St Martin’s Press, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-312-94341-7
Romantic Suspense, 2009
Lorie O’Clare seems familiar. Who is she again? Oh yes, she’s the author who wrote those boo boo lunewulf stories for Ellora’s Cave, right? Let’s see how this one fares, shall we?
Tall, Dark and Deadly is a romantic suspense story. Our heroine Grace Jordan was a sex slave and punching bag to a perverted Master of some sort for five years, until she’s had enough and set him on fire before running off with her child. Ten years down the road, when the story opens, Grace is a cop in the small town of Rockville, South Dakota. Recently, young women are turning up dead, and Grace suspects a serial killer at large. Our hero, Justin Reece from the FBI, shows up to stick his nose into the situation. He’s actually from this town, by the way. The two get involved even as Grace begins to worry about the possibility that her past has caught up with her at long last.
That sounds like every other romantic suspense set in a small town, right? In a way, this could have been a typical but readable story were not for a long list of problems that plague this book.
First, let’s start with Grace. As the story progresses, she begins to deliberately ignore big warning signs about the identity of the killer. Sure, she has been traumatized by her past, but this only proves that she shouldn’t be on the case in the first place. Grace’s stubborn recalcitrance in accepting facts causes the plot to drag considerably. Also, I’m told she was traumatized by her past and is currently hesitant about getting involved with another man. But her actions suggest otherwise. Grace doesn’t feel like a believable survivor of abuse as a result.
Then we have Justin. He’s a one-dimensional character – the stock biggest, tallest, most hulking, and most virile alpha male in the whole story. What else do I know about his character? Nothing much, I’m afraid. For someone who is aware of Grace’s traumatic past, he happily manhandles her, looms over her, and even molests her. Perhaps it is a blessing that Grace isn’t a believable survivor of abuse and her reactions therefore don’t make Justin come off as poorly as he otherwise would. Justin is also a pretty good example of how double standards work in the genre. He keeps a distance from his children from his previous marriage, but his ex-wife is the villainous shrew. He is said several times in the story to be a capable man, but he really isn’t. Justin is a hero who is said to be the most awesome man alive, but the author’s portrayal of him suggests otherwise.
The secondary characters are terrible examples of clichés. Justin’s ex-wife is unbelievably nasty, and she’s naturally also a woman who is determined to succeed in politics. Women with ambition are evil, don’t you know, while the hero who deliberately distances himself from his children is portrayed as a noble martyr. The ex-wife is painted as a horrible mother, but the hero who could have taken the children in but didn’t is portrayed as a hapless husband who is unable to stop the ex-wife from tormenting the children. The cops Grace work with are so unbelievably dense and at some cases corrupt and evil that I feel as if I’m stuck in a bad horror movie of some sort featuring hillbillies that eat stupid backpackers from town.
The suspense is not very good, because the very bad people in this story turn out to be the cartoon villains after all. Surprise! The plot also sees the heroine stupidly keeping secrets from the hero. This creates plenty of conflicts, but those conflicts are pretty silly. Watch out also for implausible coincidences, back-from-the-dead scenarios, and some bizarre moments of ineptness passed off as brilliant police procedures.
And finally, the writing. When there is only one character in a scene, things are fine and the story is readable. When there are two or more characters sharing a scene, however, that is when problems occur. The author loves playing points of view ping-pong with the reader, so expect plenty of head-hopping to occur back and forth. The author has a nasty habit of not making it clear that a switch in point of view has occurred, so there are many moments when I have to pause and reread a few paragraphs to “get” what has happened. Also, the author often creates a confusing scenario where she uses, say, “she” and “her” in a situation that involves several women, forcing me to reread that particular scene to figure out which woman the author is referring to. For example, page 45 has some really confusing paragraphs because the hero is thinking about his daughter, his sister, and his ex-wife all at the same time and it takes awhile for me to sort out which one is Clare, Elizabeth, and the Hateful Ex-Wife.
To conclude, Tall, Dark and Deadly is too much work to figure out and it gives too little pay-off to make all that effort worthwhile. The characters are paper-thin painful stereotypes, the suspense is riddled with bewildering moments, and the writing can be a muddled mess. This one is just not good.