CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Compared to the other six entries in this series, “Fatal Jeopardy” is just mediocre. It comes off as disjointed in characterization and somewhat sappy even for the romantic suspense genre. Yet, the initial setup shows considerable promise.
Sam Holland and Nick Cappuano have finally found mutual time for a vacation. It is the week before Thanksgiving, Congress is in recess and Sam has scheduled her leave to match her husband’s Senate schedule. Then three events occur within just hours of each other.
On the evening prior to the start of their vacation, Nick is body checked during a men’s league hockey game, injuring the same ribs that took so long to heal months before. After several hours in the emergency room, Sam and Nick return home to find the unconscious and naked body of Sam’s niece, Brooke, dumped on their front porch and wrapped in a bloody sheet.
When neither Sam nor the paramedics can find a source wound for the blood, Sam suspects that another victim is in the wind. But when she soon receives a call from her partner, Cruz, saying that he and Gonzo have been diverted to the scene of a multiple homicide involving teens, Sam suspects the worse. When she arrives on scene, she finds six teens stabbed multiple times in a basement family room. Then, three more bodies are found in an adjacent bedroom and the blood-soaked bed is missing a sheet.
And now a most exciting storyline begins to fall apart, one scene at a time. First, Nick goes ballistic when Sam cancels the out-of-town portion of their vacation to help her niece physically, emotionally and legally. To expect Sam to leave a close family member lying unconscious in a hospital to go spend a few days lying in the sun consuming little drinks decorated with umbrellas is a reaction that is totally out of character for Nick. It appears that the author scripted this scene strictly to force a major crisis in the plot.
Secondly, Sam is allowed to work both cases, the multiple homicides and her niece’s gang-rape, even though it constitutes a conflict of interest as far as chain of custody for criminal proceedings is concerned. The author tries to square this away by saying that the father of one of the dead teens, a prominent D.C. criminal defense attorney, wants the best homicide detective in the city on the case. That’s right – we are expected to believe that a defense attorney wants a detective with a conflict trying to find his son’s murderer, especially a detective that he has publically denounced for years. Even grief cannot make this one ring true.
Then Marie Force rewrites Sam’s character by trying to add an emotional component into Sam that has not been in evidence previously. For the first time, Sam seems unable to cope effectively with fear, especially in circumstances that concern those she loves. Considering that she and Nick have been in much more dire circumstances than this and she has never lost her cop’s instincts, this “change” feels artificial and unrealistic. And in writing such a change, Force turns a perfectly staged murder mystery into a mushy beach read.
Next, Force fails miserably in her attempt to get the reader to feel that Sam is frustrated at every turn because Gonzo is in charge of the homicide investigation, while her conflict relegates her to being just a team member. Quite frankly, Sam actually handles the situation with perfect professional bearing, befitting her position as the homicide division commander. She sets an important example for her team and she actually learns from the experience.
This entry in the series may have come across to me as an over-emotional, contrived, fluffy cozy, but Force does leave a few hooks dangling for future novels. Hints are left about Stahl’s vendetta against Sam and about the upcoming trial of the psycho who brutally raped one of Sam’s team members. And there is definitely groundwork being laid for an upcoming and serious glitch in the adoption of Scotty.
Add in the changes in Nick’s political future and there is considerable fodder for additional novels. I just hope Force can keep the foci of her various series separated in the future. Writing a “Fatal” entry in the same style as one of her “Gansett Island” novels is, in my opinion, not the best course to take with mystery readers. But, just in case, when the next “Fatal” entry is published, I think I’ll hedge my financial bets and either wait for it to come on sale or check it out of the library.
Cover Art From Goodreads