From his years in the FBI's violent crimes unit, Special Agent Dean Taggart has learned firsthand how vicious people can be. But this is the worst he's ever seen. Eight victims have been murdered, their final moments captured on film and shown on a secret Web site called Satan's Playground. And a madman who refers to himself as the Reaper is auctioning off their means of death.
When the investigation leads Dean to the small town of Hope Valley, he enlists the help of sexy and capable sheriff Stacey Rhodes, who's dealing with secrets of her own. It's too late to save the latest victim, but Dean and Stacey will have to work fast, because the Reaper's next auction is about to begin...
I'm a regular visitor over at Plotmonkeys, and so I was rather excited to see Leslie Kelly was writing a new romantic suspense series under the name Leslie Parrish. Obviously these were going to be very different books, so it made sense to create a new name and website to suit the mood and feel of the CAT books.
So when RNTV sent out the list of July books for review, I was relieved that "Fade To Black" was on the list and no one had yet laid claim to it. Well I took care of that right away! And now, after reading it, all I can say is: lucky me :) Here we go...
In the first few pages of the story, we see that the killer is just in the middle of his first kill. And we also discover that he has decided to videotape his victim's final moments. Despite his mostly calm demeanor, this is not a cold, unemotional murder; the killer is remembering cruel taunts and digs he's suffered, and lashes out against his prey with all the rage and impotence that's been building for years. This is his revenge. Now he had finally found his place, and what he was meant to do.
Seventeen months and several deaths later, the bloody crimes have been discovered, and on the internet of all places. Now it was up to CAT, a specialized division of the FBI who deal with cyber crimes, to stop a maniac before he kills any more people. Using video footage from the eight deaths uncovered, Special Agent Dean Taggart follows the trail to Hope Valley, the small town where the first victim resided, and teams up with the very dedicated and very female sheriff, Stacey Rhodes. Working side by side to stop a madman straight out of one's worst nightmare, Dean and Stacey keep hitting a brick wall, because now the time between murders is becoming shorter, and despite the Reaper having less time to prepare for his kills, the trail isn't getting any easier to track.
Stacey knows what it's like to live with the haunting images left over from a gruesome tragedy. That's why she's returned to Hope Valley, where she doesn't have to deal with such horrific acts of violence. But now it seems such a crime has come to her town, and she has to not just help track a brutal killer who keeps upping the bloody stakes with each crime, but also deal with the aftermath of grief when the crime hits so close to home. If that weren't enough, there's also the having to deal with the distracting presence of the sexiest man she's ever known on a daily basis. Sensing a mutual attraction, Stacey decides the only thing to do is act on it, and decides on a temporary fling is just what's needed to help her relax and maybe even forget, for just a little while, the horror of the man they are tracking.
But before Dean and Stacey can figure out where their feelings are headed, the team must try and stop the Reaper from commiting his most disturbing murder yet. Time is working against them, and if they don't figure out who is responsible for these heinous crimes, the results could be more devastating then they can deal with....
Not too much. Not too little. It was just right. What I mean is, there's not an abundance of gratuitous violence, there are no TSTL characters, and the hero and heroine don't drop everything to have raging hot sex everytime someone dies. I'll admit, I kept waiting for something bad to happen, like Dean all of a sudden morphing into a complete jerk or that Stacey forgets she's a competent policewoman, more than capable of taking care of herself and her town, but wilts under the intimidating glare of the hero. But it never did. Whew, how wonderful that was to experience: regular people who acted like you hoped they would.
Probably one of the best things about this book is the way the heroine is written. Stacey is exactly the kind of woman I would want to be. She's strong, brave, intelligent, and she comes with a boatload of common sense. She's also very forthright and can hold her own against any man, even one that hates her guts. She doesn't cower behind Dean when the hint of danger is lurking about. Definitely not the helpless female type is our Stacey (who unfortunately spells her name wrong :P). In fact she's the one that initiates their fling, figuring there's no reason to wait for the guy to make the first move. In fact that's just her way - she is definitely a take charge type of person, and even when it comes to sex, she's not afraid to put herself out there. I think it impressed the heck out of Dean, too.
And speaking of which, the perfect match for her is a guy just like Dean. Sure he's got baggage - ex-wife, a kid he hardly gets to see, vast experience with solving violent crimes - but he's got his head on straight and he knows what's important. Above all else, he loves his son and will do whatever it takes if it means he can spend more time with him. And then he has this rather adorable crush on Stacey - his heart stops whenever he sees her - yet he plays it cool. He doesn't act like a chest-beating bully with something to prove.
I think Leslie did an amazing job of bringing these two people together and letting them simmer but not boiling over and make a complete mess. The action was suspenseful enough to keep me turning the pages yet not too gory and explicit that I had to close my eyes or put the book down. She also kept me guessing as to the identity of the killer, as several possible suspects were paraded throughout the story for very legitimate reasons, so I appreciated that it wasn't immediately known, at least to me, who was commiting the crimes. It made the action more suspenseful and heightened the level of urgency to catch him. And the story was told in such a way that the existence of such a place like Satan's Playground is completely believable, and probably does actually survive out there in the real world (shudder), which makes this book even more compelling.
I am definitely recommending that you give Leslie's new series a try. I'm so excited that she decided to branch out into the suspense genre, and am thrilled that this first story worked so well for me, and I'm sure many other readers. There was just a little bit of a lag about 3/4 of the way through, but it was just minor compared to how much I really enjoyed this book. I think she's going places. Kudos to Leslie :)
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****
Labels: Leslie Parrish