THE BLAME GAME
One month ago, Ken Miller, a minister in a Chicago suburb, was shot dead in a downtown Chicago barrio while doing counseling at the Yo, Amigo outreach center. The police are leaning toward a random drive-by shooting as the reason but Ken’s wife, Dana, is certain that the reason is far more specific. She is certain that his death is a direct result of his association with Rick Sanchez, an ex-gang leader and the founder of Yo, Amigo. And she is certain that Sanchez is both complicit in the death and hiding evidence that points to the actual shooter.
A former PI with a formidable reputation for getting results, Dana leaves her three young sons with her parents in Florida and returns to Chicago to investigate the case on her own. Before she even unpacks from the flight, in the middle of the night, she breaks into Yo, Amigo and is caught by Rick Sanchez himself.
Rick Sanchez is grief stricken over Ken Miller’s death. He had considered Ken his best friend and they had worked together at the center for several years. The intensity of police scrutiny, since the murder, has nearly destroyed the center’s effectiveness with the local youth already. And now, as he physically struggles with Dana, he learns that her purpose is not only to find the murderer but also to personally destroy him and the center as revenge and retribution for Ken’s death.
Sherryl Woods knows how to write guilt, hate and self-righteous anger. In fact, she actually does too good a job of it. In this novel, Dana is not written as one who is filled with the normal grief and anger that often accompanies a sudden or violent death. She is written as a person, with emotional blinders on, looking to lay blame, and filled with both a hatred for and a cultural bias against those who took her husband’s time and eventually his life away from her and their family. She also blames God as much as Sanchez for letting such a bad thing happen to such a good person. And she is portrayed as a vicious harpy, always accusing, always jumping to unwarranted conclusions, never listening to alternate possibilities, never seeing anything that threatens her pre-conceived notions, and never ever apologizing when she is repeatedly proven wrong.
Frankly, I was fed up with Dana’s character long before the first 100 pages were complete. Normally, when I encounter a main protagonist who is supposed to be a flawed but honorable heroine, but is, instead, an unrepentant shrew, I simply shelve the book and move on. But this time, I plowed on, in part, because Sanchez’s character is written well. He is flawed, he is angry, he is grief-stricken, but he is intelligent, determined, and in control of himself. He thinks first, acts second, and takes responsibility for those actions. And the characters of Kate, Dana’s best friend, and O’Flannery, the detective, are quite well done also.
So, for over 350 pages, Woods lets the shrew run wild – selfish, self-centered, self-involved and self-pitying. Woods tries to explain what Rick Sanchez sees in her, beneath the surface of her scathing words and attitude, but she comes up short as she leans too heavily on sexual attraction. However, since this work is classified as a romantic suspense, the guy has to love the girl anyway.
Unfortunately, Woods’ characterization of Dana Miller is not the only problem I have with this book. The story has too many contrivances and coincidences that ultimately require a suspension of disbelief and some eye rolling to get past. Most of these situations are used to justify emotional scenes between Dana and Rick. For instance, there is a situation where Rick frets over breaking a promise to meet Dana at an agent’s office, making a big deal about not being able to phone her, when all he has to do is leave a message with the agent. But Woods doesn’t have him make the call so that she can write in yet another fight scene and increase Dana’s distrust and angst.
Then there are the scenes where Dana repeatedly tampers with crime scenes and even steals evidence. But she doesn’t get arrested because the detective in charge just happens to be her best friend’s new boyfriend. Uh-huh. Yeah, right.
But the biggest contrivance is the kidnapping of Dana’s son, in Florida, by the murderer, accomplished by luring the child to the winter home of his girlfriend and her children. Realistically, just what are the odds that the bad guy has a house not only in the same far away state but also in the same city and practically on the same street as the in-laws of the man he has murdered? To force the circumstances to the Florida location seems purely to create a long tension-filled flight, a knowing conversation between Rick and Dana’s father, a chance for Rick to be a hero, and a good-by scene that will separate Rick and Dana by thousands of miles.
In the end, Woods does affect a level of transformation in Dana regarding Rick, regarding God, and regarding herself. But that transformation does not come until 6 pages before the end of the book. By that time, it really was a case of too little change too late in the game and there was no joy as I closed the book.
Cover Art from Goodreads