Bridger’s Last Stand has an interesting opening. Malcolm Bridger is a cop who has killed a man in the line of duty. Frannie Vaughn is a woman who has lost her job and her fiance in one fell swoop (he dumped her for another woman and gave that woman Frannie’s job). While they are drowning their respective sorrows in a bar, they meet, feel an attraction and decide to have a one night stand to forget their troubles. I’d never read a romance where the two characters have sex in chapter one (though I know there are such romances out there) and I thought it would bug me. But in that moment, I could feel the character’s pain and understand their actions. I wanted to see these two people comfort each other and fall in love. Unfortunately, those few opening pages were the only time I cared anything about what happened to either character, because after the first chapter, the book went terribly awry.
Sex never takes place, because Frannie falls asleep. In the morning, embarrassed, she takes off before Bridger wakes up. As she leaves, she bumps into a woman. Later, the woman is found murdered. Frannie was the last one to see her alive, which for some reason makes her the target of a killer. Bridger, of course, is assigned to the case.
And the mystery is one of the book’s major flaws. After this initial killing, several other murders take place, Frannie is stalked and attacked, her house is blown up and she has to go into hiding before the truth is uncovered and the killer is caught. Unfortunately, for the most part, the action takes place off stage so we never really feel that Frannie is in danger or get a sense of urgency that the murderer must be caught. This off stage action totally negates any suspense. Furthermore, since we never get to actually see the investigation of the crime and so little of the story is actually spent on the mystery, it makes the plot seem like an afterthought.
But the part of this book that really bothered me was the romance between the hero and heroine. The character’s backstories were cliched and time-worn. Bridger can’t let himself fall in love again because of a previous bad relationship. And Frannie has only had one passionless relationship and one lover in her life before meeting Bridger. While these are fairly typical backgrounds in a romance, I could have lived with them had not the characters had other and more major problems. Unfortunately, both Frannie and Bridger did – neither exhibited any common sense. Since Bridger was a police officer, this seemed a real flaw in the writing.
For the first half of the book, the writer and the characters took great pains to make sure that the characters were having safe sex. I commended her for that. But as the story progressed, the writer took great pains to make sure the readers knew the characters weren’t having safe sex. Why? I’m not sure. Once I can understand, that happens. But several times (over and over) seems irresponsible. If the writer hadn’t mentioned safe sex at all that would have been one thing – romance authors do it all the time. But to have made a big deal of it and then dropped it made no sense.
Then it got worse. After Frannie (who is certain she has no future with Bridger) has unprotected sex with him, her only concern is that she might get pregnant (she wants to). Frannie feels since she is in love with Bridger, having his child would leave her with a part of him after he walks out of her life, as she is sure he is going to do. Given that at that point in the novel, she has no job, no home and a questionable future, I found her logic completely unrealistic and lacking in intelligence.
It’s too bad that this book fell apart after the first chapter because it had the potential to be a gripping romantic suspense with two compelling, interesting characters. Knowing what the writer is capable of judging by the start of Bridger’s Last Stand, I’ll peek at her next book. This is one of those “could-have-been” books. With more effort on plot and character, this author could have shone.
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