|If not for the intrepid recurrence of Dodge Hanley (whose first appearance as a shadowy and shady private detective in 2009's Smash Cut was memorable enough readers won't need to review), Tough Customer would be a total loss as a read. With two romances —three, if you count flashbacks, which I do, several murders, and a fugitive stalker you'd think Tough Customer would be one of the most compelling reads of the summer. Unfortunately, this case is one Dodge should have stayed away from.
He got the call while still sleeping. The daughter veteran investigator Dodge Hanley had walked away from more than thirty years before is in trouble and her mother, Caroline
King, Dodge's first and only love, didn't know who else to call. A married man has been shot in Berry's bedroom by a man who had been stalking her. Now, with the lead detective, Ski Nyland, doubting the veracity of Berry's story and motives, Caroline wants someone besides their lawyer in her corner.
Berry's transgressions reveal themselves as the story moves forward, not that she can be brought to show her hand until it's too late to be helpful. Her career ambitions in overdrive and her pride on the line, Berry had crossed a number of lines herself and decided to get away to her
mother's lake house to reorganize her priorities. Oren found her there. Took pictures of her there. Shot a coworker and former lover there.
But Berry's not as innocent as her mother believes, and regardless of what Dodge Hanley has to say about it, she can't forgive herself for her behavior, especially once innocent bystanders begin falling under Oren's wrath. Ski Nyland, not unlike Dodge and a very likable character
himself, comes realize that maybe Berry's part in Oren's downfall isn't as important as he thought. When a highschool kid gets shot during a tryst, Ski's priorities shift completely to tracking down the madman who swore to kill the woman Ski finds himself very attracted
to — professionalism be damned.
Tough Customer, understandably, takes place over the course of less than a week. It's amazing what a mess can be made out of a plot or three in such a short time. Of course, the
number of relationship issues and the flashbacks to 1978 are part of the problem – the book, though it moves quickly, is so convoluted readers may reach a point where they simply
don't care what happens to Berry next. Her mother, Caroline, never fully develops; why, some may wonder, would a man pine after this particular woman over all others for thirty years?
That question, I felt, was never answered.
Even the dialogue, though not stilted, seems too formal, especially since two of the main characters are rough men. There are just too many things in too short a time that never jive to make this a good read.
If you didn't have anything better to do over the summer, Tough Customer would have worked as a beach book. Going into autumn, however, readers may be looking for something more involving or with more meat. Dodge Hanley – swearing, bad-tempered, chain-smoker though he is – is the only saving grace for this book. Thankfully, he takes up a big chunk of
it. In fact, I cared so little about the other characters that I completely forgot I hadn't finished reading Tough Customer (and why this title?) until it came due at the library. Don't pick it up if you're not a fan of Sandra Brown's, and even if you are, don't expect miracles.