September 2012, Suspense
Grand Central, $26.99, 480 pages, Amazon ASIN 1455501557
Do people ever really have it coming? Does someone who is cruel and manipulative deserve to die? Deserve to be humiliated? What if that someone is still young? Does that change the equation? This book takes a long look at that question and determines that it's not just wrong but destructive to even ask it.
The Lyston family never really had a before and after. One stormy Memorial Day eighteen years ago, a tornado swept through town, apparently killing Susan Lyston. The family had just begun grieving when the coroner made the discovery that Susan had died prior to the storm, strangled with her own panties. For this just forming blended family, the blow was shattering. The parents took solace in each other, leaving their teenage son and daughter to fend for themselves. Young Steven became cold, cynical, and angry, pulling away from stepsister Bellamy. When the chance came, he left home permanently. His mother got the occasional phone call but his stepfamily didn't see or hear from him again. Bellamy became the perfect child on the surface, but within stirs strong emotions. They were all at the Memorial Day picnic where her sister was killed. She had even spent time following her around, keeping track of the older girl who was more carefree - and far more likely to get in trouble. So why are her memories spotty? Why can't she remember what happened right before the twister came and destroyed everything?.
To that end Bellamy turns to writing therapy, in the hopes that putting it all on paper will jog her memory. But then she goes one step further, penning a fictionalized account of what happened 18 years ago. She publishes under a pseudonym wanting to spare her family the pain of publicity. When an opportunistic reporter discovers who Bellamy is, the stuff hits the fan and a maelstrom of publicity stirs up things best left in the past.
There are some who would just as soon the whole thing was forgotten. The moody cop, the overly slick ADA, And all the men who had been accused of the crime. Only one of them was imprisoned but all of them have paid the price for ever knowing Susan Lyston. The questioning had been brutal - and a matter of public knowledge. The men had been tried in the court of public opinion and even when found innocent of the crime, they carried the shadow of being a suspect throughout their lives.
Dent Carter is one such man. He had been the unfortunate soul dating Susan at the time of her death. His association with that unfortunate incident cost him a job he loved. Now he is flying charters and slowly paying off his own plane. He's none too thrilled when Bellamy charters a flight with him. She claims it is to "catch up" and check to see if he is doing OK. In reality it is to see if Dent had read the book and is the man targeting her with nasty gifts. The suspicion and his new found knowledge that the book exists puts Dent in less than a great mood, but he's determined to have this thing behind him once and for all - so he agrees to work with Bellamy. Whoever is stalking her needs to be stopped. They need to figure out if the wrong man went to prison. Because if so, it looks like the right one has found himself a new victim - and Dent may just wind up losing everything this time around.
Where to begin? There was soooo much I didn't like about this story. Let's start with Bellamy. She is one of those characters who considers herself quite clever and is in fact TSTL. She in no way prepared for the fall out that occured with the book. She seems quite surprised that someone is angry that she has pulled everyone involved in the nightmare unwillingly back into the public eye. She is clueless about the undercurrents in her own family. She is equally clueless about male/femaile relationships. Let's just call her clueless and leave it at that.
Dent fares better, but frankly, he is a stock Sandra Brown hero. Gruff, battered, imperfect with a heart of gold. If you have read her before, you will recognize him. The only thing I found unique to him was his habit of giving long lectures about flying. This was not an endearing trait.
What really did the book in were the contrivances and conveniences. Dent had crucial information on an important missing witness because of something really contrived in his past. A convenient phone call saves Bellamy's life. The tornado conveniently destroyed evidence. A key piece of evidence turns up and then has nothing to do with the crime. But worst of all, we are told at the beginning of the novel that due to Bellamy's circumstances, chances are strong that the killer is one of four people. Two of them are almost instantly eliminated. Of the remaining one was a complete long shot. Which meant I knew the killer about 25% into the book. The other 75% was spent watching Bellamy and Dent avoid the stalker, watching Bellamy and Dent struggle with their feelings for each other and watching Bellamy and Dent ineptly solve the crime. In the end, all they needed to know was sitting somewhere convenient anyway.
The final nail in the coffin was the treatment of the victim. She is described as being quite twisted. The attitude of everyone seems to be that she had it coming. Even in the end there is more a sense of getting justice for men like Dent, who were falsely accused and maligned, than in getting justice for a murdered teen. Was the girl a serial killer? No. Did she torture small animals? No. She was really mean to the people around her (in one instance disgustingy so) but no one addressed the fact that this wasn't just her problem - shouldn't her father and step-mother also be taken to account? Apparently not. Although the parental neglect is pretty much hammered home on every page he is still called daddy and she is lauded for her devotion to a dying husband. That their kids were essentially screwed over while they wallowed in their love for each other? Too bad, so sad.
Just to add that as written, the girl struck me as having something seriously mentally wrong with her. The kind of wrong that is noticable and needs intervention. 18 years ago was the 90's. We knew about mental illness, interventions, and addictions at the time. Her behavior was a cry for help. Someone in her life should have answered it.
The rest of my complaints with the book are all in spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that I recommend you don't rush out to buy this clunker. I will read Sandra Brown again - she's given me lots of reading pleasure in the past. But I am going to pick the next book up with some trepidation. This one left a really bad taste behind.
-- Maggie Boyd
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