Mortal Sin
by Laurie Breton, contemporary (2004)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 0-7783-2025-1


Laurie Breton moves away from the derivative "cop tracks down serial killer" premise of her previous book Final Exit for a little change of premise: a priest and a divorcee searching for her runaway teenage niece in the seedy red light districts of Boston. Unfortunately, the awkward pacing and an unconvincing hero make what could have a different kind of romantic suspense a merely average read.

Sarah Connolly is in Boston to track down her runaway teenage niece Kit. Kit is the stereotypical teen with issues (her deadbeat father dumps her at her aunt's doorstep because Daddy's new wife can't stand her, she resents Sarah's strict and overprotective bossing, et cetera) and to be honest, her subsequent actions in this book make it hard for me to sympathize with her. The police is no help to Sarah, so she asks her friend's brother Father Clancy Donovan for help. Clancy runs a home for streetwalkers wanting a second chance at life and he knows his ways around the red light areas, so he'll be a great help to Sarah.

The book's biggest problem is its pacing. For too long the pace is just meandering as the main characters spend too long talking about the sights of Boston or reflecting on repetitious backstory of Sarah and Kit. This is one of those stories where the main characters cannot do much in terms of investigating other than interrogating people. This can't be too interesting so the author jazzes up things by inserting scenes of Kit in trouble, but the slow pacing never succeeds in engaging my emotions. Since the story is taking things in a leisurely pace, I get this impression that the author isn't too overly concerned about Kit. As a result, I don't give too much concern either, not enough to care.

The characterization that is Final Exit's biggest strength is missing in Mortal Sin. Sarah is one of those "I live in an old house" heroines - when has living in old houses direly in need of repairs become a status for admirable and virtuous heroines? - but other than that, she leaves very little impression on me. Clancy may be written as a Catholic priest, but there is very little about him that distinguishes him from other staple romantic suspense heroes. The author tries, but I never really get this impression that Clancy is in any way an authentic priest, even if Clancy is supposed to be a priest having a crisis of faith - Clancy's faith in his God is never projected in a way that feels solid and credible to me. He's what a priest would be if the author and/or the editor decides to tone him down to the point that his being a priest will not offend any oversensitive readers. But what's the point then in writing Clancy as a priest if he's not going to be a convincing one? Ms Breton may as well make Clancy a secular social worker.

The slow pace and the lack of urgency or suspense in Mortal Sin prevent it from rising above its weaknesses in characterization to become a compelling read. Laurie Breton is one of those romantic suspense authors that come off as knowledgeable in what they write about - she is an author who puts some thought and care in the construction of her suspense plots instead just adding some dead bodies nilly-willy while slapping on a few tepid love scenes and calling the result a "romantic suspense". But none of Ms Breton's strengths as a writer manages to shine in Mortal Sin.

Rating: 66


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