Does the romantic suspense world really need another psychic heroine who can see into the mind of serial killers? Linda Howard already mined this territory in 1994's Dream Man. Now veteran author Kay Hooper hops on the bandwagon with Stealing Shadows, the first of three planned psychic suspense novels.
If you don't mind the lack of originality in the premise or the gratuitous violence, you might be drawn in by Hooper's skilled plotting and a surprisingly effective romance.
Cassie Neill has used her psychic talent to help the Los Angeles Police Department catch several murderers. By holding something that belongs to a killer, she can enter his mind and find clues to his location or his plan for the next crime. But one day she makes a slight mistake, and a young child is killed. Guilt-ridden, she vows never to become involved in another case again.
Six months later, Cassie is living far from L.A. in a small North Carolina town. Despite her vow to remain isolated, Cassie shows up at the office of Salem County D.A. Ben Ryan, looking for someone to believe her claim that a murder is about to be committed. Sherriff Matt Dunbar has already dismissed Cassie as a kook, but Cassie thinks she'll find a more open mind in Ben.
Well, you know how it goes. Three brutal murders in quick succession later, and Ben is begging for Cassie's help. Matt is still suspicious, but willing to accept the aid of a psychic if it will stop the bloodshed. And while Cassie finds Ben surprisingly attractive, she's surprised that she can't get inside his mind because his emotional "walls" are too thick. She's glad he isn't psychic; surely he'd be repelled by her thoughts, which are full of terror and despair from years of connecting with killers - as well as a deep fatalism that sooner or later, she will be destroyed by a darkness she can't escape.
I will admit that Stealing Shadows is a page-turner. Hooper keeps the action moving, and throws in red herrings and plot twists galore. The final climactic showdown is nothing like I imagined it to be. Within an already clichéd genre, I give her points for originality.
The romance between Cassie and Ben is understated for most of the novel, but it is a surprisingly poignant part of the denouement. Both are likeable characters who are easy to root for. And at least the heroine/District Attorney romance is one slight step removed from the stereotypical heroine/police couple.
However, I'll admit that I was disturbed by the violence in the book. While it wasn't as grisly as the gore found in the J.D. Robb In Death series, it seemed to serve no purpose other than to shock and horrify. Each time Cassie enters the serial killer's mind, she finds out only enough to tell Matt and Ben that another woman had been killed, or where to find the body. Her psychic skills don't provide clues that help gradually solve a mystery; they only provide multiple opportunities to see how many different ways one
psychopath can brutally kill. I guess that qualifies as suspense these days, but to me it's just another example of violence as alleged entertainment - which I think is wrong.
Still, I can't be too judgmental when I read 350 pages in one 24-hour period. If your tastes encompass the psychic suspense genre, you'll like Stealing Shadows. Hooper's next two Shadows books, which feature a minor character from the first novel, will be published in rapid succession in October and November. I'll
probably pass on those, and hope she returns quickly from the dark side.