Dead Stop

Jamie Denton
2008, Romantic Suspense
Brava, $14.00, 312 pages, Amazon ASIN 0758210167

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Hot

I have to sympathize with the author of this book a bit. Serial killer novels have been so overdone in recent years that it must be very hard to come up with one that stands out. Dead Stop makes a valiant try and features a heroine I genuinely liked. However, the story itself and, more importantly, the romance, felt rather average. Not a bad read, but one can do better.

In the small college town of Serenity Heights, Ohio, not much ever happens. Ainsley Brennan once dreamed of becoming a big city journalist, but her dreams changed at 19 when her parents died and she came home to raise her sisters. Instead of making her mark as an investigative reporter, she ended up covering endless runaway dogs, bake sale, and other tales of small town life.

This routine changes when Ainsley finds herself in the middle of a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a young freshman woman from the local university. When Ainsley receives a mysterious and disturbing recording entitled "Day One", she believes that it may be connected to the disappearance. Her investigation into the matter brings her into the path of acting police chief Beck Raines, a widower who has recently relocated to Serenity Heights to get away from the city.

Beck distrusts the press due to bad experiences with a reporter at his old job in Los Angeles. Still, he cannot help admiring Ainsley's tenacity and being charmed by her personality. Against his better judgment, he allows her into the investigation in a limited way. He does this primarily because he fears for her safety since someone unsavory (if not the killer himself) has her in his sights. Their working relationship starts to heat up into something more.

Some of the little touches in this book make it at least slightly more interesting than some of the other serial killer books out there. For instance, the author throws in information about ways small-town newspapers must find ways to make money despite pressure from much larger papers in nearby cities. In addition, Ainsley is a strong and believable heroine. Far from being the saintly and overly generous doormat too often found in romance, she earnestly struggles with the sacrifices she has made for her sisters. Ainsley loves her sisters, but also expresses her feelings about the fact that her role as caregiver put limits on her being able to form strong romantic relationships.

Unfortunately, the romance between Ainsley and Beck never really comes to life. The two have what should be hot sex, but somehow the scenes between them do not entirely crackle with chemistry. As a reader, I could believe in their respect for each other and perhaps even friendship, but the deep emotional and physical connection just felt forced. Add to this a lackluster suspense plot featuring a too-obvious villain and overly sensationalized kidnappings and killings, and the end result falls rather flat.

Though a strong heroine does raise this novel somewhat above the average, the slapdash serial killer did little to hold my interest. Even more telling, the romance itself was also merely ordinary. Dead Stop is not a terrible book by any means, but it does not have much to make it stand out. At trade paperback prices, that just isn't something that I can recommend.

-- Lynn Spencer

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