The blurb on the back of the advance copy of Unforgivable puts Tina Wainscott’s venture into romantic suspense in the company of Lisa Gardner and Iris Johansen. As someone who finds both those authors engrossing and genuinely suspenseful, I found that comparison of this novel to their work far short of the mark.
Katie Malloy was born in the backwoods in a town called Possum Holler (yep, that’s really the name). In a particularly descriptive passage, nine year old Katie finds her mother dead from eating drain cleaner. Katie was placed with a local family and grows up trying to be a good girl and find a life for herself. Eighteen years after her mother’s death, Katie thinks she’s done just that. She is married to the local vet and seemingly happy. Then someone from her past comes back, girls start to disappear, and it looks like Katie herself is a target. Can she survive?
My first answer to that is, “God, I hope not.” Katie’s a big ol’ doormat – meek and easily manipulated by her husband. She is blind to his very obvious manipulation and acts like she’s dumb as dirt at times. For instance, Katie freaks out when her 27th birthday rolls around because that’s how old her mother was when she “killed herself,” and Katie thinks she’ll do it too. Whenever Katie speaks her mind, her husband, Ben, gets hurt and asks a variation on this question: “Aren’t I enough for you anymore? After all I’ve done for you, all I give you, it’s just not enough I guess.” Oh, wahh. Katie simply can’t see that Ben is emotionally manipulating her. Not only that, he keeps her isolated and alone at their home which she has to keep in order since he works so hard (but she works with him). While I would normally have a lot of sympathy for a character with such a terrible life, there are so many flaws to Katie’s character it’s hard to have any sympathy for her.
Ben Ferguson, Katie’s manipulative husband, is a man who seems nice to everyone. He takes great care of animals, and he was once a hero to nine-year-old Katie when he saved a kitten for her. With the (big) exception of his manipulation of Katie, he seems perfectly nice – and bland.
Silas Koole was always known around town as Spooky Silas. He left when he was fifteen or so, but now he’s back. Silas feels a connection to Katie. He was there when she was born, and she was the first person to ever trust him. He’s still spooky, and he is tied to a killer’s mind. *spooky music inserted here* Silas may be tied to the killer’s mind but he doesn’t know who the killer is, and he’s afraid it could be him. You see, he gets blackouts while he’s feeling the killer’s emotions. Uh oh.
The lack of suspense pretty much ruined this book for me, and there wasn’t enough romance to make up for it. The series of incidents leading to the murder isn’t a good set up. What’s supposed to be a red herring is not at all, and it’s obvious not two pages after the murder who the killer is. And if you’re going to have a murder ruled a suicide so that it scars a character for years, then the description shouldn’t lead the reader to obviously concluded it’s a murder. The description of the “suicide” includes this: “Her eyes were wide in terror, but they looked at nothing. As though she had been about to scream, and then had frozen.” Because of this, I never believed Katie’s character motivations or any situation that her character, or lack thereof, led her into.
There’s really no romance in this romantic suspense. There’s a pull between Katie and one of the men, an attraction that neither can let go and this attraction drives another nail in the suspense coffin. If there’s an attraction between the heroine and only one man, well, then, who do you think the hero’s going to be? When is the hero ever the murderer? And while Katie’s relationship triggers her to let her former feisty personality start coming back, it also makes her seem not so bright at times.
Because of the lack of suspense and obviousness of the story, I found it hard to sustain interest in this book. Yet I kept reading it in morbid fascination, perhaps to see how long it took the characters to figure things out. That’s not what I want in a romantic suspense story. I want romance and suspense, darn it. I had heard good things about Tina Wainscott’s books, and I was very disappointed to find this one so lacking.