To the Grave

Carlene Thompson
August 2012, Romantic Suspense
St. Martin's, $7.99, 432 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312360754

Grade: D
Sensuality: Subtle

Why are boring books the longest? I couldn’t help but wonder this while I was plodding through To The Grave, a novel that is far longer than it needs to be and much less interesting or entertaining than I would have liked.

Catherine Gray is a new psychologist, just establishing herself in an existing practice. She has been in love with James Eastman for years, but only recently started a relationship with him. He had been married, and his wife Renee infamously cheated on him openly and frequently. However, three years ago, she disappeared, and after a time James quietly divorced her -- but not before being investigated for involvement in her disappearance. Now, he and Catherine are developing their own relationship and exploring their feelings for each other.

That is, until Catherine finds Renee’s body in a gruesome scene. She was not dead those past years, though; she had apparently returned to the small town of Aurora Falls because of a notorious art exhibit, painted by one of her lovers, featuring a very sensual portrait that many believed was of Renee. With her recent murder, the small town is dredging up old gossip and innuendo, which only gets worse when other people connected to Renee are found dead, killed in a ritualistic fashion.

Sometimes when I’m reading books, bits and pieces of advice from creative writing teachers float through my head. In To The Grave, I kept thinking about dialogue being “conversation’s greatest hits,” and that dialogue must always be more than just a conversation, it has to do something else, too. The dialogue in this book ignored the first rule, and overdid the second. Conversations were both mundane and overly informative. If we weren’t witnessing a wholly superficial exchange that contributed nothing to either plot or character development, we were subject to stilted, overly informative exchanges that were stiff and unnatural. There was no balance between the two extremes.

The mystery is a bit confusing, because there are two “bad guys.” It all felt convoluted and illogical, with far more ritualism than was warranted or believable. There was a lot of head hopping, though to the author’s credit she managed to create suspense by being inside a character’s point of view, while still creating suspicion and not revealing who the murderer was.

What was most frustrating to me, though, were the characters. James was so flat and bland that I couldn’t tell you a single unique thing about him. He wasn’t a character so much as he was a prop. Meanwhile, the behavior that is supposed to indicate Catherine’s stress just made her seem unstable and inconsistent. There is, of course, room for trauma and stress, but she varied so much from her usual sedate self that it seemed like a completely different person. Side characters had neither depth nor believability; they were all caricatures.

Reading To The Grave was a process that took me nearly a month because I couldn’t get through more than a few pages at a time before becoming bored. It just simply wasn’t a good book.

-- Jane Granville

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