Cassie Neill is ‘gifted’: she can enter most peoples’ minds, sometimes by simple proximity but mostly by making a connection to the person, either by eye-contact or physical touch. She can even reach some people by touching an object that they have held or worn. This makes her invaluable to the LA police as they try to catch a serial killer, but when she makes a mistake a child dies and the killer escapes. In an attempt to seek some peace, Cassie moves to sleepy Ryan’s Bluff, North Carolina, where she has inherited her aunt’s isolated house. However, it seems that murders happen even in the most unlikely of places.
Her first contact relays his fury and determination to kill the woman that he despises. In an effort to save an innocent life, Cassie speaks to the local Sheriff, but he is dismissive of her abilities and she eventually turns to Judge Ben Ryan in the hopes that he will believe her. Then a young woman is murdered and Cassie suddenly finds herself a suspect until she can prove that she is telling the truth. As the killer continues her killing spree, Cassie must work with law enforcement to uncover any clue to his identity, risking her own mental health by sharing his terrifying thoughts.
This is the first in the Bishop / Special Crimes Series, which will reach its fourteenth installment this summer. Each book is a stand-alone crime mystery involving a woman with paranormal abilities who must help to catch a deranged serial killer. The common link between all the titles is the presence of Noah Bishop, an FBI Agent from the Special Crimes Unit. However, in this title Bishop does not make his appearance until the second half of the story, which left me wondering about the name of the series and slightly distracted.
However, the story was gripping enough to overcome this distraction and the Ms Hooper’s use of the killer’s Point of View at certain times added to the general air of terror and threat that he generated. The descriptions of Cassie’s experiences inside the heads of both this killer and others were very well done. They had a sense of reality which overcame the necessary suspension of disbelief required by her abilities. I particularly appreciated that Cassie was not simply a fluffy, special bunny who had a normal life despite of her ability. As with Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse, Cassie is constantly disabled by her ability, which can be as much of a curse as a gift. She shares Sookie’s feelings of separation and isolation, and even finds the same respite in the arms of a man whose mind is silent to her, even when she touches him.
I was worried that Cassie would be revealed to be quite a passive character as soon as it was obvious that this was a Paranormal Romance. However, she is a very strong personality who shows great bravery and determination throughout the plot and does not become a wet blanket as soon as the alpha male becomes evident. As someone who is wary of the Romance genre, I found this a great relief and it greatly increased my enjoyment of the book. There are Romance elements, but these are subtly done and do not reduce the heroine into a mere cipher for our wish-fulfillment. Instead, we are shown the development of a strong relationship, in which both parties grow and become greater than the sum of their parts. I also felt that theirs was a relationship that I could actually believe would last into the future: so often Romance couples make such unlikely coupling that it is almost impossible to imagine them growing old together.
Our hero, Ben, is suitably tall, dark and handsome, but he also has his issues and needs to develop as a character before he can commit to their relationship. I particularly liked his relationship with the Sherriff, which was close and yet suitably male, with a healthy dose of realism to make it more interesting. Indeed Ryan’s Bluff and its inhabitants were well-realized and provided a suitably detailed backdrop for the story that unfolded. However, I would have liked certain characters to have been introduced more than a few pages before they were placed in jeopardy. There was one scene in particular where we were given several women converging on the place that we knew would be the scene of the next abduction, and I found that rather heavy handed and melodramatic. It led to a feeling of ‘red shirt syndrome’, where the least known character was obviously the one in danger.
The plot clipped along at a good pace, with plenty of shocks and lots of tension. I was particularly concerned about the dogs that were introduced as guards against the killer. I am one of those people who get more upset about a dog being murdered than a human: I am not sure what that says about me, but it is the truth. After we met them, I was in constant fear that the killer would silence the faithful doggy protector before taking out his chosen victim.
I was especially impressed by the depiction of the relationship between one of the women and her abusive former husband. Although she was only a minor character, I thought that her transition from terrified, powerless victim to newly-empowered independent woman was very well done. Her inner turmoil and doubts about facing down her former abuser were inspiring and I particularly loved a scene where she warned him that if anything at all happened to her newly-acquired dog she would hold him responsible. It was very refreshing to see a positive outcome from such a horrible situation.
I am not sure that I feel a desperate need to read more in this series, but as they are all stand-alone titles, I could easily see me picking one up when I need a good solid read with an intriguing plot and strong characterization.