The Seventh Victim
The Seventh Victim is labeled a Romantic Suspense novel, but the love story happens so little so late, I would hesitate to apply the word romance at all. Unfortunately, the suspense aspect didn’t work well enough to compensate for this, and when I finally closed the book, I was left feeling as if I’d just wasted my time.
Seven years ago, the Seattle Strangler murdered six women, dressed them in homemade white gowns, and left their bodies by the side of the highway. The madman’s seventh victim, Lara Church, survived his brutal attack but retained no memories at all of the horror she suffered. After moving around the country for several years, Lara has finally settled in Austin, Texas, where she’s building a life around her love of photography.
Texas Ranger James Beck can’t manage to leave the job at the office, and his life beyond solving crimes is virtually empty. When a woman’s body is found in his Austin jurisdiction, evidence leads to the terrifying reality that the Seattle Strangler has moved south and is back at work. Beck approaches Lara Church to glean information, determined to use any means necessary to catch the monster, but soon his interest in her becomes something more protective and personal.
As the body count climbs, Lara struggles with guilt that her lack of memory may be the reason they haven’t been able to catch the killer. At Beck’s urging, she agrees to talk to yet another therapist, and finally some cracks appear in the mental wall that has kept her from remembering her attack. Meanwhile, Beck and his colleagues try to piece together clues from the various murders so they can catch the man who’s tightening a circle with Lara right in the center bulls eye.
One would expect that after her near-death experience, Lara would be exceptionally cautious, even paranoid. Instead, she makes some very stupid moves that frustrated me to no end. Despite clear evidence that the Seattle Strangler is back in action near her home, Lara refuses to accept that he might be coming after her. She puts herself in danger more than once, relying on a shotgun, her German Shepard and her delusion that she’s strong enough to protect herself to justify living in a remote house far from help. She even ignores evidence that might help the authorities, an act that caused me to want to shake her.
Beck is a gruff workaholic with little personality beyond “gruff workaholic law enforcement officer”. When he first approaches Lara, the animosity between them literally leads them to draw guns on each other. Over time, a trust develops and they each begin to see the other as a member of the opposite sex. However, Beck’s protective instinct seemed to arise more from his calling as a Texas Ranger rather than a particular love for Lara as a person rather than a victim. Since their interactions were limited to the scope of the case, I never felt any real spark between them. Even their eventual physical encounter felt more a result of extreme circumstances rather than the culmination of growing feelings and affection.
I found it bothersome that everyone, including Beck, treated Lara as a criminal rather than a victim because even after undergoing hypnosis and visits to dozens of psychiatrists, she was unable to recall what happened during her attack. Law enforcement officers and even the mother of one of the victims continuously browbeat her, suggesting that she could remember if she really wanted to, even implying that it’s her fault that the killer continues to murder. This woman suffered at the hands of a serial killer and these people victimize her again with their bullying.
As far as solving the crime, Beck and his cohorts seemed to spin their wheels to no effect. They visit crime scenes and talk to medical examiners and read case files, but they never make any connections or headway. One huge clue that enabled me to figure out the killer eluded Beck until the very end, while another clue that received great focus never amounted to anything. Even Lara’s memories ultimately had little to do with catching a killer that never managed to feel very menacing despite his easy access to the heroine.
Pacing suffered from a focus on minutia and mundane details that added a lot of unnecessary bulk. For example, Beck doesn’t simply leave and arrive somewhere. He walks across the hot asphalt, slides onto his hot leather seats, starts up the truck, cranks on the AC, and finally drives off. A certain amount of detail is necessary to create setting and atmosphere, but too much slowed the pace to a crawl. Too, Burton’s Austin could use a good massage therapist because characters’ shoulders and backs and necks were always tightening and flexing with stress. It got so that I was thrown out of the story every time someone’s back muscles stiffened because it happened so often.
If I had to use one word to sum up my thoughts after reading The Seventh Victim it would be meh. I simply didn’t find the romance, the procedural element or the villain compelling enough to recommend this book.