Pandora's Box

The Last to Die

Beverly Barton
2004, Romantic Suspense
Zebra, $6.50, 416 pages, Amazon ASIN 0821772163
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

In The Last To Die, the sequel to The Fifth Victim, Jazzy Talbot is accused of having a fatal attraction-type relationship with her long-time lover, Jamie Upton, when he is found murdered. Every clue to the killer's identity points back to Jazzy and she needs the help of her clairvoyent friend Genny (from The Fifth Victim), the sheriff, and Caleb, her new love, to prove her innocence and to find the real killer. The Last to Die is the second book in the Cherokee Pointe trilogy and there are many twists and turns before the killer is identified.

Linda:      This month AAR reviewer Teresa Galloway, is subbing for Blythe. Teresa, we sure didn't give you a light and frothy book to read, did we?

Teresa:   No, but that's fine with me. I usually prefer darker books anyway!

Linda:   Well, I love a good romp but occasionally a darker mystery will capture my attention. I have read and enjoyed Barton's category books for years and I am really enjoying seeing some of the longtime category writers breaking out successfully in single title. The writing here reminded me of the "edge of your seat/fast page-turning" style of Karen Robards, which is high praise indeed. Did you enjoy the non-stop action of this book?

Teresa:   Yes I did, even though, as we'll discuss later, I had some problems with the plotting. It actually reminded me, in places, of some of Linda Howard's work, like Shades of Twilight (which I liked, BTW). Some of the intricate familial and sex scenes between couples other than the hero and heroine were even like that. However, I must say that the romance in this book didn't capture me as much. I found the interactions between the main characters actually somewhat distracting from the suspense!

Linda:   I agree with you - this one is more suspense than romance. Although I did enjoy the relationships of the various couples, sometimes they did get in the way of the story. I liked the fact that no one in this book is perfect. They're flawed human beings and they definitely grow throughout the story. I also thought of Linda Howard's book Open Season as I read this and I'll have to admit that a little levity would at times have been welcome. The torture scene made me very queasy, but then I'm a real wimp about gore.

Teresa:   Funny that the torture scenes didn't bother me as much as I thought they would. I think that in some respects this is because most of the victims that we see tortured haven't been made into sympathetic characters by the author - probably on purpose. One of the victims, in fact is pretty repellent, so even though no one deserves that kind of torture, I couldn't get too worked up over it.

I think part of the problem with the romance is that because this is the second book in a series, some of the characters from the first book get what I feel is too much screen time here. Do you agree? BTW, I haven't read the first book in the series.

Linda:   I haven't read the first book either, but I liked this one well enough to go back and read it. I think it would have helped to have read book one as it seemed like Genny and her visions were just kind of dumped on us and it took me a couple of re-reads to figure out what was with her. I also found it a little hard to accept the telepathic messages between Genny and her husband, Dallas; but then suspending disbelief is a main ingredient in reading fiction isn't it?

Teresa:   So true! Actually, it did surprise me at first that no one in the book seemed to have any problems accepting the visions of a what do you call it - clairvoyant? or maybe precognitive? - anyway, everyone seemed so blasé about it. I imagine that was covered more in book one, and in fact it was somewhat refreshing not to have to read all the requisite "isn't she a quack" stuff that most such books have. However, it also meant that the focus was split. We see so much of Genny and her visions that we expect her to be the heroine, like in Linda Howard's Dream Man or Now You See Her, and since she's not the heroine in this book, it was distracting.

Linda:   Yes, we did see a lot of Genny but I didn't think it detracted too much attention from Jazzy and Caleb. I also thought there were so many coincidences going on in this story - particularly those involving characters and their relationships - that it seemed piled on, in my opinion.

Teresa:   I agree with you about piling on the coincidences, but also that some things are simply never fully explained. It's hard to talk about some of these major plot points without giving spoilers. I really have to speak in riddles almost, but here goes. It also really bothered me that not all the riddles we're introduced to are solved at the end. That's clearly because they will be addressed in book three, but I felt gypped. Especially because I didn't think the resolution to "who is the killer?" was quite fair. While we are given some information and can maybe make some guesses, most of the background info doesn't come until everyone finally knows who it is. And it doesn't play quite fair, I thought, with mystery conventions. Were you able to guess it, Linda? What did you think?

Linda:   Well, I have to confess I am an end peeker - I even do it with mysteries, so I of course knew who the villain was. <g> I once had dinner with Karen Robards and confessed to her that I had read the end of one of her books first. She was shocked and couldn't believe that peeking at the end didn't ruin the story for me - but it never does. Even when I don't peek I usually guess the villain early.

