Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Book Review: Dancing for a Stranger by Isabella Adams

A Cozy Thriller…If There Was Such a Genre

Dancing for a Stranger appears to be the second book in the Markos Mystery series written by Isabella Adams.  It sees the return of Dr. Andromeda “Andie” Markos, family physician and amateur sleuth, along with her three gal-pals and her boyfriend, Detective Sean Malone.  In this installment, Andie and Sean are hunting a serial killer who has taken an unhealthy interest in one of Andie’s friends, Aphrodite.

The story starts strong, when Aphrodite interrupts the killer mid-act.  After that opening, however, the pace slows as backstory dominates – you learn a surprising amount about how Andie feels about her aging car, as well as her thoughts about Sean, her friends, her ex-husband, her daughter, and the Greek culture as transplanted to Tarpon Springs, Florida.  It’s a solid section for character development, but the crime thriller takes a back seat.  Then in the second half, the tension ratchets up as our serial killer stalks his prey.  Despite the unsavory character and sleazy settings, Dancing with a Stranger is not a gritty crime novel.  The author generally alludes to the murders and the sexual abuse the killer endured as a child.  That fact, coupled with the good-natured ribbing and unwavering warmth shared among the women makes this book feel something like a ‘cozy thriller’ – violence, but not enough to interrupt the friends’ Saturday morning coffee dates.

Realism suffers in places where it would have helped maintain the story’s tension, particularly in the actions of the police.  For example, there was no fingerprinting when they recovered a car the killer had used; a trip to a state prison became a romantic interlude for two detectives, Andie, and a friend; there was no statewide bulletin even after the police had the killer’s name and occupation; and so on.  The killer, driven by an insatiable urge he called ‘The Beast’ took extreme chances – killing in plain sight of the backdoor of a strip club; posing as a doctor doing CPR in a hospital room when he was caught in the act; returning to the same strip club to kill in one of their public restrooms.  His brazen actions further highlight the lack of what most would consider a standard police response.

Overall, the story brings into contrast the brutality of a deranged, serial killer and the warmth and support of good friends.  That comparison would have been more balanced and considerably starker had the drama felt a bit more real.

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