Dead Ringer

Mary Burton
2008, Romantic Suspense
Zebra, $6.99, 380 pages, Amazon ASIN 1420100270

Grade: D+
Sensuality: Warm

Sometimes when I go into a book, everything is an unknown quantity to me and I'm prepared for anything and everything. However, it's always uniquely disappointing to read a book by an author I know has the talent to turn out really good stories only to discover that not only am I reading something I wouldn't recommend, but that I would actively want to turn people away. Unfortunately, that's my reaction to Dead Ringer.

The book opens with the discovery of a woman in her late 30s who has been strangled and found with a charm reading "Ruth." The ghastly crime tugs at Detective Jacob Warwick, in part because of the victim's eerie resemblance to local news anchor Kendall Shaw. The news anchor herself upsets Shaw by appearing to report live from the scene of the body's discovery. As another victim is found and it is obvious that the death of "Ruth" is not an isolated act, Jacob and Kendall cross paths again and again in the investigation and the reporting of the crimes.

Kendall Shaw is a somewhat interesting character. While Jacob did not seem quite so well-crafted to me, Kendall has twists and turns that set her apart from the usual heroine. Her backstory seems a little too flat and readers get to know way too much about how she dresses and styles her hair, but Kendall manages to rise above this and actually show some depth. Strong and confident, Kendall is very ambitious about her career and has not gotten to her position at the network by being sweetness and light. Though she has kept herself busy rising to the top, she also makes it clear that she has not been too busy to have past relationships.

Unfortunately for the story, the one relationship that never seems believable is the one between Kendall and Jacob. Most of the book consists and Kendall and Jacob mutually annoying one another in their professional lives. Each completely ticks off the other and while this may sometimes lead to chemistry, it never really feels real here. Add to that the fact that many of Jacob's observations about Kendall come from watching her on TV rather than knowing her as a person, and the lack of sizzle between the two finds itself enhanced by an unexpected creepiness factor. Boredom spiced up with an unexpected side of "ick" does not fine romance make. The book does hint at a secondary romance that I found very sweet, but it does not make up for the lack of a strong primary one.

The suspense side of the equation fares better, though not by much. The villain just seems like a typical sociopathic creep, though the backstory on the killings has a more interesting twist than most. At times, I did find myself getting drawn into the murder investigation plot simply because it does follow many twists and turns and the author does a decent job of hiding all of the various interconnections for as long as possible. However, Jacob's obsession from the very beginning with the victim's resemblance to Kendall made no sense at all. Within the evidence present at the crime scenes, nothing really points to Kendall, so Jacob's bizarre tie back to Kendall seems to come from nowhere. At one point, I even started to wonder if he might be our crazy psycho killer because he just seemed so odd in his focus and thought processes.

I should also add in a word on the writing. My review copy of this book is the final, published version and I have never seen a book so replete with typos and the rampant abuse of homophones. In this novel, we find people throwing on the "breaks", and on one page, we meet a character wearing "one-caret diamond studs" and a "broach". Mistakes happen, but allowing this many spelling and usage errors does not make a writer's work look polished or professional.

While I do enjoy romantic suspense as a subgenre, Dead Ringer just didn't deliver for me. It features a heroine with some satisfying depth, but the romance has no chemistry to it and the suspense story doesn't pull together as well as it should. Mary Burton has written good historical and suspense books in the past and I would suggest that readers look up some of her Harlequin and Silhouette releases, and give this one a miss.

-- Lynn Spencer

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