I hadn't heard of Illiane Hoffman until coming across this in the library. The cover caught my attention so I decided to give it a go, being a sucker for crime thrillers. This was actually a very good read and one that I'd recommend, so I'll keep an eye out for other books of hers in future.
On the cover we're told that this is by the 'Bestselling author of Retribution', in addition to a note that says : 'Guaranteed to follow in the bestselling footsteps of Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs and Karin Slaughter' - Guardian. This made me interested because I'm familiar with the aforementioned authors and really like them, so I hoped that this could be just as good. The tagline on the back reads 'Tempted. Trapped. Tortured', and the blurb suggested it fitted well in to the crime thriller genre.
We're introduced by Special Agent Bobby Dees, who is with the Florida Crimes Against Children squad, FDLE. We learn that his own child, Katy, went missing a year ago, but without any sign of her or information on what could have happened, the question remains of whether she really did run away or if it was something more sinister. The event obviously shook Dees and his wife, LuAnn, to the core, but Dees works cases such as his own all the time. Nevertheless, they've never completely given up hope for finding their child.
So many teens go missing in Florida that it's hard to track them down or have a reason to do so. Amber alerts and such are reserved for when there's reasonable belief that the child is in danger, so signs of a more straightforward runaway, where the child doesn't want to be found, get pushed aside. Dees got the nickname of Shep, the shepherd who tries to bring his flock back home, dead or alive, to their families. Intro the new case of Lainey Emerson, a 13 year old girl who starts chatting to a guy with the screen name of 'El Capitan'.
She secretly meets up with him (the one thing kids are warned not to do!) only she never returns home.
Meanwhile, to cut a long story short, there's a killer on the loose. Does he have Lainey? Mark Fielding, an unrelentless reporter, is the recipient of paintings from the killer, portraits of young females, many of whom have been on the system as runaways. The killer also leaves a little note for Dees to taunt him by way of a newspaper clipping with his name on it. He's playing a game, perhaps begging Dees to catch him, but with no clues or inclination who or where he is, how many other 'runaways' have to die before he's caught?
Because of the pictures he's nicknamed Picasso and it seems, with all the media flurry, that he may have his own collection. I won't say any more on the premise except to say that as the novel continues more suspense is created with Dees trying to get a step ahead of the killer. It was interesting to see how they could deduct any clues from what seemed like nothing, and to see how the various aspects of the crimes and characters come together.
I thought the characters, scenes and atmosphere were fairly well developed, making it easier to identify with what was happening and who was involved. At times, I thought character development could have been deeper, however I was still able to quickly warm to Dees as the protagonist. This made it enjoyable to read, wanting to pick it back up and be able to fall back in to the atmosphere.
Hoffman writes very fluently, keeping us at a good pace throughout without being too slow or going too fast with too many characters to confuse the reader. I really enjoyed his style because it was easy going yet intelligent at the same time; it was a read that required thought and attention, but it wasn't 'demanding' in the sense that I found it easy to read. He's able to build up suspense and emotion quite well, engaging me to read it from start to finish. In addition, any of the chapters are just a few pages in length, making it easier to digest, pick up and read.
On the back is further praise, including : 'Gripping, well-crafted suspense... a belter of a book' - Sunday Express, and 'Hoffman writes like an angel. Oustanding' - Independent On Sunday'. I'd agree with both of these, and definitely think that Hoffman is an author I'll look out for in future.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this for an engaging and enjoyable read with plenty of crime thrills to leave you wanting more.
468 pages over 93 chapters
[Also reviewed by me, Cazkins, on DooYoo]
Lainey Emerson is a typical 13 year old girl who enjoys spending time on her computer chatting to friends and using social networking sites. Lainey particularly enjoys using 'My Space' but doesn't see any danger at all when she arranges to meet up with online friend 'El Capitan.' Although she has pretended to be a little older than her 13 years, Lainey is excited at the thought of meeting up with someone she believes is a high school football captain, who also happens to look drop dead gorgeous on the photograph he sent to her online.
Lainey can't believe her luck that he wants to meet her and sneaks off to their agreed meeting place. Unfortunately Lainey soon finds out that she isn't so lucky after all...
Special Agent Bobby Dees of Florida's Crimes Against Children Squad vows to do whatever he can to find Lainey and bring her home, but it proves no easy task as dozens of teenage girls are going missing in the Miami area and as some of the missing begin to reappear, Dees realises time maybe quickly running out for Lainey, as the ones who are found have been gruesomely killed.
It is clear that there is a serial killer at large and he is luring his prey via the internet. It is every parent's worse nightmare and with the murderer always one step ahead of the police it seems, then there isn't much hope for finding Lainey alive.
I found it very easy to get into this book from the first chapter as Lainey's online conversations with 'El Capitan' are relayed and Lainey's excitement that this boy is interested in her is plain to see. Right away it brings home the dangers of the internet as Lainey believes that the person she is arranging to meet is 'Zach' who is a good-looking, popular boy and a star of his school's football team. After he sends what she believes is his photograph to Lainey, she tapes it to her computer screen and just the thought of him makes her hands sweat. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a lovely smile and muscles too! All this as well as having loads in common with him, seems too good to be true, but this is also why Lainey cannot resist meeting him. She isn't very happy at home with her wilder older sister and young step-brother who is a pain. Her mother doesn't seem to be around very much and she isn't keen on her step-dad either, so Lainey is enjoying this new excitement in her life.
