Have you ever had a close guy friend who started dating a woman who is not only manipulative and selfish, but also has so many issues you half-expect to see a caravan of sherpas carrying them behind her everywhere she goes and you long to tell him to run, run, run before the inevitable trainwreck occurs? My experience with One Wrong Step rather paralleled this. The book features good suspense, strong secondary characters and a likable hero, but the annoying heroine threatens to undo it all.
As the book opens, we meet Celie Wells, a woman with an abusive past who has managed to build a life for herself, including a satisfying career working at a shelter for women and children. However, a visit from her ex-husband and the events that follow threaten to undo it all. Celie's ex-husband comes to her door looking for money. Though the reader does not instantly learn the details of the meeting, one quickly learns that Celie's ex turns up dead in a staged car accident not long afterward.
Not only do the police have an interest in Celie following his death, but so does John McAllister, one of the reporters involved in the case. John is (of course) a ladies' man, but otherwise likable, and, while he has his own hangups, he also cannot help having a certain attraction to and respect for Celie. He finds himself feeling rather protective of her even as he recognizes that she has been lying throughout the investigation.
The strong point of this story definitely lies with the suspense plot. Celie's late ex-husband was mixed up with an unsavory and powerful drug cartel and the author does a good job of showing the cartel's wide reach and its impersonal ruthlessness. Drugs are their business and if you interfere with business, you will be dealt with. The contrast between the shadowy world of Celie's ex mixed with her own quieter existence has a certain power to it.
Unfortunately, Celie just did not get much sympathy from me. In the beginning, I could empathize with the woman who was victimized as a college student, suffered a bad marriage, and now finds herself the object of FBI suspicion. However, while one wonders at first what reason Celie might have for lying to the FBI, lying to and ultimately manipulating John, and otherwise acting as she does, it does get old after a while. Celie's "poor me" act grated on my nerves and I had trouble mustering up any sympathy for her ridiculous self-centered behavior. Some people may sympathize with her going to any lengths to chase her dream, but she crossed too many lines for me.
While John really didn't need to be a stereotypical ladies' man in order to be an effective hero, I still found him rather likable. In addition, the secondary characters in this story, particularly John's fellow reporter and the FBI agents on the case, definitely added positively to the book. These folks, together with the actual suspense plot centered around the drug cartel's web of activity truly held my interest.
Still, one cannot call this book a success or even average. After all, even if the thriller is rather original, romantic suspense requires a good romance as part of the equation. I just could not like seeing John and Celie get together because even if the author casts John as being only a few unlucky hookups away from becoming walking VD, he still deserves to be tamed by a better woman than Celie. Letting Celie get away with what she does ends up making this a lovely fairytale for selfish manipulators with lots of baggage and a martyr complex. I suspect most readers won't find that satisfying.
-- Lynn Spencer
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