The Perfect Victim
by Linda Castillo, contemporary (2002)
Jove, $5.99, ISBN 0-515-13370-1


Linda Castillo, the newest to break out of the Harlequin/Silhouette concentration camps, presents The Perfect Victim.

With a villain who comes off more cartoony than menacing, a hero and heroine out of spaghetti doodle county, and lots of lurid, lurid writing, The Perfect Victim should have come with those loud "Cringe! Cringe! Cringe!" ba-da-doom soundtrack. You know, the kind of music that plays when the masked serial killer in a bad B-grade slasher movie pops out to stab the showering big-boobed female victim? The Perfect Victim is also fun for those pajama parties. Reading aloud the lurid passages in your most overblown style will be the perfect foreplay before y'all get naked and have sex. Watch out for the serial killer lurking under the bed though.

The prologue has me laughing because it's so bad. The omnipotent dude wearing a ski mask and with reptilian eyes pops out - "Cringe! Cringe! Cringe!" - and stabs a woman. The woman groans and moans as what seems like a fountain of blood gushes slow motion all over her face and down onto her breasts... ohhh, she's dying, she's dyyyyyyiiiinggg!

That is after she cried at Mr Ski Mask, "Who are you?" and he answers, "Destiny."

I am Moo-Moo Earth Goddess, and I'm dragging all of you to rehab.

Cut to our heroine Addison Fox, never a more pathetic stereotype ever existed. A coffee-brewer, she has no date, no life, a virgin, and all she has in terms of character is a tendency to turn on the weepies whenever she thinks of her dead foster parents. She is 26, but she is so alone, boo-hoo-hoo. She decides to try and seek out her real parents, and Randall Talbot, a PI with tortured baggages, reluctantly helps her. In between lots of fun sexual harrassments and dysfunctional romance, people and all my brain cells die.

Ms Castillo doesn't do any thing half way, even if "all the way" means unadulterated loonybin melodrama. When Randall and Addy first meet, it's not just a tiny misunderstanding scenario, it's one that ends with her threatening to castrate him and he egging her on. When Addy wants to cry, she walks into a garden of dying flowers and grave stones (it's autumn) and falls onto her knees for the eek-eek-eek's. You'd think that she must have been a multiple-wartime torture victim who as a result of rapine at the hands of evil Nazi soldiers, gave birth to a two-headed elephant boy who died after saying pitifully "Mama, I... luffff you... eeek!", but no, Addy's just a pathetic weepy woman who doesn't have a spine to move on in life. What a waste of melodrama and hot air.

Other misfired scenes litter this story in abundance. A male victim searches for information on his computer, a scene the author likens to sex, but that scene just makes me feel terrified for the author's computer. For the most part of the story, the villain is called "the man in Hermes tie" - it must be a very, very big tie where you can wear all over your body like those giant banana costumes. And don't get me started about the final speech of the villain.

If Addy has no personality apart from weepy melancholy 24/7, Randall is a jerk who uses his PSTD as an excuse to act like a chauvinist boar. What has me hooting in not-so-nice laughter is Addy's excuse for bestowing her previous V to Randall when she barely knows him. She hasn't diddled in college and she has sworn off men after one - yes, just one - date with an old (eeeeuw!) married man with octopus hands. So why Randall?

"Sex just never happened to me," I quote her, "My parents were in their midforties when they adopted me. My mother had unexplained infertility... " - snip, I'm cutting off her "my mother is sterile, so must I be, therefore I never considered birth control when I am being donged by you" whine - "Thanks to them, I grew up mature" - here picture me bent over the toilet bowl spewing up what I ate earlier that day, and let's just snip the rest of her "I never did drugs, blah blah blah I dated one creepy men so I stopped dating altogether blah blah blah" nonsense - "The fact is that I never met anyone I wanted to make love with."

Translation: "I have no idea how I ended up with my legs spread open and your tookie tookied deep up me. Yelp!"

Let me get this straight: she haven't met any guy she wanted to sleep with, until she met this guy who treated her like a piece of meat, and er, now she "knows"? My excruciating agony is complete. Blood is gushing freely out of every orifice on my head as I swat this book again and again and again with my frying pan.

Oh, and have I mentioned the omnipotent ski mask reptilian eye dude? He just pops up like that when the author decides that it's time for some "suspense" and Addy starts screaming. Give me a freaking break, really.

Okay, I've been told that I'm too hard on romantic suspense. But you know what, I refuse to lower my standards when it comes to romantic suspense as opposed to suspense. If the author wants to use inept, linear "suspense" in her stories and then liberally add stale and uninspired formulaic characters in her story, don't expect me to like it. Cartoony villains, time-warp sexual politics (if Dr Ruth can keep up with the 21st century, I have no idea why Ms Castillo is still stuck in the 1940s), ridiculously and unrealistically one-note neurotic main characters, a ghastly and failed attempt at suspense, and overwrought prose all make The Perfect Victim the mother of all turkeys. But if it's any small consolation, with a zillion Sandra Brown-wannabes out there offering their equally inept brand of suspense and actually having a flourishing career to boot, this author is in good company.

Rating: 27


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