After Lainey goes missing, the story loses some of its pace which I was slightly disappointed about. We found out more about Lainey's family life and also learn that agent Bobby Dees also has a missing daughter who ran away from home with her boyfriend after arguing with her parents who thought he was no good for her. This explains why Bobby can identify with the parents of these missing children as well as he does. However, as events take place he begins to fear that maybe his daughter could also have been a victim of this online predator, which also adds another twist to the story.
I enjoyed Bobby's character and he is very likeable as a man who is facing the pain and anguish of a missing daughter and the straining effects of this on his marriage, but is determined to find the missing girls which may also include his daughter, before it is too late. Realistically, I did wonder if he would actually be allowed to investigate this case whilst having a missing daughter himself, but it was because of this that I felt his character was more interesting than the usual cop-hunting-a-killer character you often come across.
Of course the suspense in this story surrounds who the serial killer is and although I had my suspicions early on, I was wrong. I did realise who it actually was nearer the end of the book, however, but this did not spoil my enjoyment as it was so near the end by this time. There were indeed a couple of decent twists along the way which I was pleased about, as I do like a book such as this to keep me guessing.
I also enjoyed the style of writing which for the most part contained short punchy chapters which kept me turning the pages. Although it did slow down a little after the opening chapters, the final third saw me unable to put this book down as the tension builds from the middle of the book towards its conclusion.
I felt the character of Lainey's mum was a little disappointing and I would have liked to have found out more about her, as she came across as not very caring and quite a hard person to like. It would have been nice to have been able to find out more about why she was this way and to perhaps have more sympathy for her character than I did. The character of Lainey however, was spot on as a gawky, not-so-confident teenage girl who easily fell prey to the online charm of a sick predator, despite seeming quite intelligent and street-wise. Indeed if nothing else, this book highlights very well the dangers of the internet and how important it is as parents that we monitor our children's online activities and take whatever steps possible to ensure our children are safe when online.
Pretty Little Things is a very readable thriller with a very realistic storyline. It refreshes in our mind something which we may already know, but should never forget... the internet is often a very dangerous place.
I'm a member of Amazon.co.uk's vine programme which is how I got an uncorrected proof copy of this book before its actual release.
Some time ago I read Jilliane Hoffman's bestselling Retribution, a book which I really enjoyed, however her other books received some rather poor reviews. Despite this when I read the blurb about this book it sounded like one I would enjoy reading and decided to give it a go, hoping it would be on par with Retribution.
Lainey Emerson is an average 13 year old teenager. She loves updating her MySpace page, has an obsession with Johnny Depp, and hates having to move school and leave her friends behind. However she meets a boy online, going by the nickname of El Capitan and decides to meet up with him for a secret date without telling anyone she knows. When no one hears from Lainey for a couple of days (her Mother thinking she's just ran away like her older sister often does) shes reported missing and so it's up to Special Agent Bobby Dees of Florida's Crimes Against Children department to find her. Bobby knows only too well the pain involved in losing a child, and so has to face his own fears as the search for Lainey uncovers a serial killer who likes to paint pictures of his victims and send them to the local press. Can Bobby find the missing girls in time?
After a relatively slow start to this book, the story soon begins to pick up momentum and it's not long before it's impossible to put this book down. The book is written from each person's point of view and switches frequently. One moment we're reading from the view of Lainey, next it's Bobby, and then it's the serial killer, and it keeps the tension of the story really well. I struggled slightly at the start of this book as it comes from Lainey's point of view and almost begins like a book of teenagers. This does turn harrowing though as she goes to meet her online boyfriend and I knew it wasn't going to end well.
Special Agent Bobby Dee also has enough of a story to build the tension up even more. His teenage daughter went missing a year ago, and though they believe she ran away with her bad boyfriend, it becomes likely that the serial killer may have her. He constantly has this thought in the back of his mind as the hunt for the killer goes on, and causes him quite some pain as the book unfolds. His marriage is also falling apart because there has been no end to the wonder of where their daughter is. I did really like the character of Bobby Dee, however it did seem slightly unbelievable he would be on this case, searching for missing children after his own daughter had gone missing. He also has colleagues he works with but they don't get very in-depth, and I often got confused with their names and remembering just who was who.
The book had very short chapters, often just 2 pages long, as it switched from each person quite frequently. This made it even harder to put down as the tension comes in short sharp bursts and so the short chapters I found worked really well in this book. It's clear the serial killer is very disturbed and Hoffman has done a great job of writing from his perspective. The way he uses the Internet to find young girls is quite terrifying, and often finds out where they hang out so he can go and stalk them.
I think the only problem I had with this book is just who the serial killer is. I did see the signs early on and so I was slightly disappointed to find out they were the killer, as the characters just didn't seem to add up very realistically. I won't go into more detail here as it would only create a spoiler, but I would be interested in finding out what other people think about this.
I really enjoyed reading this book, it didn't seem like a long book (but this could be because I couldn't put it down!) and not as in-depth as her previous book, Retribution. It is however a nice refreshing change on the serial killer front, especially as the book jumped from each person's perspective without giving too much away and leaving enough unexpected twists to keep me reading. The end was slightly disappointing for me but the journey getting there was good enough to keep me hooked. If you are a fan of serial killer books then this one is one you can't miss.
You can currently pre-order this book from Amazon, however I can't currently find when it is due for release.