3 stars out of 5
Is anyone else old enough to remember the TV commercial for Prego pasta sauce claiming, "It's in there?" The reference, of course, is to all the ingredients a person (presumably a real Italian) would expect to find in homemade sauce. Well, that tagline came to mind often as I turned the pages this book. It's in there - in this case the ingredients for a really good book - but alas, it needs better mixing before I'm willing to call it a tasty read.
The writing itself is perfectly fine - just what I would expect from the author of several books (who, BTW, is the sister of another popular author, Lisa Jackson). The plots - there are two of them, for the most part running concurrently - aren't too far-fetched for a murder mystery. But the way it's all put together just didn't gel for me.
As I understand it, this is a continuation of Bush's "Rafferty Family" series. As such, I not only hoped it would stand on its own (it does), but hoped I'd be introduced to a new and appealing character. I'm sorry to say that never happened. Yes, there's a Rafferty in there - in this case September, a police detective who's handling the second story line - but she doesn't make much of an appearance (nor much of an impression on me one way or another). Her partner, Gretchen, doesn't get much mention either, but in her case, that's a good thing; she's downright annoying.
What I'll call the primary plot (both because it takes up way more pages and is way more interesting) revolves around a serial killer who loves to play games - in this case, apparently targeting victims with bird-related names. The killer's next victim seems to be Andi Wren, the majority owner of a construction company that's developing property around a lake in Oregon. Her ownership came as a result of her husband's fairly recent death in an auto accident, and his brother and sister - also company owners - are less than thrilled to have her on board. Realizing her life may be in danger, Andi calls up help from former police officer and now private investigator Luke Denton, who (surprise!) also happens to be an unmarried hunk.
The other plot involves Rafferty's team, who are working on identifying the skeletal remains found in a basement at the edge of town. When this story line finally was introduced, it was accompanied by such a barrage of different characters that within a few pages, I realized I was totally lost -and I wasn't inclined to go back and reread to try and figure out what was happening. Somewhere along the way, I surmised, things would come together and I'd "get it."
And for the most part, I did, as the two story lines began to intersect. It was extremely frustrating, though, to find scenes doing a switcheroo smack in the middle of chapters (and back again). Still more frustration came by way of repetition; take all that out and quite a few pages could be eliminated without dire consequences (in fact, the same could be said for the entire second plot, IMHO). The killer, for instance, apparently loves to hear himself talk as he explains his actions to the nth degree. And while I'm on the subject of the killer, it struck me as totally out of character for a person who's supremely meticulous - taking great pains to leave no evidence at the crime scenes that could be used for identification - to use the same name when meeting each and every victim).
In the end, I'll call this a good book that, with a little stirring, has the potential to be great. Thanks to the publisher and author for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an unbiased review.
The Killing Game by Nancy Bush (Zebra, June 2016); 384 pp.