Death is Not Enough
As a fan of romantic suspense novels, I should probably hang my head in shame when confessing that I’ve never read a novel by Karen Rose. We’ve reviewed a number of her books here at AAR, awarding several of them DIK status, but I have to say right off the bat, that I found Death is Not Enough, the sixth book in her Baltimore series, to be something of a slog. I went into the read knowing that it was part of a series and I was fine with that; as a reviewer, it’s not uncommon to pick up a book mid-series. Most of the time, authors design such books to work as standalones, and supply enough relevant information to get the newbie up to speed, and Ms. Rose does this – but the trouble is that she gives so much information about what is a pretty large cast of characters and events that I felt overwhelmed and had trouble keeping track of who was who, and who was married and/or related to whom; and in the first few chapters, especially, the potted history that accompanies the introduction of each new character is info-dumpy and completely interrupts the narrative flow.
The story itself is a very good one and had the first three-quarters of the book proceeded at the pace of the last quarter, would have made an exciting and engaging thriller. Defence attorney Thomas Thorne – an all-round good guy who worked hard to make something of himself after a pretty bad start in life – is discovered naked in his bed with a dead woman next to him. He has no idea who she is or how either of them got there; she’s not only dead but her body has been practically eviscerated, and Thomas was pumped so full of GHB that he’s lucky he survived. Everyone who knows Thorne knows there is absolutely no way he’s guilty of murder and that he’s been set up; even law enforcement don’t believe in his guit – and the story follows him and his close-knit group of friends and colleagues as they start to piece together a trail of evidence that links back to a twenty-year-old crime. In the course of their investigations, it becomes apparent that while Thorne is the target, whoever is behind the various attacks on his friends, his business and his reputation is not actually out to kill him; instead they are going after everything he holds dear, clearly intending to destroy him by taking away everything he values.
The book starts off at a slow crawl and more or less continues that way until the later stages when we at last break free of the almost constant explanations of every single plot point or detail of the investigation. The characters have frequent meetings in which everyone sets forth their latest findings – even though in many cases, the reader has been present for those conversations or the information has already been relayed. Every discovery, every action is described in unnecessary detail; even down to something like this:
“Can you give me those files, Sam? I’ll see if I can clean up the video at all. Maybe we can get descriptions on the drive and his sidekick.”
Sam dug in his computer bag and tossed Alec a thumb drive. “They’re all there.”
Alec caught it with one hand. “Thanks.”
That’s just one instance – did we really need to know Sam dug in his computer bag, or that Alec caught the thing with one hand? And given what happens immediately before this exchange it’s obvious WHY Alec wants the drive. I’m capable of working out why people are doing things – I don’t need blow-by-blow descriptions all the damn time. I’m sure that had there been a scene in which pizza was delivered, it would have been accompanied by a complete backstory for the delivery guy and possibly an explanation as to how the pizza was prepared!
As I said at the outset, it’s on me that I haven’t read any of the earlier books in the series, and I fully accept that may account for some of the issues I had with this one. Maybe I’d have had more patience with the ensemble cast (and I’m usually quite well disposed towards ensemble pieces), the constant references to past events that often had very little relevance to the plot of this book, and the snail-crawling-through-molasses pacing of the story. But being prepared to take part of the blame for the fact that this book didn’t work for me doesn’t mean that the flaws I’ve identified aren’t real. Too many interruptions, too many characters, too little romance and very little suspense – the book is twice as long as it needed to be to tell this particular story – and as a result there’s little tension, sexual or otherwise. The secondary cast is great – we should all be so fortunate to have people in our lives who would rally round like this at times of real trouble – but there are too many of them and the frequent tangential detours into What Happened in Book X take time and attention away from the principal storyline. It wasn’t until the 40% mark on my Kindle that the Scooby Gang finally figured out who was most likely behind the plot against Thorne, and there’s a lot of time devoted to the villain’s PoV, much of which was superfluous.
I like friends-to-lovers romances, and the long-standing unrequited nature of this one was one of the things that most drew me to the book. A bit of UST goes a long way when done well, but here it’s so drawn out as to have become annoying, and at times, I had to remind myself I was reading about two people in their late thirties instead of a pair of awkward teens. At the very beginning of the book, Gwyn Weaver discovers that Thorne has been deliberately warning off the guys she’s been planning to date and is understandably pissed off with him. This turns out to have very fortunate consequences, as it’s her need to confront him about it that leads Gwyn to Thorne’s home on the morning of the set-up; it’s she who finds him and is able to do what’s necessary to both save his life, and document the crime scene. Given all the crap going down, it’s no wonder that she decides it’s not the best time to confront him about his interference – but she does bring it up some time later and Thorne is (finally) honest with her and admits that yes, it was stupid, but that he did it because he didn’t want her seeing anyone else. Leaving aside the caveman mentality, he’s thirty-six years old. Not twelve. Even so, Gwyn can’t deny that she’s attracted to Thorne and has been for some time, but her traumatic experience with a murderous stalker four years earlier has made her cautious, so it’s quite understandable that she doesn’t just fall into Thorne’s arms and bed. Instead, we’re subjected to pages of mental hand-wringing and internal monologuing about how he\she shouldn’t be thinking about the other ‘that way’ or how Gwyn is scared to take the next step for fear of ruining their friendship, or how Thorne doesn’t want to do anything out of turn… I’m not trying to downplay what happened to Gwyn – which was truly awful – just the way it’s used as a delaying device in a way that is tedious and not at all romantic or sexy. In fact, after a while I wanted them to bang their heads together rather than… er… any other parts of their bodies.
I am sure there will be fans of Ms. Rose’s books reading this uttering howls of protest, and to you I say, “Good luck to you – I hope you enjoy the book!”. You don’t need a recommendation from me or anyone to pick up a book by a favourite author. And to those who aren’t long-time fans, I’ll say that I can’t recommend Death is Not Enough for all the reasons I’ve outlined, and that maybe if you’re interested in trying this author, you might consider checking out some of our reviews and then going back to try some of her earlier novels.