When my last package of review books arrived, Lethal was the first book I began reading – and of the batch it was the last one I finished. After reading and loving Loaded, Shari Shattuck’s debut, I was thrilled that the sequel was featured in Pocket Books’ new trade paperback line. Call me less than thrilled with the result. Where the first book was a fun, sharply written mystery/romance from start to finish, this one bogged down somewhere around the middle and never really regained its momentum.
While doing some shopping before reporting back for jury duty, Callaway Wilde has an expedition in Little Tokyo that goes seriously awry. First she finds herself intrigued by the interest of a very attractive Asian man and then she is almost shot as a good Samaritan. After admiring the hot guy, Cally witnesses an altercation between a man and a woman. Sensing the woman’s fear, Cally steps in. When Cally refuses to back off, the man pulls a gun. Though she escapes without getting hurt, Cally becomes caught up in the drama that surrounds Aya Aikosha. When Aya is attacked again and almost killed, Cally offers to let her stay at her very secure home.
Cally’s madness has a method. By throwing herself into the investigation, she’ll be able to avoid dealing with her own messy relationship stuff. She’s wealthy, beautiful, and smart and she may have found the love of her life in police detective Evan Paley. And yet – Cally knows why she should be completely happy. She’s just not altogether sure she’s capable of it. If that’s not complicated enough, Cally isn’t convinced that a committed relationship will make her life perfect. If it will, Cally isn’t sure she has the nerve to go after it and say those three little words.
The puzzle of Aya and her complicated life was initially intriguing. Aya, a Japanese medical student attending USC, has a mysterious relationship with her “guardian” Korosu, and someone’s trying to kill her. Cally’s curiosity was understandable and her desire to help admirable. But somewhere along the line – perhaps after the third or fourth attack – Cally’s behavior starts to come across as stubborn and not particularly smart. She’s endangering not only herself but her younger sister and her friends.
I’ll admit that some of my annoyance with Cally’s behavior stems from having read several other mysteries recently featuring similar heroines. I’m a big mystery reader and I enjoy amateur detectives. I even love the cliché of having them conveniently dating a police officer so that they can insert themselves into different cases. Like romance, mystery has its conventions. The heroine stumbling over murder and mayhem on a regular basis and sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong is usually fine with me. What has begun to grate is that same heroine getting mad at her detective boyfriend when he tells her to butt out. And the author using that completely unwarranted anger as a source of conflict between her protagonists.
Ms. Shattuck proved she’s a better author than that in her first book. Cally and Evan have real issues to deal with in this investigation and in their relationship. Instead they are caught up in a cycle of arguments about Aya, the danger surrounding her, and Cally’s insistence on protecting Aya, even when it becomes clear that all is not what it should be with the young woman. Much of the middle of the book is taken up in this far from compelling fashion.
This is the second book by the author and I’m going to chalk it up to a sophomore slump. I liked how Cally and Evan wrapped this one up and I enjoyed them enough to follow them to the next book. I’m keeping my fingers crossed it will be as good as the first.