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REVIEW:  Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

REVIEW: Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

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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,
Jia

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REVIEW:  His Fair Lady by Kimberly Gardner

REVIEW: His Fair Lady by Kimberly Gardner

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“Mark Talleo is something of a dog with the ladies. Any girl, anytime, anywhere is his motto until he meets Josie Frazier. The long lean redhead not only shares his love of musical theatre, but her smoky sexy voice and infectious laugh drive Mark wild and haunt his every step. Equally fascinating is his sense that she has a secret, one he is determined to uncover on his way to becoming her leading man.

Josie does have a secret, one she guards with her whole self. Although she has always known she was female, her name used to be Joey and she’s still biologically male. As much as she yearns for love and acceptance, her fear of rejection is just as strong.

Mark’s need to know the truth is matched only by Josie’s need to hide it. But when malicious gossip reveals her deepest secret the price of honesty may turn out to be too high to pay. But if each can accept that the woman he wants is the woman she is then at last he may find His Fair Lady.”

Dear Ms. Gardner,

I’ll be honest and admit that the main reason I picked this book to try is because it has a transgender character. It’s not that I have any fetishes, I’m just trying to make sure our LGBTTQ reviews at DA actually have some characters who are BTTQ. To find any stories that delve into issues faced by this community is hard since I haven’t found that many being published. To find a nicely written one is a treat.

I liked Josie from the start. She’s smart, not easily bowled over when a hot guy asks her out and makes Mark work to get her attention and a date. So sure, a bit of this is because she’s got a secret and hasn’t dated much but a lot is due to some inner quality I sense in her that won’t accept second best or anyone only trying to see if he can get in her pants. My thoughts were validated later in the story when she verbally lets Mark have it after All Is Revealed and he panics. She does cry but only after a few choice shouted lines calling Mark on his cowardice.

Mark’s not too bad either but did notice that he’s really not the “dog” mentioned in the blurb. Perhaps I wouldn’t have taken to his character quite as much if he had been but the fact is that his only offense in this department seems to be not being firm enough in ending an almost over relationship. Once his attention is caught by Josie though, he’s a goner. He presses, retreats slightly so as not to be thought a stalker, makes sure Josie gets home, sees her to her door, calls her mother “ma’am,” and behaves as if someone raised him right. But he’s not unbelievable either given that his dorm room is a pit, he cheerfully calls his friend and roommate an asswipe, and would gladly get Josie into bed if she’s willing.

Josie’s anxieties and fears about revealing her gender are worked into the narrative without it seeming to flip on a neon “sign” stating ISSUES HERE! She takes care with her necklines and pulling her hair back from her throat, is silently grateful that her hormones will help her hide any erection she might get when things get hot and heavy with Mark, worries if a transgendered professor has realized her secret and has to face the fallout when her gender becomes known. And while this isn’t a “everything is genderly wonderful world,” it’s one that is perhaps more open since it takes place on a college campus, among theater arts majors, and with a hero who has a gay brother. I was watching to see how Josie’s and Mark’s parents were portrayed and was happy that this novella doesn’t have the disapproving families trope.

Perhaps all of the above mitigating factors smooth over the real dangers trans people face daily. Maybe Mark ends up being Super Boyfriend who is still sexually turned on by Josie despite the fact that she’s not planning on having gender reassignment surgery. But I enjoyed that the story focuses mainly on Josie and Mark and reaching their HFN – maybe HEA. B

~Jayne

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