by Laura Griffin
(Pocket, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-1-4391-5295-9
An author who has certainly come into her own in the romantic suspense (heavy on the suspense) genre, Laura Griffin's latest Tracers novel, Unspeakable, will please her fans even if it fails to wow them.

Rookie FBI special agent Elaina McCord, who has aspirations toward the Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico, finds herself between a rock and several hard places when her boss sends her to Texas' Lito Island to assist in a homicide. Lito's chief and the local sheriff are both good ole boys - Chief Breck is even poker buddies with her SAC, Scarborough.

Naturally, when Elaina gives them her profile after sweating for hours while they investigated the crime scene, she comes across too strong for their liking and is sent packing. Getting kicked off of her first real case is not exactly the best way to jumpstart her career and get her silk-suit-clad butt out of Texas. Her news that this killer, who would shortly be dubbed the Paradise Killer by the press, is a serial killer, seemed like a sucker punch to a crowd of men who had thought a nine-year-old case long solved.

Elaina sticks to her guns and camps out at the local motel, assisted occasionally by a more open-minded member of the police department. However, she hadn't counted on true crime writer Troy Stockton -- the man who had written the account of the case that Elaina considers the first of this killer's murders -- coming to her aid. A local boy who got out and got rich, Troy not only has an ear in the department and a presence in the community, he knows his way around on the shallow waters surrounding Lito. Though resentful, Elaina takes what opportunities she can, and soon finds herself in a situation even more delicate than the maintenance of her career: an attraction to Troy, who is an unapologetic playboy.

Dead girls keep showing up in nature preserves, and Elaina knows she's being taunted - especially once the killer starts calling her with mocking messages. The bodies decay quickly and are eaten by the wildlife even more quickly, making the searches almost unbearable and identification more difficult than normal. Since Lito Island is such a tourist destination, most of the victims are from out of town. Weeding out coincidences, since Lito is such a small town, takes more time than Elaina has and her superiors blow off her every move.

It takes the appearance of homicide detective Ric Santos and his seven-year-old cold case to connect some of the dots and finally reveal a path to Elaina. Her idea seems far-fetched to everyone, and since the men in her world are accustomed to ignoring her as best they can, Elaina, Troy, Ric, and Elaina's partner are the only ones truly searching for the girls.

While Unspeakable lacks some of the gripping qualities of Griffin's previous novels (for instance, One Wrong Step or Untraceable), it is still a worthy read; fans of the author will not want to miss out on Troy's story after his appearance in the previous novel. Though many of the characters - obviously, Troy, as well as Mia and Alex - are repeat performers in the Tracers series, someone picking up any one of the novels will have no problem understanding what's going on; the plotlines are all entirely autonomous.

Unusually for a romantic suspense, the mystery (though this seems unintentional) takes the backseat to Troy's and Elaina's romance, which is definitely the most engaging part of the book. Elaina herself seems incomplete, and I don't think it's simply because Troy had a decent-sized role in Untraceable. Troy's hard not to like but really easy to get disgusted with, given that he's so used to not being told "no." However, everything about him seems genuine; he's a character hard not to get absorbed in. If Unspeakable were written by anyone else, I'd likely give it four hearts. Unfortunately for this one novel, I've read all of Laura Griffin's previous ones, and Unspeakable just doesn't meet those remarkable standards.

--Sarrah Knight

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