Monday, December 22, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Heartless by Alison Gaylin

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Heartless by Alison Gaylin. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Heartless by Alison Gaylin

Heartless by

New American Library (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-451-22497-3 (0451224973)
ISBN-13: 978-0-451-22497-2 (9780451224973)
Publication Date: September 2008
List Price: $21.95

Review: An undercurrent of terror lies just beneath the surface of a picturesque town in Heartless, series' author Alison Gaylin's first stand-alone thriller.

Subsequent to the capture of a serial killer that former hard news journalist Zoe Greene had not only closely followed but had also been an integral part of during the investigation, she finds solace of a sort in reporting the far less threatening goings on in the steamy world of soap operas. But she crosses an editorial line when she falls in love with one of the soap's leading men, Warren Clark. Rather than give up a chance at love, she impulsively quits her job and meets him at his retreat in San Esteban, Mexico. At first she thinks she's found paradise, even though the town had recently been in the news when a young man was found brutally murdered, his heart cut from his chest. But her reporter's instincts kick in when a few too many coincidences pique her interest, and all paths seem to lead to Warren being involved in some way. It isn't until she's threatened that she realizes how dangerous San Esteban is and how little she really knows about the man she ran away to be with.

Heartless is one of those thrillers that is so easy to pick apart it hardly seems worth the effort. From the shallow characters to the silly plot, there is so much material available to ridicule that it's hard to know where to start. So rather than focus on the multitude of things that don't work, here are a few that do.

The prologue is strongly written; it's too bad what follows couldn't match the intrigue promised by these few opening pages. Ironically, the epilogue is also one of the high points, and not only because it marks the beginning of the end of the book. It is here that Zoe finally gets some depth to her character and becomes real to the reader. Though little of the narrative is credible or believable, the author manages to maintain an atmosphere of surrealism throughout. There is a sense that Zoe believes in what is happening and that is often enough to keep turning the pages. Finally, there's no denying that Gaylin is a talented writer; in less capable hands Heartless would have been conspicuously forgettable. As it is, it's merely disappointing.

Special thanks to Penguin Group for providing an ARC of Heartless for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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Synopsis (from the publisher): From the moment magazine editor Zoe Greene joins her lover Warren in San Esteban, an idyllic Mexican village, something is strange about the place and its people -- from the black crosses that hang throughout the town to the blood-tipped spines of its strange indigenous plants to Warren’s odd disappearances. Then, when tourists are found murdered, Zoe begins to ask questions. At even greater risk, she’s finding the answers.

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