REVIEW: All the Pretty Girls by J.T. Ellison
Dear Ms. Ellison:
November is a “new to me” month where I read about 10 authors that I had never read before. Yours was one of them. All the Pretty Girls is a romantic suspense book with a unique twist. The couple is already dating when the book starts. I think this is a great way for an author to manage the difficult balance of providing the suspense with a romance. Plus, it’s a different place in the courtship to which readers are ordinarily exposed.
Taylor Jackson is a Nashville Homicide lieutenant whose boring caseload is given a jolt by the appearance of a mutilated female corpse. She appears to take another knock on the chin when her lover, FBI profiler John Baldwin, informs her that he murders she is investigating are likely perpetrated by a serial killer dubbed “The Southern Strangler”.
The modus operandi for the Southern Strangler is to cut off the hands of these pretty young victims and carry them to the next murder site. Because the serial killer’s work involves multiple states and hence, multiple jurisdictions, the heavy investigatory work is done by John Baldwin.
I’ve not read a ton of thrillers so I was somewhat surprised that the novel contained two parallel investigations: one by Taylor Jackson of an serial rapist case made new again; and another by John Baldwin involving the serial killer. These investigations never converged either in events or theme which made me wonder at the serial rapist’s inclusion. It did provide the reader with a glimpse of Lt. Jackson hunting down criminals and exacting justice which is always a reader pleaser but it didn’t seem to fit the main storyline.
The main suspense thread – that of identifying and apprehending the Southern Strangler – was compelling. I as completely surprised by the villain and the villain’s motivation. Watching the hunt take its toll on the investigators added an emotional poignancy. Baldwin spends more than one moment wishing he was with Jackson somewhere and not standing over dead bodies.
Most of the romantic conflict was external as time and investigations forced Baldwin and Jackson apart. While I don’t mind external conflict being the driving force of the romance thread, I did think that more setup for the eventual internal conflict would have made for a stronger emotional ending.
I saw that the Publisher’s Weekly review found that Jackson as a southern belle homicide detective was clichÃƒÆ’Ã‚ ©d. Fortunately I’ve not read enough southern thrillers to be bored by the female protagonist. I found Taylor Jackson’s wealthy background and privileged upbringing to be interesting and provide a layer upon which this series could mine for future conflict. Being a big fan of The Closer’s Brenda Johnson, I can say that I didn’t see much similarities between the TV character and this literary homicide detective.
I look forward to future books featuring Baldwin and Taylor but hope that Taylor plays a larger investigatory role in the future. B-
This book will be available in mass market and ebook form on October 30, 2007.