Her Black CAT series “crackles with dark, edgy, danger.”* Now Leslie Parrish introduces eXtreme Investigations, a band of psychic investigators interested only in the cases nobody else wants—the coldest ones …
After being made a scapegoat in a botched investigation that led to a child’s death, Aidan McConnell became a recluse. Still, as a favor to an old friend, Aidan will help on the occasional XI case. But under his handsome, rugged façade, he keeps his emotions in check—for fear of being burned again.
Reporter Lexie Nolan has a nose for news—and she believes a serial killer has been targeting teen girls around Savannah. But no one believes her. So she turns to the new paranormal detective agency and the sexy, mysterious Aidan for help.
But just as the two begin forging a relationship, the case turns eerily personal for Lexie—and Aiden discovers that maybe he hasn’t lost the ability to feel after all…
I was completely enamored of Leslie Parrish's Black CAT series, as most of you probably noticed. So when I got the opportunity to review the first book in a new series, I jumped at the chance. I received an ARC for it, and readily agreed to review this story. No problem. I loved Leslie's romantic suspense, and figured the slight paranormal element would be icing on an already luscious cake. Little did I know that sometimes it's not always good to have too much cake.
Aidan McConnell moved away from the snubs and cruel accusations of Savannah, Georgia, after his last investigation went tragically wrong and an innocent child died for it. Now he spends his time keeping to himself and not letting anyone close. But even moving away from the big city didn't mean he was away from it completely. Turns out the small, friendly neighborhood that he believed was so safe is harboring some ugly secrets.
Teenage girls have been going missing, and reporter Lexie Nolan was tired of seeing nothing being done. Though she herself had been badly burned for her previous investigation, something inside her isn't willing to let this go. She believes there's something more sinister at work, and with the reluctant help of Aidan, she's determined to find out just what that could be.
For the most part the local sheriff is not interested enough to worry about who he believes to be good-for-nothing kids from the other side of the tracks who are mostly just runaways trying to escape their miserable lives. It isn't until a well-liked student from the wrong side of the tracks who attends school on the right side of the tracks turns up missing that people start to pay attention....
As I made mention earlier, I was completely blown away by Leslie Parrish's Black CAT series, and felt that they were some of the best romantic suspense storylines I'd ever read. Granted, I don't read a ton of rom sus, but I know what I like, and Leslie's books were it.
And up to a certain point, I was really enjoying this first book in Leslie's new series. Spotlighted as more of a paranormal romantic suspense, it was nevertheless more suspenseful, with the paranormal element being more of the ESP, empathic variety. (Definition: there are no vampires or witches here). These were characters with slightly heightened senses, people you would probably find out in the real world.
So I was happily going along, enjoying the banter and obvious attraction between Aidan and Lexi, and hoping that they would soon give into the simmering sexual tension between them. In that I was not disappointed. I was also getting anxious for the poor kidnapped teen Vonnie everyone is searching for because seeing through her eyes what she was experiencing while held captive was cruel and scary, yet I so admired her strength and will to live. She was not a silly girl, and thought she was terrified beyond belief, her desire to survive her ordeal was overwhelming. Even when she believed she was going to die, she just wasn't ready to accept it, not really.
There was a lot going on in this book. In addition to the growing feelings between Aidan and Lexie, we have Aidan's former colleagues visiting to check out just what's really going on in this small, supposedly serene little town; the townspeople anxious to put a lid on any investigation that might paint them in a bad light; and school kids from both sides of the tracks who know Vonnie and unite to show the adults of their town that they aren't willing to be silent. Some of these kids know something's not right, and they intend to stand up for their friend.
One distasteful element about this story centered around the affluent businessmen of this small town called Granville. It turns out there were quite a few - 10 to perhaps 20 at a time - who would "kidnap" young girls from the wrong side of the tracks and use them brutally as their carnal entertainment. Fortunately we don't have to "see" it happen, but it's alluded to several times, and I can't help thinking that deviance like this happens much more frequently than we care to think about. I can easily see these men feeling entitled to act out their most base and animalistic lust on helpless, innocent young women. Just goes to show you that the more civilized people claim to be, they can be equally as uncivilized. It was creepy and disturbing to think about.
