Dead Ringer is a slow and tedious read that is far from this author’s best work. She has a great deal of talent, but here good writing is wasted on poor pacing and heavy exposition. Cresswell spends so much time explaining her complicated plot that she doesn’t have any room left for other elements, like romance or suspense.
On Christmas 2001, Charlotte Gray’s husband makes love to her, then wakes up in the middle of the night to take the garbage out. He never returns. In the days following, she learns that his disappearance was likely voluntary, as he made plans transferring his business to her name, telling their attorney were about to divorce. That’s nothing compared to the shock when the FBI arrives on her doorstep with the news that he was actually an Irish terrorist.
The main action picks up a year and a half later in June 2003. I hesitate to reveal more of the story, mostly because there’s so little action in the present it would mean revealing half the plot. Basically Charlotte is now living in Florida, finally getting her life together, when the FBI pulls her back into a conspiracy involving her “husband.”
Dead Ringer is a prime example of an author telling rather than showing. Action is minimal, and only serves to carry the reader from one long explanation to the next. The story is made up of a series of expositional scenes, either page after page of narrative or long conversations that go on for 30 or more pages at a time. Almost everything interesting about this plot happened in the past. The few days covered in Dead Ringer mark the culmination of events stretching years into the past. Rather than use flashbacks so we can most of these events as they happened, Cresswell treats us to either flat recitations of these events or characters explaining them endlessly. After being forced to wade through all of it, a reader might expect an exciting climax to those many years of setup. It doesn’t happen. The ending fizzles out, wrapping everything up too fast and easily.
Even when something does happen in the present, the author refuses to let it unfold that way. At one point, a chapter ends with the hero and heroine. The next chapter begins with two characters discussing something that happened to the hero and heroine, apparently after that last scene with them. This explanation takes up an entire chapter of its own. Finally, several chapters later, the author finally doubles back and shows these events from the heroine’s perspective, which by now the reader already knows about thanks to those other characters. Worse, even from the heroine’s POV, the scene is slow and tedious. All of the action scenes drag badly, told in long paragraphs filled with internal dialogue and description.
The main problem with Dead Ringer is its structure, but the story itself isn’t much stronger. Charlotte isn’t much of a heroine. She is not an integral part of the story and only serves to be dragged around and have things explained to her. She doesn’t know what’s going on most of the time, rarely takes any action that impacts the story, and just seems to be there.
Though the story does involve a hero, a heroine, some mild sex, and a happy ending, the “love story” takes up less than ten pages put together. To explain more would probably get into spoilers, but this is not a great romance. There’s also the matter of one mysterious character. Either his identity is supposed to be a surprise, except it’s obvious from his internal dialogue who he is, or Cresswell’s storytelling is so muddled that she never gets around to explicitly identifying this character. Either way, it doesn’t work.
In Dead Ringer, Cresswell is too busy either explaining, explaining, explaining or showing her characters talking, talking, talking to get down to telling a compelling story. It’s not an unpleasant read. Cresswell can write well. Her subject matter is certainly relevant, and the exact time frame gives the book a feeling of timeliness that makes it that much more real. But this story is too slight and too dull to sustain a reader’s interest for almost 400 pages.