Pitch Black, by Leslie Parrish

>> Wednesday, October 21, 2009

TITLE: Pitch Black
AUTHOR: Leslie Parrish

PAGES: 368

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: 2nd in Black CAT series, follows Fade To Black

REASON FOR READING: I loved the first one in the series, thought it was one of the best romantic suspense books I'd read for a while.

After a botched investigation left him wounded and disgraced, Special Agent Alec Lambert was forced to transfer onto Wyatt Blackstone's team. This former profiler has lost his edge, buried by the guilt he feels over another agent's death. But he'll need all his skills when he realizes he's getting another crack at a case that has haunted him. A serial killer known as the Professor is now using the latest e-mail schemes to lure his victims and the Black CATs are on his trail.

Samantha Dalton didn't set out to become an online vigilante, until her grandmother was swindled out of everything she owned. Devoting herself to exposing fraud and preventing tragedies from happening to other families, Sam has gained fame and success with her website and a recently released book. A hermit since her ugly divorce, Sam really doesn't want the outside world intruding on her privacy. Especially not when that outside world is a sexy FBI agent who tells her she has a cyber connection to a murdered teenage boy.

When the killer opens a line of communication with Sam via her website, Alec and his team enlist her help to stop him. There's one thing they don't know, however. The Professor doesn't just see Sam Dalton as an anonymous online foe. He is, in fact, her number one fan. He's been watching her, waiting for the time to be right to make his move. He just isn't sure what that move will be.

Take her. Or kill her.
This seems to be what I say in every single romantic suspense review I do, but oh, well, here goes: romantic suspense is at its best when both the suspense and romance elements are strong and well developed. I loved Fade To Black so much because it did just that. Pitch Black also devotes pretty much equal space to the romance and the suspense, but unfortunately, while I thought the suspense was brilliant, I was a bit less enamoured of the romance.

Like the hero of the previous book in the series, Alec Lambert is a newcomer to the Black CAT, the new FBI Cyber Action Team devoted to internet-related murders. His first case is not what he expected, either. Before he was shot and disgraced in his last case in the Behavioural Analysis Unit, Alec had been going after a serial killer called the Professor, and what does he run into on his first day at work? Evidence from the Black CAT's latest case indicates that it was committed by the Professor, who's now changed his modus operandi slightly and branched into internet-related methods for procuring his victims.

Samantha Dalton runs a website where as "Sam the Spaminator" (a handle that for some reason struck me as pretty weird... probably because I kept reading it as "Sperminator"), she tries to keep people from being scammed online. One of the Professor's latest victims had contacted before being killed, and this draws her into the investigation, especially When it becomes clear that a certain Darwin who posts comments at her website is the Professor himself.

Like I said, this was a bit of a mixed bag. I felt very lukewarm about the romance, probably because I felt lukewarm about the characters. Alec is nice enough, but I never got a real sense of who he was. His feelings for Sam therefore never felt real. I was told he was attracted to her and that it was turning into more, but I just didn't feel it.

Part of it might have been that I never completely warmed up to Sam. Maybe not so much Sam's personality per se, but what I perceived as her alarmist and paranoid attitudes. I do think her mission to give people the tools to keep from falling from scams is laudable, even if I question its usefulness (if someone gets to the point where they are looking for information about something they got on the internet, then they're already questioning the scam, and probably won't fall for it). However, her extremely skewed perceptions of risk annoyed me.

For my work, I've been reading quite a bit about actual risk and people's perception of it, and if this were the real world (rather than than a romantic suspense version of it, where there are murderers lurking everywhere) Sam would be quite a fear-mongerer. Her complete disgust at the very idea of internet dating, for instance. In real life, I don't know any single people in their 30s who haven't tried it, and as long as you're sensible about it, there's nothing to fear. For Sam, it's something only someone so desperate that they're stupid would try, and of course, she's proved right in the book.

As a matter of fact, if you want to look at actual, real risks, the Snickers bar and cans of Coke in her living room in the scene we meet her are much more dangerous to her than sensible online dating would be. If I met her in real life, I'd make the woman read a book like Dan Gardner's Risk.

The suspense, on the other hand, was top notch and more than made up for the weak romance. I loved the villian. Well, not loved him, I just mean I thought he was brilliantly done, fresh and original. Part of me understood him, even... the victims are people I would probably think of as TSTL in an uncharitable moment, although before you call the cops on me, I wouldn't go as far as to take the acronym literally, much less actually do something about it. And seeing what happens if you follow that line of thought was heartbreaking, because the victims are portrayed very compassionately.

The investigation is fascinating and satisfying, because it features well-matched oponents. Darwin is smart; not invincible, but careful and crafty. However, the Black CAT team is just as smart, and their pursuit of him is extremely professional and doesn't rely on unbelievable coincidences or hunches. I loved it, and I also loved that I was wrong, wrong, wrong about who Darwin was, and yet at the end, it all made perfect sense and gave me that quite excellent "ahhh" moment that's the mark of good mystery.

I hesitate to end this on a low note, but I must mention that the book has a very strong secondary storyline, something that's coming out of the first book in the series. We saw there that another of the Black CAT members, Lily, had become extremely personally invested in catching one of the participants in the online forum they were investigated. This guy was a probable pedophile, and Lily had some very painful things in her past that made her determined to catch him. Well, this storyline was germane and relevant in book 1, but here it has absolutely nothing to do with the main storyline. So while it was interesting enough, it felt much more like a transparent set-up for book 3. Well, I suppose it didn't bother me enough to keep me from reading it once it comes out.

MY GRADE: The suspense was great enough for a B.


Post a Comment

Blog template by simplyfabulousbloggertemplates.com

Back to TOP