty Girl but the end result suggests that she’s probably better off doing the complete opposite.