by Kay Hooper, contemporary (2002)
Bantam, $7.50, ISBN 0-553-58346-8
Whisper Of Evil is an uneven paranormal suspense story. Yes, readers, it has one of those perpetually depressed and morose heroines, you know, a heroine with "deep connection" with the case and all that rot. There's a murderer, as usual, because we all know there is no other crime in a romantic suspense except for murder and a Prozac-popping heroine.
This book continues the author's psychic FBI Special Unit Division series. This time around, our psychic heroine Nell Gallagher returns to her hometown of Silence. There are men being murdered in Silence (heh heh) and these men all share two common secrets: they have skeletons in the closet and they are all linked closer to Nell than everyone (including her) suspects at first. Since this is a suspense story, our heroine chooses to live - alone - in the biggest, most haunted, spookiest house filled with dark shadows and nooks and crannies (just call it "Serial Killers Hangout Paradise") and wanders around wide-eyed like a drugged-up Counselor Troi. She sees visions, you know.
Our hero, Max, is the guy she strands at the prom way back. They find romance again - that is, if you can call the "she wakes up screaming from a vision, they have healing sex once late in the story and it's LOOOOOOVE baybeee!" thing romance. Along the way, the sheriff and the FBI all try to find the killer. Finally, fed up that the story is going nowhere, a... uhm, Plot Device appears and reveals everything to Nell. Nell then gasps like a drugged-up Counselor Troi as the Killer holds her hostage and tells her everything, and I do mean everything. Killer dies and our hero and heroine insist that it's love this time around. I give them two weeks.
There are some nice scenes, I must admit. Plot Device blows me away by surprise: I should have seen that one coming, but I didn't, so wow. The Gallagher family secrets will drive the late VC Andrews into her grave the second time around. Sisters, this one makes Flowers In The Attic look like a romp in Disneyland. Cool. And I will probably have a string of shrinks knocking on my door for this, but I find the Killer sexy as hell in a Nick Cave way. Even if I manage to guess his identity too soon (the author drops a big clue early on, and it's just a matter of connecting the dots).
If the story is riddled with tired "romantic suspense" plot devices, the characters aren't compelling enough to make up for it. Nell is the usual "I'm tough, I'm tough - eeeeek!" wide-eyed heroine with lots of family issues. There's the happier best girlfriend foil here too. Max is the wide-eyed acolyte of the School of Psychic - he nods his head as Nell spends more time explaining the basics of Ms Hooper's idea of psychic power to him than she attends to solving the case. There's also a rather insulting equation of S&M and bondage sex as something perverse and obscene. The last time I check, Ms Hooper, any kind of sex involving consenting adults should be A-OK.
On one hand, Ms Hooper dredges out family skeletons that make this book far from a cozy mystery read. On the other hand, there is a noticeable absence of deep characterization, taut suspense, gripping mystery, or even Ms Hooper's trademark wit and humor. I wonder why... until I find myself bombarded with promos about this author's next few books. I made a mental calculation and guessed that she must have spent her time juggling the writing of this book with at least two other books (the last book of the Evil saga is out in March 2003, a new series will debut this October with another book - although I suspect this one is a reissue of her old Loveswept All For Quinn - and the sequel to the previous will be out in January 2003).
Well, I guess some of us have always dreamed of starting our own Golden Arches franchise one day.
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