Alligator Moon falls in that dreaded category, Well-Written but Dull. As a romantic suspense novel, dull is just about the last thing it should be.
The book gets off to an attention-grabbing start before slowly sliding into tedium. The Magnolia Plantation Restorative and Therapeutic Center in Beau Pierre, Louisiana, specializes in performing discreet plastic surgery on the rich and powerful. But when the wife of a televangelist dies on the operating table, the Center is sued for malpractice. Due to the big names involved, the media are all over the trial. Cassie Havelin is a magazine reporter assigned to the case. She travels to Beau Pierre to get background on the people involved, and soon discovers there may be more to the case than it seems.
When the Center’s anesthesiologist is found dead, the sheriff quickly declares his death a suicide. The ruling doesn’t sit well with the dead man’s brother. John Robicheaux was with his brother shortly before his death, and he knows Dennis had no intention of killing himself. He believes the prominent plastic surgeon now being sued had something to do with his brother’s murder, to keep him quiet about what he knew. No one is willing to listen to him, except for Cassie. She soon concludes there may be some truth to what John is saying. It doesn’t hurt that she’s drawn to this rough, damaged man.
Meanwhile, in an excruciatingly boring subplot, Cassie becomes concerned about her mother, who she thought was vacationing in Greece. She soon learns that the old friend her mother claimed she would be traveling with died years earlier. She and her father received postcards from Greece, but there’s no record of her mother’s flight reservations to the country. She lied to them about where she was going. Where, oh where, could mother dearest be?
It’s really hard to care, because for the longest time, it seems like Cassie is making a big deal about nothing. Her mother withdrew fifty thousand dollars from the bank and went to all the trouble of arranging an elaborate cover story and having postcards sent to her husband and daughter from Greece. There’s no indication she did this anything but willingly. The obvious assumption would be that her mother is having an affair, a notion Cassie immediately dismisses. When John reminds her that sixty-year-old women have sex too, Cassie’s mature response is to insist, “Not my mother.” Rather than wait a couple weeks until her mother is due back to confront her, Cassie works herself into a lather, insisting her mother is in dire straits when there’s no reason for the reader to believe this is the case. The result is a series of tedious and annoying scenes, until the subplot finally collides with the main one in a way that is rather far-fetched and far too coincidental to be believed.
As for the main plot, it mostly flounders. The book is well written and the story is readable enough to keep the reader moving from page to page. But the romantic relationship lacks tension and the suspense plot lacks urgency. For too long, the book never really builds momentum. There is scene after scene with the characters doing things, yet the story never seems to go anywhere and nothing really appears to be happening. John insists his brother was murdered, yet for much of the book, this amounts to nothing more than him repeating that he’s going to get whoever’s responsible and make them pay. He and Cassie never make much progress in figuring it out. Along the way there are some occasional threats against Cassie and many scenes from the perspectives of the secondary characters, none of whom are particularly sympathetic or interesting. I spent too much time trying to deduce exactly what was supposed to be mysterious or suspenseful about this scenario. It does seem likely that Dennis was murdered. But none of the supporting cast really comes across as all that menacing, so when the ending does arrive, it seems kind of inexplicable.
John is a moderately interesting tortured hero, while Cassie is a bore. Guess who we spend more time with. Alligator Moon isn’t bad, but it’s tepid at best. The suspense is low, the mystery is dull and the love story only manages a few sparks. If only the author’s writing skill had been used to devise a compelling story.