Two words describe the main characters of Janelle Taylor’s Don’t Go Home: clichéd and simplistic. When you put these characters into a suspenseful situation that shows them acting stupidly, you don’t have an enjoyable read.
The story begins with Robert Gray stopping by a nightclub, Chumley’s, and removing his wedding ring as he does every Saturday night. Although Robert has a wife and son at home, he spends his Saturday nights looking for someone to score with. As he chats up a striking blonde, he’s confronted about his infidelity by his brother Matthew. Matthew storms away, and Robert strikes out with the blonde. When he leaves Chumley’s, Robert is stabbed to death as he approaches his car. The killer places the wedding ring back on his finger and leaves after whispering, “Cheaters never prosper.”
Matthew wants to find Robert’s killer. Although the police believe it was the result of a drunken brawl that got out of hand, Matthew is convinced that it has something to do with a blonde woman Robert approached in the club: “Either she killed his brother, or a jealous husband or boyfriend had seen them together and killed Robert. Matthew knew it.” Matthew begins the search and the story begins. He finds Mia quickly, though he soon discovers that she has a twin sister named Margot, and that’s who he saw at the nightclub. Margot has disappeared, so Matthew and Mia team up to find her and to discover what happened to Robert.
Don’t Go Home is a frustrating read from the start. First, there’s Mia. She has the clichéd ex-husband who didn’t like her as she was. She remade herself to make him happy and doesn’t want to be in a relationship like that again. Matthew avoids romantic involvement because he saw the effects of his father and brother’s infidelity and worries that he will be the same way. These issues lead to the relationship’s main conflict. Mia is convinced that Matthew doesn’t think she’s good enough for him; Matthew believes that he could never be a good partner in a relationship. It creates a lot of angst and misunderstandings — and contributes to the page count — but doesn’t generate much meaningful dialogue. Here’s an example:
“So why don’t you just leave?”
She turned around then and shot him a glare that told him she meant every word she said.
“Maybe I will,” Matthew said. “Just to teach you a lesson.”
“How many times will I have to call you an arrogant jerk in one morning?” Mia asked. “Just get out.”
“Fine,” he snapped.
“Fine,” he said louder.
“Fine,” she yelled.
Then there’s the suspense part of the plot, which doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The police do minimal investigating and close the case within a few pages. Apparently they aren’t concerned about four nightclub murders in as many months. This is convenient for the plot, of course, as it brings Mia and Matthew together.
Not that Mia or Matthew are expert investigators. Mia puts herself in harm’s way with one of the suspects, even after she knows he’s dangerous. Then Matthew and Mia establish a potentially dangerous plan to catch the killer. Do either of them contact the police? No. Mia in particular is more determined than ever to work on her own. She’s determined to try and trap the killer whether Matthew helps her or not. By this point in the story, her resolve doesn’t make much sense. Matthew tells Mia, “This isn’t an episode of Law and Order, Mia. It’s real life.” He’s got a point, but the comparison isn’t particularly favorable.
And the romance? For the first part of the novel, it consists of mental lusting on both sides. Mia tells herself, “He’s just a good-looking, masculine man. . . . any woman would find him attractive.” Matthew reminds himself that “It’s just physical. . . . Lust. Nothing more.” These and similar thoughts continue for more than 100 pages and seem strange under the circumstances, as Matthew is hunting his brother’s killer, and Mia searches for her missing sister. The love scenes read as if they were placed in the story because of an outline rather than a natural progression between the characters.
All I can say about Don’t Go Home is this: don’t go there.