Suzanne Forster’s latest novel, While She Was Sleeping, promises “steamy suspense and breathless thrills,” but fails to deliver the goods. While it’s not a disaster by any means, its predictability and bland characters left little impression. If you look up the definition of “3-heart read” in your romance novel dictionary, you might just find a picture of this novel, scruffy front cover photo and all.
Seattle police detective Russ Sadler has good reason to be stressed out. A lunatic dubbed by the press as the Violator has been abducting red-haired women from their homes. Until now, his victims were released after several days, terrified and completely depilated (bald as a cue ball), but alive. But the Violator’s pattern is becoming increasingly deadly. His latest victim, Russ’ former partner, has been found murdered. Russ is grieving and he feels guilty, but he is also pissed off. His boss has called in a forensic sketch artist, Jennifer Nash, who also happens to be Russ’ former fiancée. Jennifer has an unconventional method of interviewing witnesses and gently exploring their subconscious minds to create amazingly accurate drawings of the criminals. This time, however, she has to deal with an unstable, unreliable eyewitness, and the knowledge that her presence is resented by the Seattle PD, who don’t trust her techniques. But worst of all is coming face to face with Russ Sadler, the only man she loved, and the man she ran out on almost two years ago in a blind panic.
There were only two details that stuck in my mind once I closed the final pages of this novel. One was Russ’ sweet if futile attempt to keep alive his former partner’s ficus plant. The other was Jennifer’s endearing habit of counting things – stairs, squares in a ceiling pattern – when she’s nervous. Other than that, the characters and plot came out of central casting. You have your tough, emotionally guarded but honorable hero. You have your beautiful, brave, smart heroine who nonetheless displays reckless behavior that puts her in danger several times. You have your suspects and your red herrings. Add together, mix well, and season with hip Seattle references. Vaguely entertaining, if familiar.
The novel’s pace is slowed at times by long expository passages in which Forster violates the sacred “show, don’t tell” rule. The lead characters engage in incessant self-analysis that sounds like they’re in the midst of a therapy session instead of a love affair. Jennifer has Daddy issues – what a surprise. By the time she finally tells Russ the nature of the Daddy problems that scared her off men I was expecting to find out that he had been a chronic pedophile or infamous con man. The real secret was disappointingly mundane.
I wasn’t scared by the novel, I wasn’t titillated by the little touches of kinkiness that Forster tossed in, I wasn’t engaged by the romance. I just read it, shrugged and moved on. Easy to skip, unless you are a fan of any and all romantic suspense novels. I do kind of wonder if that ficus survived, though.