I read a ton of books last weekend travelling back and forth from California to Ohio for the Lori Foster/Dianne Castell Reader/Writer Get Together. I'm gonna write them up a couple at a time.
Sitting around late one evening, laughing my butt off in an hysterical conversation in the lobby of the Marriott hotel, author Gail Faulkner asked a question of us readers: "Can an author turn a good guy into a bad guy and be forgiven?" General consensus: yes, if the appropriate hints are given along the way so that the reader doesn't feel cheated and taken advantage of. Here are two books that demonstrate this beautifully and expertly. Without giving away the whodunnit, both authors drop enough hints that the reader can narrow the whodunnit down to 2 or 3 good guys, but is kept guessing. I was afraid to be loyal to any one character out of fear that they would turn out to be the bad guy, yet these authors did such a wonderful job of creating their characters, that I felt disloyal questioning the integrity of these characters.
Impulse by JoAnn Ross... Sheriff Will Bridger, along with several of his deputies and the radio reporter he loved and lost years before must find a serial killer in their sleepy Wyoming town. JoAnn Ross does a fabulous job giving us both the perspective of the killer and the sheriff and his lady love. She begins by describing the killer as "the boy who was raised by wolves". And while she never explains this... was he truly raised by wolves, or does he just feel that way?... we see into his past, beginning with his first kill of a childhood acquaintance's kitten and the feelings that arouses in him.
The book opens with the murder of an Olympic ice skater, and prime suspects include, among others, Bridger's own teenaged son and one of his deputies. The murders move on to include the skater's mother and Bridger's lover's ex-husband. Ross explores the depth of the murderer's sick mind, all the while making the reader wonder which of the good guys is the killer. Is it the young, innocent fresh faced deputy? The helpful college professor? The wise deputy who should have been sheriff, but got passed over for Bridger? Bridger's own teenaged son? The gorgeous female deputy who seems too perfect to be true? It could be any one of them, and all of them are likeable, and I felt disloyal guessing about any of them. I will admit that I had it narrowed down to two suspects by the end of the book, and one of them was the right choice, but I didn't know which it was until the culprit was revealed. Ross does a masterful job.
The romance takes a back seat, but is still an integral part of the story, as is (Bridger's radio reporter lady love) Faith's back story - fearful of her alcoholic husband, she is on the run under an assumed name. This was an excellent read.
Dead End by Mariah Stewart... I've ranted before about my favorite authors being released in hardcover, and I had to wait almost 2 years for the paperback release of Dead End. Mariah Stewart is a master of suspense. You all know how I love my agents! The last of the FBI "Dead" series, this one focuses on FBI profiler Anne Marie, whose sister Mara was the focus of book one. Mara married Aiden Shields, whose brother Dylan was Anne Marie's fiance before he was killed in the line of duty. Anne Marie has now got a new man, but because her sister has married into the Shields family, and they are all FBI agents, as is Anne Marie, it is very tough to let go of the past. So together with her new love, a police detective, they decide to find Dylan's killer.
We learn through flashbacks told mostly from the killer's perspective, but also from other Shields' perspectives, that the killer is one of the Shields cousins. As Anne Marie seeks answers and enlists the Shields family's assistance, we narrow it down to two Shields brothers. Once again, we have no clue which is the killer. Hints are dropped, as we learn all kinds of interesting information about each brother that would seemingly lead to guilt or innocence. It is all masterfully done, and Stewart keeps the reader guessing up until the last minute.
This is all weaved into an intricate story of Anne Marie and Evan learning to become a couple while each is involved in an important, high powered career, in different cities. Evan's serial murder case becomes intertwined with Dylan's murder case in an odd twist, and leads to the key that solves both crimes.
These books are both excellent examples of the "good guy gone bad" done extremely well. There are enough hints dropped that the reader knows that a good guy is going to fall from grace, but the story is so well done that even I, a self-proclaimed whodunnit master, could not guess the true culprit with complete confidence. In addition, they both delivered excellent romances. Heavy on the suspense, light on the sex (almost nonexistent in the Stewart book), but I don't miss it when I read these books. Love them both.