Caveat: this is not normally my genre, as I am a bit squeamish and have a low tolerance for suspense. I DNF’ed my original choice for this post after the prologue, because I just couldn’t face it.
Fade to Black was originally published in 2009, by Signet, under the pen name Leslie Parrish. The Kindle edition was released in 2013 under the author’s “real name,” according to the author’s Amazon author page. It’s the story of a new FBI cyber crime unit trying to catch a serial killer, and the trail leads them to rural Virginia.
I think the reason this book mostly worked for me (I was able to finish it) was the strength of the romance. That is to say, the romance really dominated the plot. Oh sure, there’s a creepy serial killer, and more of his POV than I care for, but the focus is on the developing relationship between FBI agent Dean and small-town sheriff Stacey.
I actually shouted out, “Hooray! The sheriff is a girl” when I got to that point in the book. I liked how Stacey was characterized — strong, competent, dependable, but still very human. And she’s not the only woman in law enforcement in the book — several of the FBI agents are also women. Stacey has taken her father’s old job as sheriff of Hope Valley, Virginia, because she’s recovering from a traumatic experience in her previous law enforcement job. How many times have I read that with a male character? So when the FBI case descends on her, she quickly proves that she has the skills to handle it, working with Dean as a partner in catching the killer.
Dean has doubts and issues of his own. He’s recently divorced, and only just coming to terms with how badly his marriage had deteriorated without him realizing it. He has a young son whom he doesn’t see enough, because of the nature of his work and his ex-wife’s determination. (One thing that really bothered me about this was the flat, stereotyped characterization of his ex-wife and of their relationship. All Dean’s thoughts of her are critical, which made me wonder why he married her. The evil ex is a lazy stereotype that I could have done without.) Dean thinks he should be having a fling, not falling in love, and of course Stacey sees that a fling is all that’s possible with a man who’s only around long enough to solve one case. Dean is an attractive mix of strength and tenderness, and I liked the way their initial chemistry turned into conversation that showed how well they fit together before anything sexual happened.
I’m a sucker for romance that shows the main characters working together; it helps me believe in their love, even when the whole story arc takes only a few weeks. Dean and Stacey’s growing compatibility and their developing relationship were depicted well, so that I actually got into their search for the killer rather than just grinning and bearing those parts.
A lot of the elements of this book were familiar from other things I’ve read in the genre; the author’s not breaking a lot of new ground here. But they were combined and executed pretty well, so that I enjoyed the book more than I expected to. There are also familiar hallmarks of small-town romance. And there is definitely a higher level of violence than I’m normally comfortable with — this pushed my boundaries, and I’m not in a hurry to read anything like it in the near future.
I have a friend who writes for Criminal Minds, so I have watched a few episodes; that’s what the crime-solving side of this novel reminded me of. The team of FBI agents was a collection of really interesting characters, and the next few books will involve some of those characters. I don’t know if I’ll read them or not, but I am glad I read this one.