Teresa:   I never end peek! But I didn't feel I had enough info to guess both identity and motive. Anyway, I want to discuss the romance a bit more. Jazzy and Caleb's relationship was not very well developed. Most of the time they're getting into an argument; she always seems to forgive his obnoxious behavior with almost no apology from him; and he's almost never there when she needs him. We're privy to very few interesting conversations between them and kinda have to take their regard for each other on faith. And I didn't like him that much. He gets to save the day at the end in a way that also drove me a bit crazy. There are tons of people out searching and he has to go it alone? Too clichéd.

Linda:   Yes, Caleb is not the most compelling or likable of heroes and they do seem to have a lot of problems getting past Jazzy's past relationship with Jamie. Jamie was such a rat that it lowered my respect for Jazzy that she was so addicted to him. I could understand her falling for him at 16, but after all he had done in the interim I couldn't understand why she let him anywhere near her. Also, I think there are a lot of unanswered questions that I guess will be answered in the third book, but I feel very strongly that each book in a series should be able to stand alone. Unfortunately, this leaves an author in a quandary - too much exposition for new readers leaves readers of the first book bored and too little exposition, as I feel there was here, leaves the reader wondering what she missed. Perhaps that is the point, to make the reader want to go back and get the first book and to be sure to read the third one to have her questions answered. But, it certainly leaves the reader of the middle book a bit baffled and perhaps feeling a bit cheated.

Teresa:   I tend to agree. I didn't mind the lack of exposition so much - I don't mind being plopped down in the middle of a story and having the pieces come together later. In the case of Jazzy and Caleb's relationship, perhaps a little more background may have helped. But I also resented that not all the threads got tied together at the end, and I have to read book three if I want to understand how certain characters are related.

I also agree with you that Jazzy should have gotten over Jamie a long time ago. He just wasn't that compelling! That said, the book was certainly a page turner and kept me involved and interested. The fact that I was also frustrated maybe indicates just how much I had invested in the events of the story. But I was frustrated.

Linda:   Yes, there is nothing purple about Barton's prose. The writing is tight and kept me turning the pages as quickly as possible. I did like Jazzy and Caleb together and I am very intrigued by the snobbish Reve and the taciturn sheriff. They are the kind of odd couple I love and I will definitely be buying the third book in the series. I also think I am going to pick up the first book because I so like Genny and Dallas and want to see how they came to be so mentally entwined.

Teresa:   I too, may decide to read the third book. If I get enough satisfaction of the plot resolution, I may even go back and read the first. By the way - we should probably warn people that in addition to rather graphic descriptions of torture and murder, there is also a lot of graphic sex depicted between both the main characters and other less savory characters, in somewhat twisted relationships (a bit like Shades of Twilight, again). This really didn't bother me that much, but might bother some readers.

Linda:   Yes, the skanky sex reminded me of a couple of Stella Cameron's books that featured very twisted villains. The graphic sex was okay with me too, but I am not a big fan of the F-word especially when the hero tells the heroine he wants to "F" her - it just isn't romantic to me. But, then I realize the younger generation (my kids in other words) use the "F" word a lot and I guess it wouldn't bother them as it did me.

Teresa:   I haven't read much by Cameron so I can't comment. The "F" word is okay with me when it's used in the right context. I didn't have a problem here.

Linda:   I didn't have a real problem, but it did take away from the 'romantic' aspect a bit for me.

Teresa did you read anything interesting over Christmas or have something fun on your TBR pile?

Teresa:   I'm set to review the latest Balogh in the Slightly series which I'm psyched about getting to review - I haven't read it yet, so can't say if I like it . Also, my MIL sent us a copy of the Da Vinci Code which I've been wanting to read and will get to very soon now. How about you?

Linda:   I just got back from the store with Jayne Ann Krentz's latest, Truth or Dare, and can hardly wait to read it since I loved the first book in the series, now out in paperback. After that I have a mystery by Ann Majors on the top of the pile which sounds intriguing and funny.

I really appreciate your filling in for Blythe, who I am sure is having a Merry Christmas with all her little ones.

Teresa:   No problem. I really enjoyed it and enjoyed the book selection too! Which book are you and Blythe reviewing next?

Linda:   Next month we are reading Irresistible Forces, an anthology with an unusual mix of authors: Catherine Asaro, Jo Beverley, Lois McMaster Bujold, Mary Jo Putney, Deb Stover, and Jennifer Roberson.

Teresa:   Sounds like fun and an interesting group for an anthology.

Linda:   Thanks for sitting in, Teresa and Happy Reading.

Teresa:   Thanks for inviting me.

--Linda Hurst and Teresa Galloway, with assistance from Sandi Morris, for

-- Pandora's Box

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