Ashley Montague and her two best friends are on their way to Orlando for a weekend getaway. Training hard at the police academy in Miami, plus helping out her uncle at his marina-side restaurant, has meant that her life has largely been all work and no play. However it is while speeding down the highway to Orlando that Ashley witnesses something that changes her life. The girls happen upon a very unusual traffic accident. Besides the smashed up cars, there’s also an injured man lying in the middle of the freeway, clad only in his underwear. More shocking still is the fact that the comatose victim happens to be an old friend of Ashley’s.
Meanwhile, the past is coming back to haunt homicide detective Jake Dilessio. The mutilated body of a woman is found in the Everglades, and the killing is identical to a series of murders that Jake worked on five years earlier. Jake never believed that the man who confessed to the crimes was guilty, and therefore never completely let go of the case. It was also during this previous investigation that his partner died in a car accident, and Jake has never believed it was a simple accident. He’s always thought that a cult leader, now serving time for tax evasion, was behind the previous murders and his partner’s death. However, with his prime suspect in prison, Jake must now admit there is more to the story with the discovery of the newest victim.
It’s when he moves his houseboat to the marina near her uncle’s restaurant that Jake runs into Ashley. They immediately get off on the wrong foot, but that doesn’t mean they’re not wildly attracted to each other. While burning up the sheets together, they also begin to suspect that Ashley’s comatose friend, and Jake’s homicide investigation, might be connected.
It probably was a wise move on Mira’s part to label the spine of Picture Me Dead simply as a “novel.” As a romance this story does not work. Most telling is the 11-year age difference between Ashley and Jake. He’s the seasoned veteran who’s seen it all, including a partner’s death. She’s the wet behind the ears “kid” who doesn’t know any better. They’re relationship would have been much more believable as mentor/student, rather than lovers. It also doesn’t help matters that they bicker constantly. Prior to falling into bed, the two spend little time together and when they do, they’re marking territory. This bickering continues on for the majority of the book, and by the end of it, I was not convinced that their relationship would work.
Luckily, Graham writes a humdinger of a suspense thread to distract the reader from the lackluster romance. The author throws in large cast of characters allowing for a variety of red herrings. She also weaves in plenty of twists that kept this reader guessing up until the end. At first, it would seem implausible that a freak traffic accident and a grisly murder would be connected, but the author takes her time and wraps every piece up for the climatic finish. It also doesn’t hurt that Graham uses Miami and the Everglades as a setting for all the action, giving Picture Me Dead a nice, spooky atmosphere.
I was lucky enough to read the bulk of this story while traveling, and it was a wonderful diversion from airplanes and airports. The suspense was entertaining and the author’s style is polished and crisp. However the romance does take a certain bit of luster off the shine. For readers looking for a fast moving suspense novel, Picture Me Dead is an entertaining and enjoyable read. Those looking for the Great American Romance Novel should keep looking.