I really wanted to love The Shark, the first book in Mary Burton’s new Forgotten Files series. I’ve enjoyed many of the author’s books in the past and with its low price and intriguing premise I was excited at the prospect of recommending this latest novel. Unfortunately, I found myself quickly bored and having to force myself to turn the pages just to finish this tale.
When Virginia state trooper Riley Tatum arrives at the scene of a disturbing murder involving a teen prostitute, she is upset to discover a set of playing cards in the girl’s belongings. The high quality cards, the kind used by professional/serious gamblers, have the word loser spelled out on the back of them. For Riley, the cards bring with them a heavy sense of déjà vu. She has a very similar set of cards at home, found in her pocket when she arrived at the teen shelter in town. She has no memory of how she got them nor does she recall anything about the week before she got on the bus that brought her to the shelter. She does know what she looked like at the time and it is surprisingly similar to the dead girl before her.
Shield security specialist Clay Bowman had shared a passionate one night stand with Riley many years ago. At the time, he was in a dark place and couldn’t afford to get involved with the lovely young woman, but he has never forgotten her. Now he has the chance to put himself once more into her life. It’s likely that her crime scene belongs to a serial killer nicknamed the Shark, who uses the lives of young girls as stakes in a sadistic poker game. Shield has spent years tracking the Shark and isn’t about to leave the handling of this latest crime to the local police. Clay volunteers his services to the detective working the case, determined that this will be the Shark’s last game.
This is a standard police procedural style romantic suspense which has absolutely nothing new to offer a reader. The characters are very stock: both Clay and Riley are superstars who completely have it together and are totally dedicated to their jobs. They devote their days off to working. For much of the novel I was convinced they weren’t going to get together; not only was their interaction very cool but they never seemed to develop a level of intimacy much beyond what would be typical between co-workers. Clay would often think about making a move, but it took a long time before he actually did. In between, each character focuses on the memories of the night they shared and there’s a lot of introspection about how they felt about acting on their feelings. In other words, they fizzle far more than they sizzle.
The author tries to round out the text by giving Riley a dog and a daughter but neither of them have much of a personality. They seemed very tacked on to me, necessary for the plot but not fleshed out in any meaningful way.
I felt no sense of urgency with the suspense angle and had guessed who the mysterious card player was by the halfway mark. This was no great achievement on my part since the way the story unfolds, it would have been virtually impossible to have it be somebody else.
While the prose in The Shark is excellent and the rest of the story adequate, good fiction needs a little more to rise above the level of ordinary. I didn’t feel the novel delivered anything but the basics and would recommend this only to diehard fans of the author.