Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-515-15637-9
Historical Romantic Suspense, 2018 (Reissue)
With The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Amanda Quick moves her stories from 19th century England to 1930s California. Think Hollywood, baby! However, the world in this one isn’t fully fleshed out, hence making this one more like a Jayne Ann Krentz book. Maybe that day really is coming when all the author’s various pen names will combine into one, Voltron-style, and bring the Earth into a new enlightened age. Incidentally, this one is more suspense than romance – so much more – so it’s best to adjust one’s expectations accordingly before reading this one.
Irene Glasson used to be Anna Harris, the secretary of Helen Spencer, a wealthy socialite. When the story opens, she finds Helen dead, and shortly after, a note left by Helen warning Anna to flee and trust no one should Helen turns up dead. Now a prime suspect for Helen’s mother, Anna decides to reinvent herself as Irene and starts a new life, by laying low and becoming… a reporter. Sigh. But I suppose allowances have to be made to get a romantic suspense plot in motion. Anyway, as Irene, history sort of repeats itself a few months down the road when she stumbles upon a not-too-successful actress dead in the pool of Burning Cove Hotel Spa. Things get sticky because if that poor dear’s death is foul play, then the prime suspect is an up-and-coming actor whose manager will play dirty to ensure that the actor’s rising star remains undiminished.
Our hero, Oliver Ward, is a former famous magician whose career was cut short by an accident that nearly took his life. Left with a limp, he now runs the Burning Cove Hotel Spa. Hence, he has a vested interest in ensuring that the case gets solved quickly and the reputation of his hotel is tarnished as minimally as possible. Hence, he and Irene start snooping around, so there it is. The story.
The romance is inserted in a token “Here it is, fans, just enough romance to meet the minimal quota!” way, and it’s a very familiar one if you have read a few of this author’s books. Both the hero and heroine are not conventionally attractive, but they find one another oh-so-hot anyway. He exudes a dangerous vibe, she is spunky and feisty as well as capable of seeing the inner goodness of him when everyone thinks that he’s, well, dangerous, et cetera. I’m sure we all know the song and dance by now.
The story focuses on the mystery, so pages that could have been used to develop the main characters and romance are instead used to introduce red herrings, characters that show up only to get killed a while later, and potential villains going “Muahahaha!” to lead me to think that they are the ultimate bad guy. There are many red herrings as well as twists and turns, but everything here feels disjointed. We quickly hop from one scene to another, but it’s like flying from Point A to G and then to F before going back to C, D, and on to S. Fine, I am willing to sit through all this if the mystery is strong, but when the villain is unmasked, I can only cringe because with that one instance, the author has completely revealed her hand.
All the twists and turns in this story are contrived read herrings that lead to a “Aha!” kind of revelation: that the villain is the most boring kind of lame, clichéd trope ever. The insanely jealous homicidal woman to whom everything is a crime of passion. Who explains the whole plot before getting a boot in the arse most unceremoniously. Not only is this kind of cliché used by way too many authors of romantic suspense, it’s one used by the author many times in the past. I’d have preferred any other villain – the Illuminati, a bunch of Satanist Hollywood people that sacrifice actresses to Satan, anything than this unimaginative lame-o villain.
So, even if I try to enjoy this one as a suspense story first and foremost, I still can’t recommend it because of the try-hard, convoluted twists and turns as well as the most eye-rolling villain. It’s not worth making the effort of wading through the messy mystery in The Girl Who Knew Too Much considering the lame payoff.