Scent of a Killer starts out as a decent romantic suspense novel, fast-paced and quite readable. But it gradually becomes as wobbly as a house of cards. Since it’s built on a very unstable foundation of far-fetched elements and suspect choices, it doesn’t hold up well under scrutiny.
On the night of her first professional exhibit, photographer Jenna Meyerson receives an unexpected visit from her ex-husband, Adam. A high-powered corporate attorney, he claims to have information that a rival company, Faxel, is involved with international criminals. He needs her help to prove it. A short time earlier, she took some pictures at one of Faxel’s company parties. Adam believes the presence of someone in the photographs could offer proof of the company’s illegal dealings.
Jenna isn’t sure whether it would be ethical for her to allow him to see the pictures, but promises to think about it. Before she can make her decision, Adam is found dead in Central Park. The police seem willing to accept he fell victim to a deadly mugging. Jenna is unwilling to let it go at that. She goes to the one man she believes can help her, the private detective Adam claimed he’d hired to work on the case: their mutual old friend Frank Renaldi.
In college, Adam and Frank had competed for Jenna, and when Adam won, Frank disappeared from their lives. Jenna had no idea he was back in New York. A former FBI agent, he’s now a single father raising a teenage son. When she arrives at his office, he makes it clear he?s not happy to see her. But he may be the only person who can help her get to the bottom of the international conspiracy Adam unearthed.
Heggan’s storytelling is fast and engaging, easily pulling the reader into the book. It’s not an unpleasant read. The characters are likeable and reasonably compelling. Frank’s family is Italian-American without being grotesquely stereotypical, and the author nicely captures the feel of New York City and the surrounding area. While the romance is on the low-key side, the story moves quickly enough and there?s enough happening that it doesn’t matter all that much.
No, the biggest problems are with the story itself. At first, there are some questionable plot elements, although they’re not that hard to overlook. It’s difficult to believe a picture of someone at a company party could connect the company to criminal activity. All that would prove is that someone at the party is connected to criminals, not that the company itself is engaged in anything illegal. If Faxel is connected to something illegal, why would they invite their criminal partners to a party they’ve hired Jenna to photograph? Whatever. I can go with it. To a point.
But as it goes along, the story begins to collapse under the weight of the contrivances. The pieces the characters use to put everything together are increasingly far-fetched. Isn’t it convenient that the international criminals in question just happen to be the criminal group Frank investigated before he left the FBI? It would make sense if Adam went to Frank because he knew that, but he didn’t.
As the title indicates, an integral part of the story involves Jenna realizing someone isn’t the killer because he doesn’t smell right, and someone else is because he does. It doesn’t come off as silly as it sounds, but still feels like an odd aspect to base the story on. One moment requires Frank to tell Jenna something so minor it’s unlikely that he would bother to mention it or that she would remember it. (Heggan doesn’t actually show him telling her this specifically, yet Jenna somehow knows it at the crucial moment). In the book’s final stretch, Jenna begins to make increasingly foolish and risky choices that really should get her killed. That they don’t is just another of the book?s contrivances.
Up until the last hundred or so pages, Scent of a Killer would have rated a low B. But the longer it goes on, the less it holds up. A subplot with Jenna getting to know Frank’s son is underdeveloped, and another involving Jenna’s father is predictable and feels unresolved in the end. It’s not a bad read; instead it’s the kind of book that looks worse the more you think about it.
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