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Book Review: Deeper than the Dead by Tami Hoag (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Images of fall leaves with the title of the book written over them.Summary:
When four children stumble upon the displayed body of a dead woman, they and their teacher are pulled into the investigation.  But when this murder is connected to others, that makes it a potential serial killer, and that means the FBI wants to get involved. Quietly.  Of course, it’s only 1985, the edge of modern forensics, so they must pursue their murderer with a combination of science and old-fashioned detective work.

Review:
I wish I could remember how this thriller made it into my TBR Pile.  It’s a unique entry into the serial killer/forensics sector of the genre due to the time period Hoag chose to set it in.  She states in her author’s introduction that she wanted to set her thriller in the 80s due to a personal nostalgia for the time but only after starting her research did she realize what an important time period it was for forensics.  I think it’s yet another example of an author following her interests and getting a unique work out of it.

The plot alternates perspectives between the four children, their teacher, the older FBI agent on the case, and the killer (without revealing who the killer is), all in the third person.  The changing perspectives help keep the plot complex and moving, as well as give us multiple plausible theories on who the killer is.  That said.  I was still able to predict the killer, and I honestly felt the killer to be a bit stereotypical.

The serial killings themselves  are all of young women who either are currently at or have recently left the local halfway house.  The murder/torture methods are sufficiently grotesque without going over the top.  Fans of the genre will be satisfied.

The characters are a bit two-dimensional, particularly the older FBI agent, the young cop on the force, and all of the murder suspects.  I also, frankly, didn’t appreciate the fact that an expert in the field calls one of the mothers a crazy borderline.  She was presented as entirely the flat, evil representation of people with BPD that we problematically see in the media.  This is why writing two-dimensional characters can be problematic.  We only see the woman being overly dramatic and demanding.  We never see her softer or redeeming qualities.  I’d have less of a problem with this presentation of this woman with BPD in the book if it was a first person narration or a third person narration that maintained one perspective.  Then it could be argued that this is that one character’s perception of the woman.  But given that multiple perspectives are offered, presenting so many people in a two-dimensional way is rather inexcusable, and it’s irresponsible to write mental illness in this way.  I’m not saying every character with a mental illness needs to be written in a positive light, but they should be written as three-dimensional human beings, not monsters (with, perhaps, the exception of sociopathy).

This is a book, then, with an interesting idea and fairly good plot but shaky characterization.  Some people don’t mind that in their thrillers.  I admit I speed-read, eager to find out who the killer was.  But I also was bothered by the flatness of the characters.  If you think this won’t bother you, then you will probably enjoy this book.  Those with a mental illness should be warned that the representation of mental illness in the book could be upsetting or triggering.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: King of Paine by Larry Kahn

December 16, 2011 5 comments

Sillhouette of a woman in front of Atlanta skyline.Summary:
Frank Paine was a Hollywood A-list leading man until he let the woman he loved deal with a BDSM scandal in the news on her own, thereby destroying her career and saving his.  The guilt got to him, so he ended up leaving Hollywood and joining the FBI in an effort to bring justice to the world.  His first case in the Rainbow Squad, however, involves not child rape or molestation but adult, BDSM style rape-by-proxy, and his ex-girlfriend is a suspect.  Meanwhile, a former Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who’s been drowning his sorrows in alcohol finds himself swept up into the life of Angela del Rio and and discovering rumors of a place called The River.

Review:
I’m of two minds about this book.  I felt the need to find out what happened in the end, but I also didn’t enjoy the meat of the story very much.  It’s kind of like when you find yourself watching a marathon of The Biggest Loser and wondering why, exactly, it matters to you who gets voted off when the show get so many nutrition and exercise facts wrong and why exactly are the competitors cut off from their family anyway?  Actually, it’s exactly like that.

Kahn builds suspense well.  He’s clearly paid attention to just how much and how often to ramp up the violence and intrigue to keep a reader reading.  I also appreciated the two separate story-lines that then intertwined.  Of course, the reader knows they’re going to intertwine, but how is not immediately obvious.  That was a nice touch.

Kahn also moves smoothly between real life dialogue and the chats on an online BDSM website that are a key part of the investigation. It was definitely crucial to a modern story to include the internet, and he switches between real life and the internet quite well.

That said, other crucial parts of telling a story fell flat for me.  Kahn does not write women well.  On looking back, it is evident that women in his story are divided into the classic dichotomy of angel or whore.  There is no real room for three-dimensional characterization, making mistakes, or understandable motivations.  For instance, Paine’s ex goes from calling her brother to threaten to kill him to getting back together within a week.  That’s, um, fast?  Similarly, although Kahn slips back and forth easily between Paine’s and Roger’s perspective, he never shows any of the women’s perspectives, even though they are the ones being raped, beaten, tricked, used, and abused.  I can understand using the perspective of an FBI agent, but why couldn’t the second perspective have been Angela instead of Roger?  Or why couldn’t he have made the reporter a woman?  Regardless, none of the women in the story were believable, real characters.

Similarly, I was ultimately disappointed with who the perpetrator of the crime ultimately is.  Without spoiling it, suffice to say the choice is stereotypical, bordering on racist.  It was a choice lacking in creativity or sensitivity.

Overall, although the suspense reeled me in, the content of the story left me with a sour taste in my mouth.  I suppose if you want a junk food style suspense, or if the negatives I pointed out wouldn’t bother you, you may enjoy this book.  Those looking for thought-provoking, realistic suspense should look elsewhere, however.

3 out of 5 stars

Source:  Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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