Cop movies are notorious for not presenting the realities of policing. Instead, they have a tendency to show a misfit loner or two solving cases that procedure would have prevented them from ever clearing and thus triumphing over ‘the system’. While the American police force has come increasingly under fire for the problems caused by rogue cops, that image of the heroic lone wolf has remained. It can be found in our movies, our television shows and in Murder Notes, the first book in a new series by author Lisa Renee Jones.
FBI Profiler Lilah Love (OMG, a porn-star name for an FBI agent? Help me!) is almost grateful for the phone call which gets her up at five in the morning. The idea of heading out in the early hours to deal with a corpse on the beach is oddly preferable to her warm bed. That’s because the night before, her current lover had been pushing to have “the conversation.” The talk where they would move their comfortable friends with benefits situation into relationship territory. Lilah really doesn’t want to go there. She’s dressed and out the door in minutes, informing her boy-toy on the way out that she doesn’t do more than casual sex.
Upon arrival at the murder scene, she snarks it up with a local detective who really doesn’t like the FBI interfering in ‘his’ crime scenes, and then takes a quick look at the dead guy on the sand. There is an eerie familiarity to the moment: a nude body, with a perfect shot to the head, left in a location of easy discovery. A similar figure had been discovered just two nights ago. Lilah’s boss, also at the scene, is thinking serial killer but Lilah herself is thinking assassin. The scene is too neat, the death too quick and dispassionate to be anything other than a professional just doing a job. But why leave the bodies out in the open where they can easily be found? Why create an obvious pattern?
Those questions are compounded in Lilah’s mind by the tattoo on the dead man’s arm. It’s a design she’s seen before, on a man who attacked her several years ago. She gives her supervisor a quick rundown of all information she has from her brief glance, including her memories of the tattoo. He mulls this over, adds it to some intelligence he has on a case in the Hamptons and determines that Lilah has to be on a plane out there right away. Since Lilah is from the Hamptons, this will be a trip home for her, although like relationships, going home is something she normally strenuously avoids. Given no choice in the matter, she heads straight to the airport and into a past she’d just as soon avoid.
There is a body waiting for her when she lands. She goes directly from picking up her luggage to a crime scene similar to the one she had just left behind, only this time, she is in a community filled by names and faces she knows. Her father, the current mayor but with ambitions to take his political career further. Her brother, the current police chief who is leery of some ‘feeb’ messing around in his territory. And Kane, the head of the local crime family and a man with whom she shares an intimate past. She’s fairly certain, given the timing of the latest corpse, that the killer has planned this little reunion. And she has a pretty good idea that actually, she does know why.
My struggles with Murder Notes began in chapter one. It isn’t just that the author has chosen to give her character a porn-star name, but that the character stuck with it. Most women would deal with their parent’s poor lack of judgement regarding nomenclature by switching to a middle name, initials or a nickname, but this character seems to relish the opportunity to use her name as an excuse to fight with those who have the audacity to react to it. She also treats her job with less respect than a clerk at a discount store gives theirs. She dresses casually, when the FBI is known for wearing suits. She gives an opinion after only a cursory glance at the crime scene. She gets snarky with a co-worker as opposed to trying to work with them. When she makes it to the airplane, she’s bitchy and degrading to the stewardess. She treats the man in her bed with the kind of flippant attitude that would get a hero roasted for his chauvinistic behavior.
All of this is bad enough, but when she does decide on a nickname, not for public use but as a private self-identifier, it’s ridiculous. Read that last word as though it were written in all caps, bold, with a ton of exclamation points. Ready for the big reveal? She goes with Murder Girl. Her reason: Death simply becomes me. In fact, some might say I’m so fucked up that I do death better than life. I found this an irritatingly stupid sentiment, mainly because ‘murder girl’ is nonsensical. When Eve Dallas, from the In Death series, calls herself a murder cop, it makes sense because Eve is a police officer who works homicide. Murder girl is a phrase that tells you nothing except, possibly, that the person has a macabre way of looking at life.
Murder Girl isn’t the only linguistic incident that gave me pause. I found myself bookmarking scene after scene where Lilah’s inner thoughts gave me conniptions. Moments like:
If I don’t find a way to really, truly disconnect myself from my personal feelings, my problems are going to have problems. And when your problems start to have problems, you’re either the good guy that just got killed or the bad guy who just got caught. Or Going out there is dangerous, I know this, but the bottom line here is that there are two types of people: the ones that hide in a closet, and the ones that go find the problem.
In spite of the fact that Lilah’s history should have schooled her in how many shades of gray there are in the world, she seems to do all her thinking in poorly worded black and white clichés.
I could get into the romance, the mystery or other aspects of the novel but most of my comments would be equally negative. Sometimes a book just doesn’t work for a reviewer, and Murder Notes was such a book for me. The prose borders on acceptable, but the plotting and difficult characterization made me long for it to end. If you’re a long-time fan of the author this might work for you but anyone else looking for a good suspense novel will definitely want to look elsewhere.