Don't Look Away
By Leslie A Smith, contemporary (2013)
LK Books, $10.95, ISBN 978-1484140024


Don't Look Away is technically Leslie A Smith's debut effort, but Leslie A Smith is the pseudonym of Leslie Kelly, who also wrote romantic suspense under the name Leslie Parrish. This one is similar in tone to Leslie Parrish's books, but it's set a few decades down the road so there's a bit of a dystopian futuristic feel to things. (Yes, I label this one a contemporary romance, because any other label may lead people to believe that this is some kind of futuristic tale when it's not so much of that.)

In the years prior to the start of this story, the United States of America was hit by a large scale bombing that killed the President, flattened the White House, and caused the subsequent President to lead some political reforms that led to the country withdrawing itself from the international political scene to concentrate on its own internal affairs. Chips were inserted into every citizen so that they can be tracked easily.

While not everyone is clearly happy with the current situation, the ability to track down every citizen's detail, down to the amount of time he spends on the potty every day, definitely makes life easier for the law enforcers of the country. That doesn't mean that crime rate is down, though, as our heroine Detective Veronica Sloan can tell you.

Ronnie is a tough no-nonsense cop, and she also volunteered to be part of the Optical Evidence Program Investigative Squad (OEPIS). The OEPIS is a top secret new program, still in its testing stage, where an optical device is implanted in a test subject. Initially created to help folks with Alzheimer's disease remember crucial scenes in their lives, the device will allow the OEPIS officer to play back and view "scenes" from the person's memory after the person's death, and hopefully allows the cops to solve crimes involving death bodies easier.

Well, one such test subject dies at the start of the story, hacked into pieces, and Ronnie is called to the scene of crime. The thing is, the poor victim's head is missing, so OEPIS ninja magic may have to be postponed as our heroine and her partner Detective Mark Daniels resort to more conventional means to solve the crime.

Don't Look Away is more of a suspense story with some romance instead of a straightforward romantic suspense, and in fact, this is the first book in a planned series featuring Ronnie in the lead. There is some romantic tension here, between Ronnie and some guy she has the hots, Special Agent Jeremy Sykes, for even as he vexes her at the same time, but it helps define Ronnie and provides some respite from the crime instead of being a driving force in the story. Oh, and the "woo woo" stuff is minimal, limited to only the optical device thingy, and there is a welcome lack of made-up hard-to-pronounce names here.

As I've mentioned, this one is very similar in terms of style and tone to the author's Leslie Parrish books, so chances as you'd enjoy this one if you enjoyed those books. The violence here is not as graphic as that in those books, but the author still enjoys torturing me with scenes of the victims' final thoughts as they realize that their end is near, only, it's worse here because Ronnie has to watch those final moments. In other words, plenty of psychological chills here for everyone, yay.

Ronnie is a very nice hard-ass heroine - tough, brittle, but without being toxic or irritating. My only reservation here is how the author has Ronnie fall so easily - like that - to the bad guy in one very memorable (for the wrong reason) scene, while her male partner puts up a big fight when placed in a similar situation. It's not exactly a statement of girl power, is it? Still, for the most part this lady can walk the talk, and I also like how she doesn't let messy feelings like love turn her into an emotional dingbat. Ronnie also doesn't act like the world has ended because she's had sex with some guy that she has no intentions to marry, and I like that.

I'm not sure about the male love interest, though, because I feel that Ronnie has more chemistry with Daniels. Besides, Sykes is more like a typical alpha male dude that I've come across many times before, and I don't like how his "gentlemanly instincts" often come in a way that tries to hold the heroine back from fully kicking ass. Ronnie is a bad-ass heroine, so let her kick some rear ends instead of asking her to stop watching those scary things on tapes because he can't bear the idea of a woman subjecting herself to such things, sheesh. Still, he doesn't get in the way too much here, so as long as he stays mostly naked in that corner for stud service when Ronnie needs some, I guess I can live with him sticking around.

Oh yes, the mystery. Okay, this is where things get unfortunate, because I correctly guessed at the villain early on and therefore, I never get that "Ooh! That revelation floors me!" feeling that differentiates a good romantic suspense from a terrific romantic suspense where I am concerned. Still, the pacing is fine and there is a nice balance between quiet and more frantic scenes here, and therefore, the story is still entertaining and hard to put aside despite the not-so-amazing denouement.

My only genuine complaint here is how the narrative can sometimes abruptly drift off into tangents that disrupt the momentum of the story slightly. Now, it's a good thing that I find these tangents interesting, but I won't blame any reader who rolls up her eyes and wishes that the author would get to the chase now and then.

Don't Look Away is certainly a pretty good way to start off a series. Perhaps it doesn't deliver a sucker punch as hard as the better Leslie Parrish books, but I'm sold on the setting, the heroine, and most of everything else. I'm definitely interested to see what the next book will be like.

Rating: 86


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