Split Second by Alex Kava
(Mira, $22.95, GV) ISBN 1-55166-835-1
Relative newcomer Alex Kava returns with her second book featuring FBI profiler, Maggie O’Dell, and psychopathic serial killer, Albert Stucky, in this follow-up to A Perfect Evil.

Maggie O’Dell is newly divorced, moving into a new home, bitter over being forced into a teaching position, and still haunted by Albert Stucky. Just when she thought he was locked away for good, he has to go and escape during transport. Maggie is jumpier than a jack in the box, constantly wearing her gun and pulling it every time the doorbell rings.

Life gets messier when it appears Stucky is up to his old tricks again, right in the middle of Maggie’s new neighborhood. A neighbor soon turns up missing, and several young women who had the misfortune of just coming into contact with Maggie are found mutilated. Is Stucky coming after her once again, or is it a copycat? And how can Maggie stop him when she’s been forced off the investigation?

Split Second suffers from “The Same Old Song and Dance” routine. Cliché thy name is Maggie. She’s reckless, believes everyone is out to get her, has a poor relationship with her mother, a shrink for a best friend, an ex who wanted her to quit a job she loves, and believes everyone is out to get her - oh wait I already said that - but it’s by far Maggie’s most irritating quality. As a reader it is painfully obvious that Maggie’s superiors are genuinely worried about her, and are only trying to protect her. Not to know-it-all Maggie though. She’s the only one who can catch Stucky! Those chauvinistic pigs are just trying to keep her down! They’re all wrong! She’s always right! They’re all out to get her! (Irritated yet? Now you know how I felt).

The villain isn’t much better, as Stucky is painfully uninteresting. First, his fascination with a supposedly tough, beautiful FBI agent just smacks of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter character. Then there’s the fact that the author doesn’t spend much time on him. As a mystery reader, I like to get inside the bad guy’s head and see what makes him tick. I didn’t get that with Stucky.

To top off the painful main characters, the author tosses in yet another cliché - the romantic subplot. This was like an overly large pill that’s too hard to swallow. Maggie is a mess. As the reader, I’m supposed to buy the fact that she’s smart and beautiful. However, how smart is she when she’s reckless, stubborn, and paranoid. And beautiful? The woman is a bundle of nerves, isn’t sleeping and I’m supposed to believe she can stop men in their tracks? I find it unthinkable that a man with half a brain would find a nut job like Maggie attractive.

The tired, retread story continues to suffer when two intriguing characters are buried in secondary hell. R.J. Tully is a rumpled profiler working on the Stucky case. His added complications are his newly divorced status, and his relationship with his teenage daughter. Tess McGowan is a resourceful, level-headed real estate agent trying to forget her checkered past. These two are infinitely more interesting than the two main characters that I was increasingly becoming frustrated with. I found myself counting the pages until the author returned to either one of them.

The mystery doesn’t really help matters along, as it’s pretty predictable. Maybe I’ve read too many serial killer books, but I knew exactly where the twist in the road would take me before the author even introduced the twist. Readers who couldn’t get enough of A Perfect Evil may enjoy a return visit with paranoid Maggie O’Dell and madman Albert Stucky. Instead of on the edge on my seat, I was just deeply annoyed.

--Wendy Crutcher

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