Review #44: The Last Victim by Karen Robards
Karen Robards mixes the paranormal with a fairly standard serial killer mystery to mixed results. In this mash-up of genres, Dr. Charlotte Stone (Charlie) is a renowned forensic psychiatrist specializing in the study of serial killers (despite being only about 30 years old and no unique area of research noted). She is so renowned, in fact, that the FBI comes to the prison where she is working to request her help on a case. To be fair, they also seek out her help because Charlie, when she was a teenager, witnessed her friend’s family being murdered by The Boardwalk Killer. The FBI team, led by Tony Bartoli, are concerned that the current case may be a copycat, or worse, The Boardwalk Killer returned. To top it all off, Charlie has a special “skill” in being able to see the spirits of recently violently deceased. When the FBI agents interrupted her interview of Michael Garland, imprisoned for life for killing seven women, Garland is shanked in the halls. Charlie’s attempt to save him, somehow “seals” him to her, and she must deal with his presence while helping the FBI.
The book has some potential, but overall I just couldn’t love it. The mystery is often lost for chapters at a time in favor of paranormal stuff, especially when Charlie is initially dealing with Garland. Also, there is a totally bizarre and unbelievable love-plot with Garland as well. I assume that in future books we will discover that Garland is in fact innocent of the crimes, but it seemed so out of place that Charlie would be so emotionally attracted to someone she knows to be a murdered of women. Her attempt to “psychoanalyze” herself did not exactly justify this either (oooh Daddy issues. Give me a break).
Also, I just got the sense that the author must not have much background in psychology/psychiatry. All the psych stuff was so hackneyed and cliche it felt like Robards just mimicked things she’d seen on TV or read in other books. I hate to say it, but traditional psychodynamic orientations aren’t the most popular currently, yet that was clearly all Charlie knew. Combined with a misuse of the word “schizophrenic” made me just feel annoyed with any of the psychological aspects of the book.
The writing was a bit inelegant at times, and could have been tighter and more exciting. The dialogue and characters were fine, but nothing particularly inspiring. The ending was a bit out of the blue, especially given that the mystery was clearly not the focus of the book. Apparently, Robards has written dozens of books (I’ve never heard of her), but I doubt I will go out of my way to seek out her books in the future.
This was a netgalley advanced copy and is available now!