Monday, August 13, 2012

The Last Victim by Karen Robards

A sought-after expert in criminal pathology, Charlie Stone regularly sits face-to-face with madmen. Obsessed with learning what makes human monsters commit terrible crimes, Charlie desires little else from life—no doubt because when she was sixteen, she herself survived a serial killer’s bloodbath: A man butchered the family of Charlie’s best friend, Holly, then left the girl’s body on a seaside boardwalk one week later.

Because of the information Charlie gave police, the Boardwalk Killer went underground. She kept to herself her eerie postmortem visions of Holly and her mother. And even years later, knowing her contact with ghosts might undermine her credibility as a psychological expert, Charlie tells no one about the visits she gets from the spirit world.

Now all-too-handsome FBI agent Tony Bartoli is telling Charlie that a teenage girl is missing, her family slaughtered. Bartoli suspects that after fifteen years, the Boardwalk Killer—or a sick copycat with his M.O.—is back. Time is running short for an innocent, kidnapped girl, and Bartoli pleads for Charlie’s help.

This is the one case Charlie shouldn’t go near. But she also knows that she may be the one person in the world who can stop this vicious killer. For Charlie—whose good looks disguise a world of hurt, vulnerability, and potent psychic gifts—a frantic hunt for a madman soon becomes a complex test of cunning, passions, and secrets. Aiding Dr. Stone on her quest to catch a madman is a ghostly presence with bad intentions: the fiery spirit of seductive bad boy Michael Garland who refuses to be ignored, though in his cat and mouse game they may both lose their hearts. ( Synopsis from

Hardcover, Ballentine Books, 336 Pages

When I started this book, I figured it was going to be the typical former victim meets hot FBI agent and romance blossoms.  Wow, was I ever wrong!  This is a romance like no other I have read in a while.
Charlotte “Charlie” Stone is a psychologist studying serial killers for the Department of Justice.  She is uniquely qualified for this because she is the only survivor of a killer known as the Boardwalk Killer. She has dedicated her life to finding out what makes these killers do what they do.  At the present time she is working with Michael Garland who is on death row for the murder of seven women.  Garland is a handsome and charismatic man who tries to play Charlie whenever she works with him.
Her latest session is interrupted by two FBI agents who have come to ask her help on an urgent case of a missing girl whose family has been slaughtered at a beach area.  This scenario is the exact thing that happened to Charlie when her friend Holly was killed a week after her family was murdered. Charlie does not want to get involved for many reasons but eventually agrees to do so. Before she can leave, Garland is stabbed by another inmate and despite her best efforts to save him, dies on the prison floor.
This is when the book gets interesting. It turns out that Charlie has otherworldly skills that involve recently dead people who have died violently.  This is more of a curse than a blessing and causes Charlie all kinds of problems with the FBI unit when she arrives at the scene of the murder. At first it is kind of amusing reading about Charlie trying to act normal while ghostly activity is happening around her, making her seem a bit of a strange one to FBI people.   There is a budding romance with Bartoli, the handsome but solid team leader. The other two members, Crane and Kaminski, are quirky and interesting with a history between them
The major twist in the book is the continued appearance of Garland and how his appearance impacts the case and Charlie’s equilibrium.  Suffice it to say, it is unexpected to say the least. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about how the story played out but I found myself reading faster and faster to see what happened.   According to the end notes there will be future books with Dr. Stone in them and it will be interesting to see how this series works.  Charlie is an unusual character, a mix of strength and fears who find herself in a situation she would have never imagined.  The whole premise could have gone wrong but it works.  I am actually looking forward to reading more of the series and I wasn’t sure about that mid-way through.  My advice is keep reading and you will be surprised how the book pulls you in.

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