Girl Long GOne
Girl Long Gone, a standalone romantic suspense title by new-to-me author Danielle M. Haas, has some good things going on, and some that are less good. The suspense plot has an interesting premise, in that we know the identity of the bad guy from the outset – so the book is more of a catch-me-if-you-can type of thing than a whodunit – but the romance is peripheral at best with no real sense of an emotional connection between the hero and heroine. It’s as though the author is just ticking the necessary boxes to meet the criteria for a romantic suspense novel.
Detective Connor Mitchel is an NYPD detective specialising in computer crime. Just a few days earlier, he had reported his sister Monica as a missing person and is, naturally, frantic with worry and frustrated because he can’t officially take part in the investigation and hunt to find her. Connor and Monica are really close and have shared an apartment since the deaths of their parents years before, and he knows Monica is hyper-organised and rarely deviates from her established routine, so a red flag goes up when he discovers she set up a profile on a dating site and had exchanged messages there with a man called Gabriel Wilson. Connor supplied the information to the police, who checked Wilson out and found nothing amiss, but Connor isn’t convinced. He hacks into Wilson’s profile planning to speak to other women he contacted via the site – but when he sees he has arranged to meet a young woman named Evelyn Price within the next few minutes, he’s compelled to call her to warn her off.
Creating a dating profile isn’t something Evelyn would normally have considered – in fact, she doesn’t even have any social media accounts – but this seemed as good a way as any to get in contact with Gabriel Wilson, someone she’d known at high school and who is now a successful businessman. Evelyn designs websites for a living and is meeting Gabriel to discuss the possibility of working for him. Arrived at the time and place set for their meeting, she’s surprised to receive a phone call from a man she’s never met telling her he’s a detective and that Gabriel Wilson could be dangerous and she shouldn’t meet with him. Evelyn thinks it’s some sort of crank call and hangs up, focusing instead on her pitch to Gabriel, but moments later, the caller – Connor Mitchel – shows up at the coffee shop and she notices something – hostility on the detective’s part, smugmess on Gabriel’s – pass between them before Gabriel excuses himself and leaves, although not before suggesting they meet for dinner soon.
Evelyn is naturally annoyed at this interruption to her plans, but is also almost struck dumb at her first sight of the gorgeous Connor. Still, she needs this job with Gabriel more than she needs a guy who turns her insides to mush, and isn’t inclined to believe his story. After all, she knows Gabriel (although she hasn’t seen him for years), but doesn’t know Connor Mitchel from Adam.
Connor feels a more than a spark of attraction for Evelyn, too, and is frustrated by her attitude even as he sort of understands it. He’s determined to keep her safe and away from Gabriel, and fortunately, Evelyn does come to see that Connor isn’t some random crazy and that Gabriel isn’t what he seems before it’s too late. After that, the story focuses on Connor and Evelyn’s search for Monica, Connor’s determination to keep Evelyn safe from Gabriel, and for evidence to prove Gabriel’s guilt – which is difficult, as he is one step ahead of them for most of the time.
The way Ms. Haas sets up her story is one of those good things about the book I mentioned before. Knowing who the bad guy is right from the start turns Girl Long Gone into a different sort of thriller, and I appreciated that. Gabriel is suave, devious and clever, and comes across as a genuinely dangerous enemy, always one step ahead and moving Connor and Evelyn around like pieces on a chess board. But the trouble is that the good guys never quite come across as being clever enough to catch him, and I felt, in the end, that they were only able to do so because he started making mistakes (uncharacteristically, given we’re supposed to believe he’s got away with abducting and killing women for over a decade).
He’s also the most well-drawn character in the book. Evelyn and Connor are rather bland by comparison, even though the author does give Evelyn a pretty horrific backstory to help explain why she needs to work despite inheriting a lot of money from her late parents (not surprising when we find out why) and some of her contradictions. But I’m really tired of inner monologues like – She was tired of being a victim and She wanted to be seen for the woman she was. She wanted to be strong. The sentiment may be admirable, but the execution is so clichéd
While Evelyn and Connor fall in lust at first sight, I couldn’t feel an emotional connection between them and there’s no romantic development; we’re told they’re attracted to each other, but no amount of telling me the heroine finds the hero bone-meltingly hot, or declarations such as “…dammit, you’re the most magnificent woman I’ve ever met in all my life” are going to convince me that two people are planning on spending their lives together just days after meeting one another if the author doesn’t create a sense of connection between them. (By contrast, I’m listening to a book at the moment in which the leads are insanely attracted at their first meeting, but the connection the author creates is so visceral that I have no trouble buying it.)
I was bothered by a couple of plot points, too. In the second half, Connor’s best friend, a homicide detective, suggests Connor might speak to a couple of the men uniformed officers are questioning – yet at the beginning it’s clear he’s not working the case. Connor hires a private investigator to help find Monica, yet is doing most of the investigating (it seems) himself. And then there was the constant repetition of “sonofabitch”, which seemed to be the swear word favoured by the good guys, because only Gabriel says “fuck”.
Girl Long Gone wasn’t a bad read by any means, and the final chapters provide an exciting finale to the suspense plot. But I read romantic suspense because I want to read about a couple falling for each other and forging palpable bonds against the odds; the romance needs to be integral to the plot and not feel like something that’s been tacked on or could easily have been left out. Danielle M. Haas can craft a decent plot, and I might try another of her books at some stage, but the romantic angle in this one didn’t work for me and I can’t quite recommend it.