Berkley Sensation, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-19325-X
Romantic Suspense, 2003
Lynn Erickson’s Without a Trace is a textbook example of a very average and generic romantic suspense story. It adheres to the formula with absolute fidelity: we have a serial bad guy, in this case a brutal rapist that ends up killing his victims, a traumatized heroine that spends the entire book gasping in horror or shuddering in some painful flashbacks to her past even as she tries to deal with her Mommy issues, a hero guilt-ridden over the death of his wife, and some cursory lust-and-boink moments passed off as “romance”.
Our heroine Jane Russo, as expected, has to have some shared bond with the victims and in this case, she was a rape victim. She also predictably is skilled in art and she draws sketches of suspects to aid the police in between dealing with the witnesses the police brought in for interrogation. I can’t see any example of this people skill of Jane, by the way, as Ms Erickson has Jane constantly at the verge of a nervous breakdown in this story. Maybe Jane works her victims into a state of massive hysteria so that these victims will scream out everything they know, or something. Our hero is FBI agent Ray Russo, guilt baggages and all, and he… well, he’s a really inept agent here. He used to investigate cases dealing with terrorists and such, so this is the excuse the author gives for Ray running roughshod over the witnesses and overlooking crucial evidences in his impatience and neurotic issues. Jane is too self-absorbed in flagellating herself in guilt over petty, trivial reasons or shedding tears of empathy at Ray’s sad, sad past to take him to task over his ineptness, so it’s basically Teary and Dummy tearing up the town searching for a psycho fiend.
With characters that rarely deviate from the cookie cutter mould in a romantic suspense that’s so painted-by-numbers that suspense has nothing to do with this story whatsoever, this story has very little that is fresh or new to offer. Entertainment is, without doubt, gone Without a Trace in this very dry and unexceptionally generic story.