Dear Ms. Griffin,
I’ve mentioned before that the reason I don’t read much romantic suspense is that usually one aspect or the other gets shortchanged and I end up disappointed. Your books, however, have usually been the exception. A few little things in them might niggle but I’ve come to expect that in order to include both romance and suspense, everybody cuts a few corners here and there. It comes with the territory. Unfortunately, here I find that both the romance and suspense departments suffer to the extent that despite being glued to the ending to see how the killer is caught, I still can’t recommend this book.
Allison Doyle is a rookie homicide detective on the small town San Marco Police Department. She’s not on their most recent case, that of a young woman brutally assaulted and murdered, but when FBI profiler Mark Wolfe appears and talks to the officers who are working the crime, she senses something big. Acting on a hunch, she tracks him down and gets the details. Wolfe feels certain that the woman’s estranged boyfriend isn’t the culprit and that the real killer is a man Wolfe has tracked and sought for over ten years. Given the past sequence of the man’s crimes, Wolfe knows that they’re racing against the clock to prevent another woman from dying. But first he has to get the SMPD to believe his theory and get on board the investigation. And then they have to track down a cold blooded killer poised to strike again.
I was looking forward to this book for a number of reasons. First, it’s by you and for the most part your books have worked for me where few in this category do. Second, from the back blurb I knew Allison would be the heroine and, though she was a secondary character in “Snapped,” she had impressed me in that book. By the end of this book, I was left wondering what I had ever seen in her and wishing that she doesn’t appear in any more. Allison annoyed the hell out of me.
But first let me talk about what I do like in “Twisted.” From the opening chapter, the menace of the killer is evident. He’s a bad SOB which you chillingly convey without being too graphic. I admit I’m squeamish about that and I don’t like detours through a serial killer’s head. Instead of that you present the highlights of the crimes and use the aftermath of how it’s affected those left behind to freeze my bone marrow. The investigation of the most recent murder hasn’t been perfect and this adds to the plausibility factor. Crime is everywhere and the SMPD is as swamped as most police departments these days. The forensic labs are also choked with tests to run and despite better lines of communication, similarities between cases in different jurisdictions might go unnoticed until too late. Mark Wolfe is also stretched too thin trying to handle all the various cases he’s dealing with some of which you sketch in with enough details to make that believable without derailing the focus on the main plot.
As the task force gets in gear, it’s fascinating to get a bird’s eye view of the nuts and bolts of trying to solve this crime. Officers toss about ideas, work up possible leads, follow those through, reach roadblocks, get dead ended and refocus to approach the case from different angles. It’s like watching a riveting flow chart in action knowing the result at stake is death. The cool things that the people at the Delphi Center can do are the icing on the cake for my forensic geek fandom. Seeing all the work that has to go into outthinking and legally tracking this killer shows the dedication of the people involved as well as their frustration at being so close and still not having all the pieces needed to solve the puzzle.
The final few chapters are suspenseful. You ratchet tension well and generally have me on the edge of my seat as the action roars to a climax. Some of the details of the investigation end up not playing a part in getting the killer but every book about solving crimes needs a few red herrings. Allison does end up face to face with death, which I expected, but the way she gets there doesn’t follow the path I thought it would. I am pleased about that and yet also disappointed because the path you use highlights the two issues that don’t work for me – namely Allison and Mark.
Allison’s the only woman in the homicide department – indeed one of only four women on the force – and as a rookie detective constantly feels the need to prove herself. I can understand that. Law enforcement still seems to be a male bastion and Allison has only taken part in one major investigation. She’s eager to earn her place, improve her skills and become a better officer. Though by the way she acts in this story, she’s got a long way to go and if she’s not more careful, she’ll never live to achieve all that. Allison starts the book by making a major mistake that could have got her killed. She knows this and it gnaws at her that she did it and that Mark saves her bacon. Does it seem to be a learning experience for her? Surprisingly not.
Allison pushes her way into two cases not assigned to her and, to her credit, she does prove that the chief suspect in the most recent case couldn’t have committed the crime and that another case from a year ago is actually linked to the killer Mark’s been after. That opens the door to Mark’s theory and gets a task force in place which Allison then becomes a part of – though in reality it seems that by default and for lack of numbers every homicide detective on the force is on it. Allison knows that this guy is bad, that he’s killed at least six women and that they’re fighting to find him in time so yes, I can see her continuing to push to solve the crime but as the book progresses, Allison makes mistake after mistake.
Okay, I accept that she’s learning but she’s got an expert – Mark – on hand telling her not to do certain things yet Allison just busts past his advice and, in some cases, his orders and keeps barreling along. Oh no, she isn’t going to let up, she isn’t going to stop and think “Hmmm, here’s a seasoned veteran telling me to hold up or not do something. Maybe I should listen to him.” Instead she makes more mistakes. What does she do after one of them? She tries to cover it up so that she won’t look bad and take crap from her fellow officers who will then – justifiably in my opinion – be worried about having her cover their backs. I agree that it could unravel her career but maybe, just maybe, her flipping career does need to unravel before she gets herself or someone else killed.
People rise to the level of their incompetence but due to Mark going along with her pleas, Allison floats above hers and this time, she comes damn close to dying while another woman actually does. Here’s intrepid Allison, following up on a lead after spotting a clue that will lead her to where the killer is and does she call in that little fact? No, she calls in a license plate but fails to mention, “Oh and by the way I am at this location where I think a man who’s raped and murdered over six women might be.” Luckily for her she manages to survive the shit storm that follows.
Allison ends up not wowing me with her police skills but how about the romance? Does it help make up for the deficiencies I feel are in the suspense side of the book? Nope, ‘fraid not. Mark has a failed marriage behind him due to his diligence for his job. And for most of this book, he stays in diligent character. At first Allison seems to just want release from the tension of the case and when she finally gets Mark into bed, I’d swear that her primary feeling is one of satisfaction that she won their battle of wills. It’s way past the halfway point of the book yet I haven’t gotten a sense that anything deeper than scratching an itch is going on. Then suddenly! Allison is showing inklings of hope in her eyes and – after they chase down and arrest a suspect – she pulls Mark aside to try to delve into his feelings and get all emo. I sat with book in hand and jaw hanging open in disbelief. With a suspected killer in an interrogation room, this is not the time to attempt to help Mark deal with his chronic stress and avoid Burnoutville. Mark thinks that he feels he’s in the Twilight Zone and I feel that I’m right there with him. WTF?!
But, hold on. It seems that Allison’s questions about when Mark last took a vacation and her worry about his mental health have finally broken through to him. He jacks up going to a mandatory FBI meeting and instead stays in Texas for another night of hot lovin’. Only it appears to be just that, hot lovin’ but not love. Or not that I can see. And as the story races to a conclusion and the aftermath, honestly I still don’t see love. Lust yes, lots of that but when Allison and Mark tearfully offer each other their “I love you’s” on the last page, it doesn’t move me at all nor do I believe in its staying power. Maybe if they make appearances in future books I can be convinced but for now, the only reason I believe they’re holding hands and getting all dewy eyed is because you tell me they are.
And that is why I reluctantly give one of your books a D grade. Allison ends up being mostly a fail while Mark tumbles off into romantic faildom after keeping his head above the suspense waterline. Without the parts of the investigation that I liked and the way you still managed to make me want to keep reading, it would be lower than that. You’ve written many other good books which I would recommend for newbies to try but this one isn’t one of them.