So I'm all caught up in the story, enjoying it most thoroughly, when it happened. I was probably about 3/4 or 5/6 of the way through the book where a tragic event took place that completely...devastated me. So much so that I had to toss the book aside and bawl my eyes out. I was a total wreck. I couldn't pick it up again for 2 days.
I immediately texted Leslie to ask why she did "it". I feel bad about my reaction, but it was real, and it was how I felt. I was so angry. Even now, though a part of me completely understands where she was coming from, there's a large part of me that hates it. I've written this review in my head several times, and each time, I recall the rage and loss and and sense of helplessness I felt when I first read it. I know Leslie is proud of producing such a reaction from me, because what writer wouldn't want to affect their readers so strongly, and I get that from her point of view as a writer. And I've said time and again how much I love an emotional read. But at the same time, I NEVER want to experience that feeling from a romance book again. EVER. In fact I believe that if I had known about the awful event prior to reading it, I really think I would have asked not to read it. Not because I don't love her work, but because there are lines I don't want to cross in a romance novel lacking TRUE paranormal elements. Maybe when I'm older, more cynical, whatever. But for now, I don't want to be reminded what it's like to have my heart ripped out so thoroughly.
Now let me explain a little more clearly. Because despite the seemingly "paranormal" elements to this story, it was not a paranormal, and the events that happened were permanent. If I had been reading Stephen King, then yes, anything goes. If I had been reading a Hunter book by Shiloh Walker, than definitely, bring it on. I know it could get brutal and ugly and I'm mentally much more prepared for that. What I cannot be prepared for is something so tragic and brutal to happen in a traditional romance novel - even one with suspenseful elements - where it can't be taken back. I remember reader reaction when Karin Slaughter killed off a main character in one of her books, and the devastated fan reaction. I totally understand that much better now, because I felt...betrayed. Even though the character that dies in this book is a minor character, and we don't see a whole lot of her, I remember becoming so attached to her and her family, and sympathizing to what they've already been through with the mother having breast cancer, then to have this ugly thing happen to rip their world completely apart. I'll be honest. I was enraged. There's no other way to say this. And I'll admit, a part of me even despised Leslie a bit for doing it. Probably always will. Rationally I know that in real life horrific events happen to good people, and there is no reprieve, no taking it back. They must suffer through the agony of losing a loved one that didn't deserve to die, especially in not so brutal a fashion.
Eventually I did finish the book, but it was with a very heavy heart. Despite the various reassurances received from others who'd read the story, I just could not reconcile what had already happened to the way the story ended, because no matter how "paranormal" this story was reported to be, it wasn't enough that it could offer the closure I needed to come to terms with the loss. The happy ending ended up being somewhat less than happy for me. In the epilogue, there's mention that the family was surviving. Hopeful, yet I didn't believe it. It was way too soon. (Geez even thinking on it now brings tears to my eyes).
Now I know most others will not have the same issue I did, and believe me I get teased for my drama queen rants LOL. But really, that's okay. I can't deal. I can't help how I feel. Maybe I'm overreacting because in the end it's just a story, but to me, the way it happened, the immediately way I connected to some of these minor characters, the death of one of them just triggered such a viseral, raw response that I cannot pretend I didn't loathe it with every fiber of my being. Because I did. And if that makes me a weirdo, so be it. I can only be honest about how I feel about a book, and can't always pretend to like something if I truly don't.
Unfortunately I cannot rate this book a 5 because of the negative reaction I had to this one scene that impact the entire story for me. However I do strongly encourage others to read this book, because Leslie writes incredible romantic suspense and keeps you glued to the pages, but be sure to keep the Kleenex box next to you because if you're like me, you're gonna need it very badly.
And to Leslie, if you happen to ever read this, please don't think I'm insulting you or hating on you, because I'm truly not! I still adore you like mad, I just can't handle this particular kind of truth. And
Rating: **** out of *****