After a botched investigation left him wounded and disgraced, Special Agent Alec Lambert was forced to transfer onto Wyatt Blackstone's team. This former profiler has lost his edge, buried by the guilt he feels over another agent's death. But he'll need all his skills when he realizes he's getting another crack at a case that has haunted him. A serial killer known as the Professor is now using the latest e-mail schemes to lure his victims and the Black CATs are on his trail.
Samantha Dalton didn't set out to become an online vigilante, until her grandmother was swindled out of everything she owned. Devoting herself to exposing fraud and preventing tragedies from happening to other families, Sam has gained fame and success with her website and a recently released book. A hermit since her ugly divorce, Sam really doesn't want the outside world intruding on her privacy. Especially not when that outside world is a sexy FBI agent who tells her she has a cyber connection to a murdered teenage boy.
When the killer opens a line of communication with Sam via her website, Alec and his team enlist her help to stop him. There's one thing they don't know, however. The Professor doesn't just see Sam Dalton as an anonymous online foe. He is, in fact, her number one fan. He's been watching her, waiting for the time to be right to make his move. He just isn't sure what that move will be.
Take her. Or kill her.
This is the second book in Leslie Parrish
's Black CAT series, and I think I liked it better than the first, which is really saying something. These books are not heavy on romance, but there is an HEA, and the suspense is enough to keep the reader engaged and anxious to find out what happens next. I had a difficult time putting this one down.
The Black CATs are an ostracized group of the FBI, and they handle internet crimes. In this story, the victims are the harmless yet gullible people who fall for those ridiculous internet scams promising millions, or that they will find their soulmate because they believe the wonderful lies told on the other end of the computer from someone they met via an online dating service. Tales too good to be true, but are tantalizing enough to convince those wanting to believe so badly that they could actually be that lucky. That out of the billions of people on the planet, they alone are the recipient of millions of dollars just for "helping" someone in an international country, or find the man/woman of their dreams and promise to run away with them without ever having met them. It's the fairy tale we all want to believe in, even though we really know better.
The first few pages of "Pitch Black" were enough to give me chills, quite literally. Without giving it away, Leslie taps into one of my greatest fears here, and makes it horrifying enough to really make you fear and hate the villain on so many levels. The Professor has made it his mission to weed out those who are weak, stupid, gullible, by coming up with convincing schemes to tempt people to try and grab that dangling gold carrot, only once they do, the consequences are extremely dire. However the Professor still provides a last-minute escape route: if his victims use common sense and do not lose their heads, there is still a chance they can get themselves out of danger. So he doesn't really see himself as a killer. He justifies his actions by believing the victim has created their own fate, and will live or die because of their own actions. Survival of the fittest.
Samantha Dalton has personal experience with internet scams as someone very close to her was taken in by one and it was truly devastating. She has made her mission in life as Sam the Spaminator to educate people about the pitfalls of these scams, and via her blog, provides helpful tips and suggestions to avoid being taken in by claims that really are too good to be true. The Professor is quite taken with Sam, and finds her to be intelligent and quite rational, traits he greatly admires, and he looks forward to the day when the two will finally be together. He imagines that it won't be long before he can convince her of the validity of his actions, and believes she will eventually see the brilliance of his plans to rid the world of "stupid people". It's only a matter of time before she concedes to his intelligent nature.
Sam meets Special Agent Alec Lambert when the CAT Team discovers her connection to one of the Professor's recent victims. Feeling somewhat responsible for the death of a young boy, even though logically there was nothing she could have done, she agrees to work with Alec and his agency to stop a madman from claiming any more victims. She can't help the instantaneous attraction that sizzles between them, but ignores it to help catch a dangerous killer. Her involvement in the case forces her out of her shell and to face some realities about how she's let her bitterness over her divorce control her life. Helping Alec and his team has made her face some things about herself she didn't want to acknowledge, but it ends up being a necessary experience for her. As more time goes by, Sam and Alec grow closer,and the once burning physical attraction deepens into something that neither one of them can walk away from. But their growing relationship is hindered by their hunt for a dangerous madman, one who decides to select his next victim from those a little too close to home.....
Can I just say how much I absolutely love this series? I thought the first one was amazing but this one totally caught my attention right from the first page and I was hooked. I'm not a huge reader of romantic suspense, but I think I might have to change that. Leslie Parrish's Black CAT series is one I can't rave about enough. Just when I think I might have figured it all out, she throws another wrench into the mix and I have to start all over again, and it's that suspense that kept me glued to the pages. That and the fact that she creates believably flawed characters who are smart and clever, and - I can't believe I'm saying this like it's a good thing - spend more time actually solving the case instead of ripping each other's clothes off everytime they're alone. I get that the adrenaline and sense of immediate danger can be a seductive aphrodiasiac, but when the characters are too busy hittin' it and the bodies are piling up left and right, I lose all respect. Leslie blends the perfect level of fear and urgency with a potent level of tension and attraction to keep readers on their toes and impatient to see where this is going next. With a secondary plot carried over from the first book, "Fade To Black" - which is not required reading before "Pitch Black" but it sure does help - intertwined with the current case involving the Professor, Leslie writes an engaging, absorbing story that is sure to please fans of romantic suspense, as well as those new to the genre looking for something refreshing and/or relevant in today's society. As we become more and more connected, what with the advent of new and advanced technology all the time, internet crimes are sure to become more and more prevalent, especially when we don't have that face-to-face contact - body language - to use as an additional filter when getting a vibe off another person. Working for a financial institution, we see people who fall for these fraudulent claims rather often, so to take it to the next level and turn it into a gage of human behavior is fascinating to me. It actually makes a bizarre kind of sense.
As in "Fade To Black", I liked the characters in this book quite a bit. Not just Alec and Sam but also the other agents on the CAT Team. It seems they are all damaged in some way, and the little pieces into their lives we see just makes me crave more. There is unfinished business left over which I'm sure is to be resolved in the 3rd (and hopefully not final!) installment.
Those who are looking for more of a romantic storyline won't necessarily find it here, but for me, I'm satisfied in the slow buildup of the relationship between Alec and Sam here because for one thing, it's not the main focus of the book. We learn a lot about Sam especially, and why she's so gun-shy, and we see what Alec has been through just prior to being assigned to the Black CAT team, and together their painful pasts forge a connection that builds slowly with the more time they spend together, trying to solve this particular case that they feel personally drawn to for different reasons. I really appreciated that their relationship isn't rushed, but evolves naturally. It totally makes sense within the construct of the story, and allows the reader to concentrate on the case at hand, and the crucial undertaking of capturing a formidable opponent.
If I haven't said it enough already, I'm going to repeat myself one additional time here and strongly encourage you to pick a copy of this book. I, for one, want to continue reading this series after book 3, and I'm hoping everyone else will, too. It's really gotten me excited for more romantic suspense, and I think Leslie's deft hand with the genre is going to take her far. I think others will agree once they've given it a try.
~~~ Leslie was gracious enough to do an interview with me, and I plan on having that up in the next few weeks, sometime before the release of "Black At Heart". It was a lot of fun to think up interesting questions, and I hope you tune in for that. You just never know what else I've got planned *g* ~~~
Rating: ****3/4 out of *****
Labels: Leslie Parrish, reviews