I’ve been on a kind of thriller/suspense kick lately. It’s an odd mix, I like to go back and forth between fantasy and this for reasons I can’t explain. So after reading books by Robert Bugoni, I picked up “A Dark Mind” on the Kindle Unlimited. I thought I’d be kicking myself by starting the Lizzy Gardner series with this book (it’s the 3rd) but it was fine. Like any crime drama, each in the series is a nice contained experience. So if you haven’t read any of the other in the series, not a big deal in my opinion and honestly, starting with the first in the exploits of Lizzy Gardner was probably not going to help the story or the writing all that much regardless.
First things first, this book, and probably the series, is not a suspense/thriller. There was no sense of “who did it, whose next, what’s happening?” You get all of that pretty immediately. Then the book becomes a “well, what’s the killer going to make the next victim suffer through?” It felt more like a soft core slasher porn than anything else and since that’s not what I went into this wanting or expecting, I was kind of disappointed. If you like and are into books like that, then go for it, T.R. Ragan’s series is right up your alley.
Now, let’s talk about characters for a moment, perhaps the other novels do a better job of this, but I never cared much for Lizzy or her assistants. They all felt shallow and fit too well into their tropes for my liking. Stereotypes can be fine if done well, these characters were not that. This was most glaring with the serial killer where his back story was uninspiring and frankly not that creepy, gross for sure, but didn’t make my heart pump. He was stereotypical to the point of predictable and using his love for killing chaotically didn’t make him interesting. I thought the serial killer in “The Butterfly Garden” by Dot Hutchinson did an exceedingly better job with creating a deranged and obsessed man then Ragan did.
Which, unfortunately, ties into the plot.
I won’t spoil anything but since there was little mystery to this book, I don’t think it IS actually spoiling anything. There are instances where I just felt flat out lied to. It was meant to be a twist, that M. Night Shaymalan moment where all the little hints click into place. But those hints just simply weren’t there. She gives her serial killer a convenient mental disorder that’s supposed to explain things away but don’t, instead it comes across as the author forgot she did a thing half way through the story and then had to force a fix. For example, there is a scene where Lizzy goes to a florist and talks to the owner and notes the owner’s big eyes. But that’s about it. Then later it’s revealed that the florist was a man dressed like a woman and OMG THAT’S THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING! That’s fine, or would be, if it had been treated more like a clue. That Lizzy noted how odd it was and wondered if anyone noticed or cared that the owner couldn’t pull off being a woman very well. But that never happens so it just felt shoe horned in to help sell the ending. There were a lot of moments like that where the story felt overly stereotypical and convenient in a bad way. Which maybe you can get away with in fantasy with a wave of your hand and call it magic, but not for these kinds of stories.
Perhaps if the book had been honest about what it was, which is not a mystery or thriller because really, the answer pretty much introduces himself and we get to see his perspective as he torments Lizzy, then I may not be as disappointed as I am. But overall, the characters are unremarkable and I never really liked them enough to root for them (which may be different if you read the other books and somehow like them enough to get to the 3rd in the series), I never felt shocked or startled at any point or for any “revelation”, just grossed out on occasion. It was as if the author used the “gross” factor and thought that made it mysterious. On top of that, the story is so uncomplicated that the writing just never shines in a way to make up for any of these short comings. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I trust the author to do better with others in the series so I won’t be continuing with Lizzy’s story and give this particular book in the series only 2 stars.