Pros: Very strong plot and characters; tense; fascinating
Rating: 5 out of 5
I spent Friday night in the ER waiting room (long story short: thankfully it looks like my husband is having cluster headaches, not anything more critical—not that cluster headaches are happy things). I took my mind off of my worries by reading Leslie Parrish’s upcoming Fade to Black. I grabbed it pretty much at random off of my stack of review books, and I’m very glad I did. It was exactly what I needed—a highly engaging, fast-paced romantic thriller. And when a book can keep you pretty much glued to the pages even in an uncomfortable ER waiting room chair, at 11 pm on a Friday night, while you’re worried about your husband, that’s a great sign.
FBI Special Agent Dead Taggert recently joined a new & special unit, the Cyber Action Team, or CAT. Their mission is simple: to solve internet-related murders. He joined in order to leave behind the violent crimes unit, hoping that a less dark job would make it easier for him to get a better custody deal and see his son more often. Unfortunately, the CAT’s first mission turns out to be far worse than anything he’s ever seen before.
A secret internet hidey-hole called Satan’s Playground allows perverted users to imagine and carry out any fantasy they might hold within its safe digital confines. One user, however, has taken things much further than any other. He calls himself the Reaper. He holds special auctions allowing the other users to choose a means of death. Then he kidnaps a victim and executes her—on camera, for the joy of his audience. So far he’s killed at least eight women.
One of the murders leads the CAT and agent Taggert to the sleepy town of Hope Valley, where he enlists the help of the highly capable, and very attractive, Sheriff Stacey Rhodes. Together they need to stop the Reaper, because his auctions are accelerating—and his latest deal is the worst one yet.
Both Taggert and Rhodes are excellent characters, and they have fantastic chemistry. The relationship that develops between them feels natural and delightful. It’s easy to root for them, and it’s really nice for once not to have two romance characters who are kept apart in the initial stages by personality conflicts; there’s plenty going on in their lives without that. The other characters, even though there’s quite a large cast, are also wonderfully complex, layered, and interesting. There’s more than one viable suspect, and I kept changing my mind as to who the culprit must be!
The suspense and thriller aspects kept me glued to the pages. Developments in the case come quickly, and send things in all sorts of new and unexpected directions. The CAT has a dynamic going on that makes things interesting: because of their mandate they have quite a bit of fantastic technology and resources at their disposal. But their head is unofficially highly disliked within the Bureau for having ferreted out corrupt agents, including his own mentor, and this often interferes with their ability to get approval for things they want.
This is a very dark suspense/thriller: there are reasonably graphic depictions of murder (not salacious, but dark), as well as themes of pedophilia and rape (Satan’s Playground is definitely not a nice place). Certainly not for everyone, but if you prefer for your suspense novels not to pull punches, you’ll find what you want here.
The adult romantic sexual content is moderate, sweet, and nicely done.
All in all, this is a very good book and I highly recommend it!