Friday, July 9, 2010

A Private Matter by Kathleen O'Connor

TITLE: A Private Matter
AUTHOR: Kathleen O’Connor
PUBLISHER: Whiskey Creek Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 68k)
GENRE: Mystery romance
COST: $6.99

A murder at Rayex Chemical Company creates an opening for struggling Tess McConnell, but she knows from the start she’s not a great fit for the company. She needs the job to pay off the massive credit card debt she accrued putting her abusive ex-boyfriend through school, but she distracts herself from her overwhelming sense of being over her head by trying to find the killer who made her job possible. Another distraction comes in the form of Detective Mitch Gallagher, a man she just can’t figure out. Together, they just might find the answers they’re both looking for, though the most important ones have nothing to do with murder…

I have not read a book with such a misleading blurb in a very long time. Not the one I’ve written above, but the one on the publisher’s website. It reads like a romantic suspense, concentrating on Mitch’s obsession in solving the murder, which is why I was interested. But that’s not what this book is. Oh, sure, the murder is there, but it is background through much of the story. This is far more a character study about two very damaged people, a slow, meandering read that is nothing like the blurb suggested. Someone needs to chuck that blurb and write a new one, especially since it doesn’t even get the name of Mitch’s partner right (his name is Sal, not Sandy).

A very brief prologue puts the reader in the victim’s head as he is leaving work. He recognizes the company's loaner car, and possibly the driver, and then, in a blink, is shot through the head. It’s short, graphic, and to the point, and honestly, leads into the type of story the blurb hinted at. It even plays out in that way for a short period. We meet Mitch as they start out the investigation, and learn he’s a grieving widower, a newish detective, has obsessive food issues, and a dysfunctional family. He and Sal conduct interviews trying to find anything that might pan out, but nothing is coming up. In the process, he meets Tess, who lives with her mother and grandmother in the same building as the victim. He is struck from first sight at how beautiful she is, constantly comparing her to an Irish Celtic queen, yet is so inadequate in small talk, can’t seem to come across as anything but belligerent. Tess is a size sixteen, a year out from a ten-year abusive relationship that left her thousands of dollars in debt, and completely insecure when it comes to the opposite sex. She doesn’t know what to make of Mitch at all, even though she is always aware of his constant presence at the company as he tries to ferret out what happened.

Neither lead is your typical romance character. Mitch is obsessive about a lot of different things – cleanliness, food, privacy – enough so to annoy a lot of people. He’s also not your usual bulky alpha. He’s actually on the scrawny side – 155 pounds at 6’1” – and lives on caffeine rather than food. His mother is an alcoholic he has no patience for, he loathes his father, and he’s never been able to cry over his wife’s death from leukemia. Tess is size 16, paranoid about her weight, coming out of the abusive relationship with burn scars and more memories of bruises than anybody should ever have. She’s in intense debt because of her ex, and is forced to live with her widowed mother and her grandmother, whose health is failing fast. Her father was an alcoholic as well, who committed suicide when she was 14, leaving her mother in tremendous debt, too. Both of them are very, very damaged people.

Neither characterization is consistent. More than one person comments that Mitch comes across as more than a little scary – intense and cold – including Tess, and yet, he’s given the job of the soft talks, the one who plays good cop because supposedly, he’s better at it than his partner. He likes Tess, but doesn’t know how to talk to her at all, so when he does, he comes across as belligerent and mean, which completely terrifies Tess. It even happens when we’re in his POV, too, so I know what he’s thinking when he says these things, and I just can’t fathom how those words can come out of his mouth. Tess is much the same. She alternately hates and is scared of Mitch, until she realizes out of the blue that she’s fallen for him. Huh? Where did that come from? There was no hint of it anywhere in her actions or thoughts regarding him that her feelings could have done such a completely one-eighty.

For as unappealing as they often come across, however, I found myself unwilling to put the story down. I was intensely curious how the author was going to get these two together and make it work. I can’t say that I believe their feelings, or how much snowballs at the end, but it made an interesting change to read about a guy so obviously different, and a girl so obviously insecure.

The mystery that brings them together is more a device to keep their lives entangled than anything really suspenseful. The POV switches a lot to minor characters – probably in an attempt to build drama – and it slows down the narrative, as so little of it felt relevant. At least until I decided this was a character study instead. Looking at it from that perspective, getting little glimpses into these other characters’ lives made more sense. The pace is also drastically slowed by the author’s propensity to tell about important events rather than show them. For instance, Mitch’s older sister asks him to escort their mother down the aisle at her wedding, which he initially refuses. He only agrees on the promise that his mother stay dry until then. And then…we never see the wedding. Or that moment. We’re told about it after the fact. His relationship with his mother is pivotal to who and what this man is. She’s the biggest reason behind a lot of his control issues, and he knows this. Such an important moment should have been shown to me, for greater impact, rather than related offhandedly later on. And that’s only one example from the book. I could pluck out a dozen more.

I can’t say I’d necessarily recommend this, but I’m not overly sorry I read it, either. It made an interesting change of pace, if not the story I was expecting when I started page one.


7/10 – A slow read, with seemingly unnecessary POVs


7/10 – I’m adding extra points for a different hero than is typically found, though his characterization is uneven and his behavior sometimes baffling


6/10 – Her characterization is even more uneven than the hero’s

Entertainment value

6/10 – I think I liked this more for offering something different rather than its romantic or technical merits

World building

6/10 – Lack of place early on made me struggle, focus is on characters not the world they live in



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