As I read Parallel Lies, I couldn’t get past the feeling that I should be enjoying it more than I was. It’s a fast read with a solid premise for an action/suspense book. But after a while, I realized I wasn’t all that invested in either the characters or the plot, which ultimately made for a hollow reading experience.
Sabrina Sullivan’s father Sully was a former CIA agent and the top man at Perimeter Security Incorporated, an elite private protection firm. When a Perimeter client was murdered on his watch, Sully led the charge to catch the killer, international assassin Pluto Zenner. But Zenner was killed in the process, and his son Adonis (someone’s certainly fond of their mythology) came after Sully in retaliation. After Sully’s murder, his boss, Perimeter owner Theo Howell, feared Adonis would come after Sabrina and her sister next. He arranged new identities for the girls and sent them into hiding where they would be safe.
For five years Sabrina and her sister Michelle (now called Shelby) lived peacefully under their new identities. But when Shelby leaves for a romantic getaway with her boyfriend and fails to check in with her sister as promised, Sabrina fears the worst. For the first time in five years, she gets in touch with Theo and the new man in charge at Perimeter, Zack Lansing, to ask for their help. It doesn’t take them long to figure out that Shelby’s boyfriend Johnny is actually John Derringer, a disgruntled former Perimeter agent, or that he most likely was feeding her an experimental drug that made her highly susceptible to mind control. Sabrina and Zack instantly dislike each other, but soon they start to work together to find out why John kidnapped her sister and where he’s hiding her.
Kate Donovan’s writing style is engaging enough that it took me longer than it should have to realize that something was missing. I had no trouble turning the pages and there are some interesting ideas here. But then, more than a hundred pages into the book, I realized it was still the same day that Sabrina had arrived at Theo’s house at the beginning of the story. I tried to remember what had just happened for the last 100+ pages. The answer: Not much. The characters had spent more than a hundred pages talking endlessly about the Zenners and Sully and Johnny and Michelle/Shelby, without doing much. And far too much of the story unfolds in this fashion. With less action than the best Bombshell releases, it is overly talky. It’s to the author’s credit that the story never becomes boring, but it also never really takes off into a gripping pageturner either.
The larger problem is that the author gives the reader no reason to care about the things the characters discuss endlessly – or the characters themselves. They’re all relatively flat and one-dimensional. All we know about Sabrina is that she’s an overprotective older sister. While she shows some physical toughness, there’s little insight into who she is as a person beyond that. Zack doesn’t make the best first impression, as he harangues Sabrina with a long, melodramatic rant that doesn’t make much sense. Otherwise, he’s simply a standard-issue agent-type. Sully is more of an abstract concept than an actual person, the dead father/superagent. For much of the story, because so little is revealed about them, the Zenners never seem real enough to be all that menacing.
The story really isn’t developed much beyond A killed B, the parent of C, whose sibling D was kidnapped by E. While it’s well-structured and moves easily enough, it was difficult to care much about the story when the characters were nothing more than spacefillers in the plot.
The best chapters are those that take place from Shelby’s point of view, as she slowly becomes aware that something is wrong on her romantic getaway with Johnny. Shelby is one of the few characters (if not the only one) who is vivid enough that she comes across as an actual person. Beyond that, the situation she finds herself in has enough inherent suspense that it’s easy to want to see her get out of it, especially knowing what we do about Johnny. As we watch him manipulate her, it’s easy to hate him, to care about her and to want to see her figure out what’s really going on. Sabrina’s supposed desperation to save her sister never comes across in her scenes, but the scenes showing Shelby herself are effective. Ultimately, though, the way the Shelby/Johnny storyline is resolved left a bad taste in my mouth. Without getting into spoilers, it was aggravating and unbelievable, to say the least.
I don’t want to make this book sound worse that it was. It was lackluster, but not bad. Parallel Lies is an easy read that moves smoothly enough, but in spite of the author’s polished prose, she fails to develop her characters into actual people the reader can care about, and the plot isn’t complex or surprising enough to compensate. It’s a book that passes quickly, and that’s about it.