The Shadow Side, by Linda Castillo

>> Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Shadow Side was my first book by author Linda Castillo. It had been hovering arount the top of my TBR for a while, and I finally started it last week.

There is a dark side to every passion . . .

Dr. Elizabeth Barnes has devoted her heart and soul to medical research…at the expense of love in her life. But now-winning an award for her latest breakthrough drug-Elizabeth is at the top of her game, and she wouldn't change a thing.

Until a detective contacts her about a recent wave of homicides.

Cases of random violence have erupted across the country-murderous acts committed by previously non-violent people. Detective Sergeant Adam Boedecker, grieving brother to one of the suicide-murderers, has discovered that all the suspects had taken Elizabeth's new anti-depressant, Valazine.

First, she dismisses it as the wild accusations of a burnt-out cop. But after another mysterious death, Elizabeth realizes that this intense, driven man may be the only one who can stop the killings…and save her from the dark side of her work, her passion, her life.
Castillo isn't a particularly well-known author, but if her other books are as good as this one, she deserves to be. A B+.

Romantic suspense isn't really my favourite subgenre, probably because it's so hard to get exactly right. What usually happens is that either the romance is good, but the suspense feels perfunctory and clumsily plotter, or the suspense is so complex and overwhelming that the romance feels tacked on and hurried. In The Shadow Side, however, the balance is perfect.

The suspense side of the book is truly fascinating and different. No clichéd serial killers or secret organizations or anything like that... it deals with the hero suspecting that an anti-depressant drug developed by the heroine's company actually turns people into homicidal maniacs.

It's interesting, because there's not really much suspense stemming from finding out what is going on, since it's pretty clear from the beginning that someone (or rather, several someones) at Roth must have interfered with the testing process. However, seeing Adam and Elizabeth looking for proof and building their case bit by little bit still makes for a tense, suspenseful read.

Also, part of the urgency came from the fact that this investigation affected both of them in a very personal way. This isn't just another case for Adam. It's part mission to avenge his brother, part a way to prove that he can still be a cop after a very difficult recovery from being shot in the head three years before. And for Elizabeth, this drug is her baby, it's been her life for 10 years and the potential villains are the people who have pretty much become her family over the years.

I especially liked how the author wrote these villains, how she made them human, only human beings who could justify unjustifiable consequences to themselves, as long as those consequences were far enough from them. And even more or less knowing who they were, the dénouement still managed to surprise me.

The romance was great, too. There is some very real chemistry between Adam and Elizabeth, and I especially liked that the way their relationship developed felt appropriate. There's no "bullets are flying overhead and the bad guys are coming closer and still we stop for sex because we're like mink that way" kind of thing going on here. The suspense plot is constructed in such a way that there are more than enough quiet moments for the romance to develop, and it's always there... it never feels as if the author forgets about it in order to concentrate on the plot.

The minute I finished TSS, I went and bought all of Castillo's romantic suspense titles. Fortunately, I already have The Perfect Victim in my TBR, so I can start it soon, but now I've also bought Fade to Red and Depth Perception. I actually remember reading the reviews of those when they came out, but I thought they sounded a bit too grim, and that maybe I should try something else by the author first. Well, now I have, and it was good enough that I trust the author enough to read them, however grim they might be!


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