Die For Me, by Karen Rose

>> Sunday, November 04, 2007

TITLE: Die For Me (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Karen Rose

PAGES: 500
PUBLISHER: Headline in the UK (the edition I read) and Warner Vision in the US

SETTING: Contemporary Philadelphia
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: Linked to a couple of Rose's earlier books (she has a very helpful diagram in her website, here), but stands alone perfectly.

REASON FOR READING: I've been hearing a lot about Rose from my fellow bloggers, and the buzz has been overwhelmingly positive. I meant to try her months ago, but only got around to it now.


The first victim is found in a snow-covered Philadelphia field. Detective Vito Ciccotelli enlists the aid of archaeologist Sophie Johannsen to determine exactly what lies beneath the frozen ground. Despite years of unearthing things long buried, nothing can prepare Sophie for the matrix of graves dug with chilling precision. The victims buried there haunt her. But the empty graves terrify her – the killer isn’t done yet.


He is cold and calculating, the master of a twisted game. Even with Vito and Sophie hot on his trail, he will not stop. One more empty grave must be filled, and one last scream must be heard – the scream of an archaeologist who is too close for comfort and too near to resist…
THE PLOT: When a body is dug up from a field and it seems likely that there are others nearby, the Philadelphia police asks archeologist Sophie Johannsen for help mapping the area. When it turns out some of the bodies she helps them find went through tortures straight out of the Inquisition before they died, Sophie's knowledge of such matters really comes in handy to Det. Vito Ciccotelli and his team.

And they'll really need all the help they can get, because this is a particularly cold and dangerous killer, and one who won't allow them to distract him from his plans. As the police gets closer and closer to him, the danger to Sophie, for whom Vito has started to have some serious feelings, grows and grows.

MY THOUGHTS: Before Die For Me, I'd been going through a bit of a dry spell with romantic suspense. Except for Nora Roberts', the ones I've tried so far this year have been pretty mediocre. I think I read the last good one back in April, Gayle Wilson's Bogeyman, and even that one had a pretty weak romance, for all that I liked the suspense. Well, Karen Rose has restored my faith in the subgenre. This is what I want my romantic suspense to be... strong, interesting suspense and a romance that's just as strong and just as interesting. I want balance, I want no element to overshadow the others, and this was what I got here.

I was actually a bit scared of this book before I started it, because the suspense plot sounded like something that could give me nightmares for weeks on end. But for what it's about, it was actually surprisingly non-graphical. I mean, you do find out exactly what the villain did to his victims (and man, this guy was seriously screwed), so it's not THAT harmless, but at least there were no actual scenes of torture. I don't think I would have been able to tolerate those. As this was written, I didn't get any queasy feelings that Rose was trying to titillate her readers with the violence. Everything we saw was necessary to the story and made it stronger.

Something I loved, loved, LOVED was that the police here were smart, much smarter than the villain thought they would be, so it was fascinating to follow their progress. I get really frustrated when I'm reading a romantic suspense and the investigators just won't take the obvious steps and make the obvious deductions (what are the obvious steps and deductions? Well, anything I can think of that they should be doing, really. If I can think of it, they should, too). Here it was perfect. The investigation was smartly conducted and felt realistic, and I loved that they kept getting closer and closer.

And not just them, the villain was being circled from many directions, which was something else I enjoyed. What I see most often is this kind of thing in reverse... hero and heroine doing their thing, thinking they're safe, but danger is approaching without them knowing. Here it's the villain who's being "stalked" without his knowledge, and it works to keep the tension and suspense high, even though we're privy to the villain's intentions from the first and it becomes pretty obvious who he is about halfway through the book.

Rose doesn't just write great suspense, she writes great characters, too, and great romance. Sophie was fantastic. She was a really smart, strong woman, and I liked the way Rose wrote her involvement in the case. Initially she jumps at the chance of getting involved, but then when Vito explains that he'd prefer that her connection to the case wasn't in a way that could become public, because it might put her in danger, she actually sees his point immediately and agrees that she won't get involved in that way. And she doesn't. All her participation is in things that won't represent any danger to her and to her family, as any reasonable person would prefer.

She's just a very well-rounded, three-dimensional character, with a fully realized past and a complex relationship with her family and a just as complex attitude to her work at the museum.

Vito is also a lovely, interesting guy. His relationship with his family was as complex as Sophie's, but very different, and it gave his character great depth.

In spite of the very strong suspense plot, the romance wasn't at all eclipsed by it, and I never got the feeling I sometimes get in books like this that the very presence of a romance was inappropriate. There was real chemistry between Vito and Sophie and their relationship flowed well. I loved that it didn't feel just like danger-induced lust; there was some real tenderness there. By the end of the book, I fully believed they were in love.

MY GRADE: A strong B+. There was a little extra zing missing to push it into A territory, but I have no problem seeing another of her books making it.


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