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REVIEW: Before She Dies by Mary Burton

Dear Ms. Burton:

Before She Dies by Mary BurtonCharlotte Wellington remade herself from itinerant carnival fortune teller to high powered and extremely successful criminal defense lawyer.   Her past is one she doesn’t talk about but the circus’ return to town and deaths stalking women related to the occult make it difficult for Charlotte to keep her secret.  Her sometime lover, Detective Daniel Rokov, is frustrated by the barriers Charlotte is erecting to their relationship and the lack of progress in his case.

Their relationship takes a back seat to the suspense which involves a serial killer targeting women who read fortunes, study witches, and the like.  Various individuals are offered up as the potential killer and we get plenty of scenes from the killer’s point of view. I rarely see the point of these scenes even though I believe that they are a staple of suspense books, at least romantic suspense ones.  I didn’t feel that it added a level of horror or tension.  The danger of being the next victim can be carried out through the failure of apprehending the villain without delving into the mind of the villain. Further, the motivation behind the killer’s actions was given short shrift which was a disappointing denouement.  Given the amount of time I spent with the villain (the book starts out with a fifteen page kill scene), his past and what led him down his course of action would have been a fitting reward.

There is even some mysticism in the book.  The target of the killer are women who he believes are evil.  The killing that the villain does is ritualistic, spurred according to the text by religious beliefs.  “She must confess and be purified first.”  At several points in the book, we are led to believe that Charlotte, her sister, and another woman actually have a gift with the cards and that they can see things from the future in those cards.  Yet, like many of the other elements in the story, this wasn’t explored with any depth but rather alluded to when convenient in order to add a feeling of danger and apprehension.

There were numerous conflicts here and none of them were really well fleshed out, in part because I felt that they were competing for space rather than complementing each other.  First there was Charlotte’s embarrassment about her past. She didn’t want her colleagues to know her roots because she was both embarrassed of them and because she felt it would diminish herself in their eyes. Second there was Charlotte’s desire to keep her intimacies with Daniel Rokov at the physical level only, with multiple reasons for the distance being peppered throughout the story with everything from Charlotte’s personal insecurities to her need to be in control.  Third there was the real issue of Charlotte being a defense attorney and Daniel being a detective.

The romance was afforded far too little page time.  It often seemed that we were treated to more discussion between the main protagonists and the secondary characters about the blossoming romance than we were given actual scenes between the two main protagonists.  Given that romance was really secondary to the storyline, I was surprised me was how very pat the ending was.  Because given that the romance was so spare, I thought that this book might have an edgier ending, instead the ending was harlequin-esque with nearly everyone given positive prospects, except for the villain of course.

The story is readable but I found it disappointing as a romance.  The suspense element was the focus and while it contained no surprises, it was entertaining. This is a case where I liked the voice but didn’t like the story which tells me I need to read more to see where you fit on my list of to buy authors. C

Best regards,


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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Rosario
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 14:46:16

    I read one of Burton’s romantic suspense titles recently (Senseless) and recognise a couple of your comments, like the unconvincing motivation of the villain and the undeveloped romance.

    Burton’s being promoted here in the UK as someone to read if you like Karen Rose (big stickers on the cover actually referencing Rose by name, for instance), and for the first half of the book, I could see why and got very excited. Unfortunately, things kind of disintegrated in the second half and the book ended up being mediocre. It would be interesting to know if this one reminded you of Karen Rose at all.

  2. Diane
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 15:05:33

    I haven’t read any of her books yet but since my reading is romance, I’m not sure if I would want to. And unless one of my friends gives me a very different view than yours I can wait…

  3. Jane
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 15:08:25

    @Rosario: I think Karen Rose writes a better suspense. It is less based on mystical elements and more psychological thrillers. Plus, one thing I’ve always admired about Rose was her ability to fit a theme into her book that is carried out through the romance and the suspense whether it is an issue of relationships with fathers or the like. I didn’t like what I felt was Rose’s black and white view of the world and her very obvious dislike for certain professions. (criminal defense lawyers, frex, were almost always portrayed as corrupt) I haven’t read her in a few years as I tired of the unintentional messaging but I did feel she did a good job of blending romance and suspense.

    Here, I think the book read like it was trying to be more suspense/thriller and the romance was tacked on.

  4. Jane
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 15:11:40

    @Diane: My verdict on Burton is still out. I want to read another one in hopes that there is a better blend of the two elements.

  5. Dani Alexander
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 16:24:03

    Do you know, I often find Jonathan Kellerman and James Patterson books filled with more romance and more interesting romance than a lot of romantic suspense? (even Kellerman and his gay romance is rather perfect to me – Milo and Rick? Yes please). Cody McFadyen handles the relationships between his MC and her lover so beautifully.

    Maybe more suspense writers are adding more romance, and, conversely, more romance writers are writing more suspense? I do feel satisfied with the stories of the writers I mentioned above in the romance department. I’m always left feeling that they handled both aspects of the story tremendously. I’m not sure I feel that way about a lot of “romantic suspense”. There are great books in that genre, no doubt, but I’ve found some of them to be contrived and trying to hard to fit a story around a romance and not building a romance within a story.

    If you like a bit of darker romance(it’s not technically one), I highly recommend Cody McFadyen. His first book gives me goosebumps and the love described in there is so incredibly moving. Warning, the romance is secondary and it carries through three books. The stories are compelling though and so are the characters.

    I need to stop typing now. LOL oO

  6. April
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 17:09:17

    @Dani Alexander: Jonathan Kellerman writes books with gay romance in them? Awesome! I must investigate this further.

  7. Dani Alexander
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 17:18:01


    Jonathan Kellerman writes books with gay romance in them? Awesome! I must investigate this further.

    Not only does Milo have a romance with Rick, they are depicted in a monogamous longterm relationship and it started way back at the beginning of the novels. We’re talking 80’s here. During the 90’s the romance part was more fleshed out and Rick became more onscreen, but yeah, he writes a secondary character as a gay man. And he does it with respect and care and without stereotype.

    I adore Milo Sturgis.

    I wouldn’t call it a traditional “romance”. But they are a couple, they aren’t de-sexed or made eunuchs, he doesn’t gloss over their relationship and Milo appears in every book. (I think every book, I’d have to double check.) You can read more on Wiki. =)

    er sorry to derail *sneaks out*

  8. April
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 17:41:14

    @Dani Alexander: That sounds absolutely perfect. I’ve gotten really tired of secondary gay characters being horrible charitures of an actual gay person. I’ll have to start reading that series ASAP. Thank you so much. :)

    And sorry about the derailing, Jane!

    I have to admit I’ve been a bit curious about Before She Dies because of the circus angle, but I think I’ll wait to see what you think of her other books before I pick any of them up.

  9. 2012: #3 – Before She Dies (Mary Burton) | Confessions of a Bibliophile
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 18:59:55

    […] “The story is readable but I found it disappointing as a romance.” – Dear Author […]

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