“As far as bad boys go, you don't get much badder than Michael Garland, convicted serial killer and all-around badass. He's the worst sort of guy for someone like Dr. Charlie Stone. Rude, ridiculously self-interested, arrogant and totally alpha-male, Michael should be the antithesis of everything she wants in a man. He's certainly nothing she needs.
And that's beyond the fact that he's been dead for the past eleven days, so not exactly primo long-term relationship material.
None of that changes the fact that when the renowned psychiatrist and authority on serial killers sees Michael sprawled out on her couch four days after he saved her life then disappeared from it, the relief and happiness almost takes her to her knees. It's wrong, he's wrong, and his continued presence in her life is no good for either of them, but damn it if she isn't so very glad he's back.
You see, Dr. Charlie Stone studies serial killer psychopathy, but her real gift is her ability to see ghosts. Though...when it comes to Michael, it's still a toss-up as to whether that's a gift or a curse. She's conflicted on that one.
Before Charlie gets a chance to really work out her wildly fluctuating feelings about Michael's continued presence in her life, horror slams into her back door. Horror in the shape of a terrified and bloody young woman screaming for help and begging to be let inside before the man chasing her can catch her and kill her. And with the turn of a knob, against Michael's strenuous objections, she might add, Charlie becomes the focus of another serial killer.
The Gingerbread Man, so named for the notes he leaves in the wake of his sadistic, murderous games, has set his sights on Charlie, and this time, neither the ghost she wants, Michael, nor the man she wants to want, FBI Special Agent Tony Bartoli, may be able to save her.
When Robards introduced Michael Garland in series debut The Last Victim, it was love at first snark. I absolutely adored everything about him. Vibrant and flagrantly alive...despite being a dead guy...he stole every single scene, and the back-and-forth between him and Charlie was my favorite part of that book. I loved the tension and heat between them, and Charlie's struggle to cope with her growing feelings for a man she thinks is a serial killer was awesome. Oh yeah, and there was also a pretty good psychological thriller going on around all of that, too.
In this book, and despite a spectacular start filled with scorching sexual chemistry, gut-clenching emotion, and grim horror, the pieces weren't quite so shiny and wonderful for me.
I still love Michael. He's absolutely one of my favorite characters in an ongoing series right now. I totally dig everything about him, flaws and all. But this time, the heights of my adoration for him was matched, even exceeded, by my annoyance, aggravation, and frustration with Charlie.
Instead of comporting herself like the respected psychiatrist she is, Charlie's behavior towards and about Michael was immature and borderline ridiculous in several places in the book, and that's when she wasn't being stubbornly conflicted or obviously petulant. And her hypocrisy and inconsistency bothered me a lot.
She spends most of the time when he's around doing everything within her power to ignore him or treat him like crap, then panics and freaks out when he starts to flicker out of her reality. And the cycle repeats over and over again throughout the story, subsuming other important plot elements and squashing anything resembling relationship evolution.
Yes, Michael is often a pain in the ass and obviously delights in pushing Charlie's buttons, but the guy was convicted of crimes he said he didn't commit and sentenced to die for them, only to end up shanked by a fellow inmate. Now he's doomed to be either stuck as a ghost or slip into the bad place that wants to claim him. You think a little patience and empathy for the guy wouldn't be completely out of line.
But because Charlie is so disturbed by her growing feelings for the arrogant, all male, possessive, protective, sexy, totally yummy ghost, she's willfully and purposely dismissive of him and cavalier about how her actions affect him. It made it hard not to loathe her. And her whole "if you can't love the one you want, love the one you're with" philosophy when it came to pursuing Tony as a love interest - right in front of Michael - not only diminished the significance of her feelings for Michael but also wasn't fair to Tony, who is...if a bit dull for my tastes...a genuinely decent guy who deserves better than to be forced to serve as the metaphorical "screw you, Michael I can do who I want" in Charlie's little self-absorbed world.
Lest I forget, which would be pretty easy to do, actually, there's also a race to find a vicious and manipulative serial killer before he takes his next trio of victims. The Gingerbread Man is a sadistic psychopath, just the sort of villain I like most in my suspense reads. It would have been awesome if the plot threads into his identification and apprehension hadn't been totally overwhelmed by Michael and Charlie's seemingly never-ending battle of emotional immaturity.
I love the story potential in the arc of their romance. There's a real star-crossed lovers theme going on here that I enjoy, especially when partnered with the against-all-odds, anything-is-possible relationship potential offered by the paranormal romance subgenre. And to be honest, I even understand why Charlie is completely conflicted about her feelings for Michael. I just wish their relationship in this book had some measure of actual evolution throughout the narrative and that it had been better balanced with the suspense threads of the plot.
So long as Michael stays on this side of the hereafter, though, I absolutely plan on sticking around for what comes next. Love. Him.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Ballantine Books publisher Random House Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.