Debra Webb
2008, Romantic Suspense
St. Martin's, $6.99, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312942249

Grade: D+
Sensuality: Hot

It’s always a risk when an author goes against the grain of romance novel conventions. Sometimes it pays off in spades, but other times it falls flat. Unfortunately, the heroine of Faceless by Debra Webb fell in the second category for me.

Deputy District Attorney Carson Tanner has long been haunted by the brutal murder of his entire family. Though a known murderer confessed and was convicted of the crime, unanswered questions remain for Carson. His doubts grow when he is assigned to investigate a local crime boss who has evaded conviction for years. The key player in their investigation is Annette Baxter, a mysterious woman with whom Carson once had a one-night stand. She tells him that his boss, the DA, is involved in a massive cover up involving the death of his family. Carson, though, has no reason to trust her.

Annette is a “fixer” who is hired by the rich and powerful to get rid of their problems, usually by paying off and/or blackmailing the blackmailers. A victim of physical and sexual abuse as a child and teen, the only person she has ever loved is her sister, a low-functioning autistic she does everything to protect. But someone is trying to kill her; a group of her clients has decided she knows too much and that she must be eliminated. However, other people are also beginning to show up dead.

In the beginning, Annette is a despicable character. She’s cold, ruthless, manipulative, and uses sex to get power and money. The author tries to make her character more sympathetic by giving her a traumatic past and relationship with her sister and maybe other readers will warm to her after that, but I did not. Though no one should suffer as she has, I still found her to be, as the hero calls her, an “ice bitch.” She was so emotionless throughout the story, any lasting affection for Carson beyond sexual was so beyond the realm of believability it was almost laughable. I didn’t even believe her sexual chemistry with Carson half the time.

Carson, though more likable than Annette, does a few truly stupid things that made me wonder how he ever got to the point of being a DA candidate since he systematically seems to be throwing his career under a bus. Then there is the fact that he comes to inexplicable conclusions based on minimal evidence. It's inconsistent, to say the least.

The suspense component wasn’t terrible, but it wasn't anything special either. There were a few too many players for me and the web of villains is a bit convoluted. It did follow some fairly typical patterns; any time a senator shows up in the story, you know he’s corrupt. One problem I had with the conclusion was that it hinged on a major flaw in characterization. However, the author did throw some twists in, and the conclusion wasn’t entirely expected.

All in all, the story just didn’t work for me. An unlikable heroine, inconsistent hero, impossible HEA, and convoluted suspense plot add up to a most disappointing read.

-- Jane Granville

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