One Scream Away, by Kate Brady

>> Saturday, August 08, 2009

TITLE: One Scream Away
AUTHOR: Kate Brady

PAGES: 464

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: It might be the start of a series, but no end are left untied, so it stands alone perfectly

REASON FOR READING: The great review at Dear Author.

Killer Chevy Bankes is a master of disguise, and just paroled, he's coming after the woman who sent him to jail, the beautiful antiques expert Beth Denison. A set of antique dolls brings Beth into his sight, and inspire Chevy's disturbing crimes as he draws closer to Beth and her young daughter. Chevy sends the dolls to Beth one-by-one and she soon realizes that these antiques carry the same marks as his victims, signaling that the final piece in his collection will be for her.

Neil Sheridan gave up his FBI shield five years ago, but his best friend Rick, a cop, pulls him in as a consultant on a case involving a serial killer who is eerily similar to a murderer Neil encountered in the past. The investigation leads Neil to Beth's doorstep, and he is certain she isn't telling him the truth. Neil is the only one who can get through Beth's defenses and, as they grow closer, discover the secrets that Beth is hiding about her fateful night with Chevy.

New author Kate Brady shows a lot of promise in this, her debut. One Scream Away kept me turning the pages like crazy, dying to know what was going to happen next. It's strange, because about a third into it I felt like I already knew so much... the identity of the villain, most if not all of the heroine's secrets. I wondered how Brady was going to keep up the tension, but she somehow did, and until the very end.

Right, backing up a little to describe the plot. A woman is tortured and killed, and her murderer uses her mobile to call and taunt Beth Denison. The police track the call and pay Beth a visit to find out why this call might have been placed. Beth doesn't seem to be the sort of person who'd be working with a murderer at all. She's got a young daughter and a typical white-picket-fence-type house in the suburbs. And yet, when she says all she knows is that she received an obscene phone call, it's clear she's lying.

Former FBI agent Neil Sheridan is helping the police, since the murder is eerily similar to a case he investigated years ago, one in which he thought he'd got the right man. Neil accompanies the police in the visit to Beth's house and is determined to find out why she's lying. It's clear to him that Beth is terrified, but what's keeping her from asking for help?

Even though the tension was kept high, there was a bit of ebb and flow in my liking of the story. At the beginning I wasn't completely on board. Some of the things Neil and his policeman friend did when trying to get the truth from Beth made me queasy. She should have been filing complaints about them for very clearly violating her rights. And it felt a bit contrived that they wouldn't tell her that the reason they were asking those questions was because a woman had been murdered. It's such an obvious thing to do... the way they ask at first no one would have any motivation to tell them at all.

But once they do, the book really took off. It's quite a plot-driven book, and the plot was excellently done and very well paced. The doll thing was creepy as hell and the villain was great: a very scary combination of madness and cunning intelligence. This meant that he could keep one step ahead of the police without making them look like idiots. The investigators were competent and took all the right steps in the investigation, but the villain could still avoid them. There was only one point in the story where I thought it was all a bit too much, the way this one man could just hit them at will, but on the whole, I bought it.

I've mentioned the book is very plot-driven, but there is some strong character development and the romance is given more than enough space as well. I liked a lot of it, but some areas gave me some concern. On the like column is the fact that the characters are well developed and felt individual and distinct.

Beth's characterisation is crucial, because a lot of the book hinges on the secrets she's keeping. So of course, whether the story succeeds or not depends on whether the reader finds it understandable that Beth would keep the secrets she did. I'm a bit conflicted about that, actually. When she first tells the investigators the story, given what she told them, it made no sense that she would feel she'd have to hide what happened. However, it was clear to the reader that this was not the whole story, so I gave the author the benefit of the doubt and trusted when the whole thing came out, I'd understand Beth's behaviour. But in the end, I don't know whether I did. And I'm afraid any more detail would constitute a spoiler, so I'd better stop here!

The romance I had even more mixed feelings about. Both Neil and Beth are clearly people who've been hurt in the past and have a tragic history, and it was lovely seeing them come together and start to heal from past hurts. However, there was somethign about the dynamics of their relationship that I didn't like. Neil constantly kept hiding things from Beth so as not to worry her (and of course, that had disastrous consequences in the end, and was the basis for the entire final showdown). I got the feeling that this would be the tenor of their relationship after the story. Neil just felt Beth was his and he had to protect her and provide for her. I don't know, it might be that this is just the sort of relationship Beth wants and needs, but I'm not sure.

Hmm, I shouldn't be finishing on a negative note, given that I actually did enjoy the book very much (and even, for the first time in months, stayed up late to finish it). I'll just close by saying that it was a really good first effort, and Brady is going on my buying list.



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