by Leslie Parrish, paranormal (2011)
Signet, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23300-4
Leslie Parrish had written some stupendously good romantic suspense before, but Cold Touch is just fabulous. It's not just a solid read - it's a story that left me almost speechless by the last page because I was reeling from trying to get a hold of my emotions.
This book is part of the Extrasensory Agents series, but it works fine as a standalone book due to its self-contained plot and the small number of recurring characters. In this one, we meet Olivia Wainwright. She is a very damaged heroine: she survived a horrifying kidnapping ordeal when she was fifteen, thanks to Jack, a boy who served even as he was abused by Olivia's kidnapper. She lives while her kidnapper was supposedly shot dead by the cops, and the trauma of the ordeal somehow left her with a "gift": she can relive the final moments of a deceased person by touching the body. By this, we are talking about every excruciating agony and futile struggle of the deceased. This gift is useful in determining a cause of death and, in the case of suspicious deaths, finding clues and such. However, as you can imagine, it is never a pleasant experience to use her "gift" on any dead Tom, Dick, and Harry.
Our story begins when Detective Gabe Cooper and his partner are called to investigate what is clearly a case of arson, only to learn that the firemen have discovered the remains of a young boy in one of the walls. When this gets to the news and the Savannah PD releases a sketch of the deceased's possible face, Olivia realizes with a shock that the boy could very well be the boy who saved her twelve years ago only to vanish subsequently. She has to make sure that it is really Jack whose body they have found and finally have some closure in her life. However, she and Gabe will learn instead that the cops killed the wrong man - the actual kidnapper is still around, and worse, he may be the same man that had killed three twelve-year old boys every four years. It has been four years since the last murder - he could very well strike again any time now.
Oh boy, this book is not for the faint of heart, let's just say. Olivia's gift means that this book contains some of the most painful, heartbreaking, and horrifying scenes of the victims' final moments. In light of some recent events, this story may be too much of an uncomfortable read for some readers, and I don't blame them one bit because these scenes leave me shell-shocked and even in tears. To Ms Parrish's credit, these scenes never feel exploitative or tasteless. Instead, they come off as an integral part of the story to remind me why the good guys have to win and ensure that this monster will not harm another boy again. These scenes are also a macabre reminder of how we should cherish our life and not take even one second for granted. I know, it's odd for me to say that, but that's exactly how I feel after reading these scenes.
Gabe is a very appealing hero - he is a damaged guy in his own right, but he is also a survivor with a strong sense of justice. Olivia is a more extreme version of Gabe in that she, too, is a survivor who is determined to become strong instead of letting her past or her current "gift" break her. This is a rare heroine who has every right to whine and moan about her lot, only to instead finding the quiet strength inside herself to keep soldiering on and even using her "gift" for justice and stuff. These two are heroes without wanting to be called such, and therefore, they make a truly terrific couple. I root for them, I cry for them when they are hurting but trying so hard to keep soldiering on, and I wish them all the happiness in the world even if I know they are not real. That's how these characters affect me and move me so much with their story.
It also helps that this book has the right balance of suspense and romance. The initial mental lusting feels a bit rushed and contrived to me, but the author slowly shows that these two really do connect on a mental, emotional, as well as physical level. And I really have to hand it to Ms Parrish: the last few chapters segue so smoothly and seamlessly from bleak despair to hope that I find myself turning into a one-woman Niagara Falls without really realizing it. Sure, there are some things that I wish are toned down or changed a bit - [spoiler starts] the Casper stuff, the predictable and rather clichéd identity of the villain's accomplice, and the unfortunate implication of the sole well-drawn African-American character biting the big one [spoiler ends] - but that's just minor nitpicking. I am too busy wiping away tears and wondering how on earth Ms Parrish has managed to turn me into a watery emotional mess. It's so undignified, but I don't regret one single second of it. The high I get from having every drop of emotion wrung dry from me is worth it.
Cold Touch is sobering, terrifying, and yet at the same time uplifting and inspirational. It's like a CSI episode directed by Brian De Palma mixed with a Hallmark drama. This book is really that good for me, and... wow. It's really that good.
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