Dead Girl Running
I enjoy a good mystery or romantic suspense novel and have been lucky enough to find some fantastically good authors in the genre who are now on my ‘must read’ list. I’m always on the look-out for the next addition, so I eagerly picked up Christina Dodd’s Dead Girl Running, the first book in her new Cape Charade series, hoping for an intense, exciting and complex read – aaaaaand, well, let’s just say I don’t think I’ll be adding Ms. Dodd to that list of ‘must read’ authors on the strength of it. The book turned out to contain a myriad of hackneyed tropes and plot points (and plot holes) that made it seem as though the author had too many ideas and, instead of undertaking some judicious pruning and concentrating on the one or two strongest ones, decided to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck. What we end up with is a classic ‘base-under-siege’ type plot, a too-good-to-be-true, dull heroine, a lot (dare I say – too many) of barely two-dimensional, stereotypical secondary characters, and writing so clichéd in places that it made me wince – or laugh, which I’m sure wasn’t Ms. Dodd’s intention.
Kellen Adams was a captain in the army and served in Afghanistan before returning to the US. She has recently taken up a position as assistant manager at the Cape Charade resort in coastal Washington state and is determined to make it her home. When the resort owners – the elderly Leo and Annie di Luca – decide to take a holiday for the first time in ages, they leave Kellen in charge, confident in her ability to keep things running smoothly. It’s a quiet time of year, there are not many guests booked in, so it’s just a case of keeping things ticking over until the di Lucas return. That is, until some decomposing human remains are discovered on the grounds, which are identified as belonging to the previous assistant manager, Priscilla Carter, who disappeared without explanation less than six months earlier. It’s impossible to keep something like that a secret from the staff and guests, and the atmosphere at the resort becomes one of fear and suspicion; everyone is a suspect and Kellen isn’t sure who she can trust.
We learn early on that Kellen isn’t actually who she says she is; she’s an abused wife whose husband tried to murder her (and died in the attempt), and who is still looking over her shoulder for any sign that her his family might be catching up with her. She’s also the survivor of a gunshot to the head – something I found hard to credit – which caused her to lose a year of her life; she was in a coma for all that time, and after waking up confused and fearful, ran from the hospital and to an army recruiting office. We’re asked to believe the shot to the head is the reason she now has a unique mental ability to acquire, store, process and recall information, but I’m still wondering how it didn’t simply blow her brains out… Whatever the case, having both incredibly traumatic and dramatic events happen to the same person seemed to me to be taking things a bit too far. I understand that this is the first book in a series, but in spite of all the things that have happened to her, Kellen is not a well-defined or interesting character, and I couldn’t warm to her or find anything to draw me in.
The same is true of the secondary characters, of whom there are a lot; they’re poorly defined and stereotypical, and there’s no time for the author to flesh any of them out or give them actual personalities. We’ve got a former movie star, an upbeat, preppy personal trainer of the type you want to strangle, a bitchy hostess who is bitter that she was passed over for Kellen’s job, an enigmatic (though hot) guest who says he’s an author (he isn’t) and a handful of Kellen’s army buddies now employed at the resort – and that’s less than half the list. There has to be a fairly large pool of suspects to make the identity of the villain hard to guess, but given that there are no clues pointing to that person, I can’t see there was much of a point. In any case, the reveal comes out of the blue, but not after Kellen jumps to a completely wrong conclusion as to his identity so fast it made me wonder if I’d skipped a few pages.
The mystery plot, concerning the smuggling of valuable artefacts off the coast near the resort is interesting, and when the book concentrates solely on this aspect of the story, it’s a good read and I was eager to keep turning the pages. But that doesn’t really happen until well into the second half of the book, and doesn’t last for long; after that, we’re back in the land of the clichéd and utterly ridiculous, which then culminates in a completely unbelievable plot twist that contradicts something explicitly stated earlier on in the book.
I’m not sure whether to categorise Dead Girl Running as ‘mystery’ or ‘romantic suspense’ because it doesn’t really fit either. If it’s a mystery, it’s very simplistic and quite clumsily done; if romantic suspense, there’s pretty much no romance and not much suspense, so that doesn’t fit either. The writing is generally solid, although there is a LOT of telling rather than showing, and this is especially evident in the way we’re shown Kellen’s supposedly unique mental ability working. Whenever she meets someone, we get a ‘note card’ of what is supposedly going through her head, which lists background data on that person and her feelings about them – which is, I suppose, an easier way of disseminating that information than actually spending time on developing that character and letting the reader get to know them; it smacks of lazy writing.
In short, Dead Girl Running is deader than a dead duck dead in the water. Give it a miss and pick up something by Rachel Grant or Loreth Anne White instead.