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I've read and reviewed a few Karen Rose novels now and so far I've really enjoyed all of them. This was no different, though I did have a slight 'irk' with one large aspect of the book so unfortunately I can't rate it as highly as I may otherwise have done.
Have You Seen Her? comes with the tagline of 'Good Night. Sleep Tight' and 'Mind He Doesn't Come Tonight' on the front cover, along with 'The Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller' to tempt potential readers. We're introduced to Special Agent Steven Thatcher, a widowed father to three boys. We learn of his troubles at home with his eldest son Brad, who seemed to turn in to a different kid overnight, and his younger son Nicky who was abducted, but safely returned, a year previously. Thatcher has a lot to deal with, and the latest case only adds to his mounting pressures. A young girl is snatched from her bed, but with no signs of forced entry, it looks like she went willingly. When a while later her body is discovered, foul play is obviously suspected, especially when another identical case is found. A trademark of the killer seems to be shaving the girls' heads and leaving a tattoo, so it's quickly apparent it's the work of a serial killer.
A parallel storyline runs next to this as Brad's teacher, Jenna Marshall, meets with Steven to discuss his son's dwindling grades. She's also struggling at the moment after suspending a kid, Roudy, from the soccer team due to his grades, much to his and his father's annoyance. It seems Roudy and co, his gang of thuggish mates, will do whatever it takes to make her life a misery to try to get her to allow Roudy back to play. With pressure on both Jenna and Steven, their first meeting doesn't go too well, but there's something there between them, a 'spark' if you will, that can only get stronger.
I won't say any more on the premise except to say that the two storylines gradually begin to mix and intermingle, bringing together a web of characters and events that form the pieces of the puzzle. Who's killing the girls and why? Will Jenna be safe? What's wrong with Brad? And will Jenna and Steven sort out their feelings for one another?
The plot was definitely quite original and quirky, with twists that were unexpected and a level of detail that made it an intelligent read. It was very interesting to see how different characters come together, how parts of the investigation start to grow and unravel, so it was interesting and gripping to read. As I've said, the list of characters grows quite rapidly to include members from Steven Thatcher's life, his team (including Kent and Meg), Jenna's life and other jurisdictions that have ties to the missing girls' case. Having said that, I didn't find myself getting too confused by the detail; Rose has a way of inserting characters and events and building their depth without getting us lost or confused along the way, so it was relatively easy to keep up with who's who and what's going on. This made it easier to read, easier to pick up and not have to go back a few chapters to remind myself of what's what.
The characters and scenes were vividly painted and created with depth and detail that made it intriguing to read. I warmed to the characters, such as Jenna with her two dogs, and Steven with his insecurities and pressures of being an agent, so I wanted to get to know more about them. I could empathise more easily and imagine events as they unfolded, which is the sign of a good book.
Now, on to the downside. I'm not a big fan of slushy romance or unrealistic love stories, especially within crime thrillers. When Steven and Jenna start to realise they have feelings for each other, their 'relationship' develops at a very quick pace and suddenly there seemed to be far too much attention on the two of them. It almost played like a Certificate 18 flick in parts where sex and lust took over, but again, it didn't really seem to fit or be realistic given the circumstances. It was a little too mushy, too cliché and too distracting from the detective aspects for me, hence I'm knocking a star off.
Further praise can be found on the back cover for Karen Rose in general, including 'The new girl on the block in terms of exhilarating, full-throttle writers' - News Of The World.
Overall, I would recommend this for ease of reading, for it being intelligent and detailed and for being well-written with vivid characters and scenes. The unfortunate aspect was the love side story which seemed to overtake the crime/detective appeal of the book and was too sexual and unrealistic to really fit well within the novel.
439 pages over 38 chapters plus epilogue
Selling on Amazon for £4.34