The Killer You Know
I’ve read Van Meter before, and I remember thinking that even though her plotting doesn’t always work for me, she does really interesting things with characterization. The plotting in this novel was much tighter than in earlier books of hers I’ve read, which was a big plus. The characters took a little while to convince me, but I’m glad I stuck with them because once things got going in this story, I could really appreciate them.
The hero, FBI Agent Silas Kelly, grew up in the rural town of Port Orion, Washington. The unsolved murder there of his younger brother tore his family apart, and all of them left town as adults, never to return. The murder of a teenage girl whose body was found in the same spot as Silas’ brother makes him wonder if perhaps the two seemingly unrelated crimes could be connected. He knows that he cannot rest unless he at least tries to get a look at the investigation, so he takes leave from his job in the Chicago Bureau, and heads west.
When he gets to Port Orion, he finds that the crusty old sheriff who mentored him as a grieving teen is still in charge, and Sheriff Mankins reluctantly lets Silas be involved with the investigation. This brings Silas quickly into contact with Quinn Jackson. Quinn is a young reporter at the lackluster local paper, but she is determined to move on to bigger and better things outside of her tiny town. Silas and Quinn soon butt heads, but end up joining forces to look into the case. The levelheaded Silas can’t stand the press due to past experience, but he’s also quick to figure out that Quinn has a certain credibility as a longtime local that he no longer has after having been gone from Port Orion for many years. It doesn’t hurt that Quinn’s drive and energy draw Silas right in.
At first, I had trouble liking either of the leads. Silas felt a little too much like the outsider butting in to a local investigation where his personal agenda created conflicts. As the story moves along, though, I came to like his methodical ways. Sometimes his feelings cloud his viewpoint, but he is willing to listen to Quinn, respects her cleverness and powers of observation, and he is not opposed to letting his mind be changed.
Quinn starts off a bit feisty, and she sometimes comes off in early chapters as just rebelling for the sake of rebelling. However, she is obviously smart and driven. She’s also only 24, and has a lot to learn. As readers, we get to see some of that learning and sense of perspective developing over the course of the book, and that made me appreciate Quinn more. By the end of the book, I rather liked her.
In terms of relationship, we have the usual police-press tensions, but the even bigger source of conflict comes from the age and life experience gap. Silas’ age is a little unclear from the text, but he’s obviously somewhere between 32 and 34, and it’s mentioned that he has only ever dated women near his own age. Quinn, on the other hand, is 24 and while she’s dated around, it’s only been in her limited circle of friends in Port Orion. There’s definitely a gap there, and one of the things that lifted this book for me was the manner in which the characters address the issue rather than pretending it isn’t one. Quinn is also very frank about her wants and needs, and I found that refreshing. Doormat heroine, she is not.
Lastly, while I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, I did want to mention a plotting choice made by the author near the end of this novel that I really liked. Unlike many romantic suspense thrillers that I’ve read where the bad guys gets caught, the leads have victory sex and everyone rides off happily into the sunset, the author in this book shows readers a more realistic aftermath. We see what it is like to have a killer known to everyone in a small town be unmasked and how that “closure” affects both hero and heroine on an emotional level, both personally and in the development of their relationship. There is some side drama with a sheriff’s deputy that was upsetting (CW: animal abuse) and really unnecessary, but I was impressed with how the author handled the ending of this story otherwise. While there were some moments that pulled me out of the early chapters and some side drama that contained disturbing elements that didn’t really move the story along, I otherwise quite enjoyed this book.