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REVIEW:  Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

REVIEW: Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell


Dear Ms. Ewell,

Between Dexter and Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers, I think readers have begun growing accustomed to the idea of serial killer protagonists. It’s a tricky prospect — balancing a compelling protagonist that keeps you reading and reconciling that with the fact that they kill people. In many cases, that is justified by the protagonist targeting only other serial killers. The main character of your novel, Dear Killer, does no such thing.

Seventeen-year-old Kit is a serial killer. She is in fact the most famous London serial killer since Jack the Ripper. It’s also something of a family tradition. Her mother was once a serial killer. She taught Kit everything she knows and when she retired from the business, her daughter took up her mother’s line of work.

The thing is, Kit is more of an assassin than a serial killer. You see, she decides who to kill based on letters. People write her letters with their murder requests and leave them in a special dropbox. Kit goes through them and selects who to kill. She gets paid a ridiculous amount of money and the letter they write is left behind with the corpse.

First of all, I don’t understand why anyone would agree to this. What’s the point of having someone killed if you’re going to be incriminated? It doesn’t matter if you didn’t do the actual act. You essentially hired someone to kill that person! And since the letter making the original request is left with the body, there’s irrefutable proof. It’d be one thing if the reasons behind these requests were things like “This man killed my family” and “This woman hit my child with her car.” And while there are requests like this, there are also ones like “This girl won’t go out with me.” That’s a rather petty reason given that the letter writer’s ultimate fate is sealed.

Secondly, how did Kit remain unapprehended for so long? All these incriminated people — am I seriously supposed to be believe that none of them told Scotland Yard where Kit’s secret dropbox was? If the location is spread through the underground via rumor and anyone who wants to make a request can find it, I just can’t believe none of the authorities wouldn’t figure it out. They have informants!

Speaking of Scotland Yard, Dear Killer is supposed to take place in London. But other than references to Scotland Yard and Jack the Ripper, it could have been set in the U.S. To be honest, I often forgot it wasn’t set in the U.S. in the first place. There wasn’t much else to give it a unique sense of setting.

I liked the idea of Kit’s relationship with her mother. On the other hand, I think there could have been more done with the concept of a serial killer mother and daughter. Kit’s mother was good at what she did but gave it up to hide in plain sight. But she couldn’t bear to say goodbye to that life completely so she taught her daughter. In doing so, however, she lost a bit of herself and everything that made up her identity.

I also thought Kit befriending one of her intended victims could have made for a very interesting story. I got the impression that Kit’s mother was the true sociopath and that Kit was simply the result of a child being raised and molded by a serial killer from a young age. Since her father was absent and uninvolved, how could she develop any sort of moral compass? That friendship could have humanized Kit and in the beginning I thought that was the direction we were heading in. Alas, it did not come to pass.

After Mafia Girl, I’ve begun to question this fascination with underaged criminal girls and their older law enforcement love interests. I can’t decide if this is a trend I’ve never picked up on or it’s simply a variation of the tried and true enemies to lovers trope. Most of the book, I couldn’t even figure out if I was supposed to believe in a relationship between Kit and Michael. I wasn’t sure if Kit was actually interested in him or just playing with him because he was the investigator in charge of her case.

Dear Killer could have been a very compelling read. I’m a big fan of female protagonists most readers consider unlikeable. But the book’s was all over the place and the plot’s multiple implausibilities just made it hard to take what was happening seriously. I can suspend my disbelief for one or two things but I have my limits and I’m sure other readers too. No investigator worth his salt is going to consult a seventeen-year-old girl on the most notorious case in London, let alone let her prance onto a crime scene. D

My regards,

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REVIEW:  Nice Tie by Jules Jones

REVIEW: Nice Tie by Jules Jones

tieDear Ms. Jones:

I was intrigued by the premise of this novella because I often find reading about kinks fascinating — the intense excitement they create, and how seemingly random yet intricately developed they are. Who would have thought that a story about someone with a unusual fetish could turn out to be so dull?

It begins promisingly, with Alex noticing a fellow frequent bus rider who often does up his tie during the ride:

Eye Candy pulled the tie looser so that it hung slack around his neck. But rather than pulling it over his head, he undid the knot and slid the tie free of his collar, giving it a quick snap in front of him to shake out any wrinkles. Alex approved of this sartorial thoughtfulness. The tie looked as if it was silk, smooth and lustrous. It was a deep red silk that suited the man’s skin tone. It deserved to be shown off at its best.

So far so good — the level of detail is believable, and put me into the head space of someone who finds this exciting. Unfortunately, it didn’t even try to keep me there.

“Eye Candy” turns out to be Robin Woods, Alex’s new client, and he recognizes Alex almost immediately: “You’re the guy on the bus who gets a hard-on watching me do my tie up!” This seemed startlingly quick and unsubtle in light of the book’s beginning, but in fact the pacing of the entire novella is off. When they have sex for the first time, Robin’s tie is disposed of in five terse paragraphs — one fewer paragraph than is devoted to Alex making Robin a cup of tea. And that’s pretty much it for the tie, but it’s only the first of many times he makes Robin a warm drink. We get to read about every single one of them.

“Prosaic reality,” thinks Alex when Robin suggests he drink his tea before it’s cold, and sadly it’s also dry, prosaic writing. I think the intent is to create a mood of growing friendship and warmth, but there’s no spark or wit to keep it interesting. Just detail after minute detail:

Robin pulled himself out of bed, took the mug with him, and headed for the bathroom. A few minutes later he was back, bearing a rinsed mug, which he set on the the tray before coming back to bed.

Alex went to clean his own mug and teeth. He got back to the bed and put out the light.

The second half of the story gets a bit of conflict with the arrival of Robin’s controlling ex, but much of it is spent reiterating and dissecting information the reader already knows. Although I appreciate the inclusion of a monogamous bi character (Robin) and the attempt to write an m/m story about more everyday, realistic issues facing “almost middle-aged” men, such as potential conflicts of interest at work, domestic violence, and navigating fidelity, this often has more of the feel of a how-to manual than fiction.

I’m not sure who the audience for this story is. I don’t think it meets the minimum definition for a romance — the relationship never progresses beyond friends with benefits — and as erotica, it was largely unerotic. Unless, perhaps, you have a comforting warm drink fetish. D



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