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The Halo Effect - M.J. Rose

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Author: M.J. Rose / Genre: Crime / Thriller

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    2 Reviews
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    • More +
      25.09.2010 14:27
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      A good novel from M J Rose, although not as exciting as it could have been.

      Dr Morgan Snow is a sex therapist, newly divorced she finds herself becoming over-protective of her twelve year old daughter and also realises her work is beginning to overshadow her life.

      When reports start filtering through about the ritualistic murder of a prostitute, Dr Snow quickly realises her patients may be in danger. As the days wear on and further prostitutes are found dead she starts to worry about a fairly new patient of hers, Cleo Thane. Cleo is an enigma; a high class 'escort', she has a small base of rich and highly distinguished men who call on her for their pleasure. She herself is an extremely wealthy woman because of her work and has no remorse or self-deprecation for her chosen career path.

      But when Cleo writes a tell-all memoir the people around her begin to worry. Will the loosely disguised men recognise themselves from her writing? How would they react? Over the course of one week Cleo fails to attend two appointments with Dr Snow, the realisation soon hits her that Cleo is missing - and possibly the next victim of the serial killer who is targeting prostitutes, dressing them up in nun's habits and horrifically mutilating them after death.

      And so begin the adventures of Morgan Snow. The Halo Effect is largely narrated by Morgan, which is good in this instance as she is a therapist so it's extremely useful for the reader to know her thoughts as well as her actions. I have never been overly fond of the first person narrative, but in The Halo Effect it has been put to good use and allows the story to focus upon Dr Snow and how this tragic series of murders is affecting her thoughts and every day life. There are the occasional chapters where the tale is told through other characters (although none of these in the first person) but these are few and far between, so the bulk of the book does tend to rely upon the testimony of Morgan.

      The pace of the story is rather sedate, considering we are reading about a madman who is killing women at quite a rate. Part of this is due to the fact that we barely follow the killer at all, only dipping into his world when the police find a body - then we are 'treated' to an extremely gruesome description of the state of the body, with one rather grotesque detail coming into play within each description. Personally, and I know this sounds awful, I would have liked to have gotten into the head of the killer more, I think had the author dwelled upon each individual murder a little more I would have been better able to identify with the victims - and in turn this would have made me care more about their fate and the urgent need to catch their killer.

      As it is, the emphasis of the story is basically that Dr Snow gets in contact with Cleo's 'business partner' (in effect, her pimp, although he is never referred to as this within the book) and sets about to try and discover where her patient is - and how she can help her. This involves her dressing as a prostitute and meeting some of Cleo's clients in a private club within a high class hotel, and here the book begins to get ridiculous. Dr Snow herself admits she looks ridiculous in the clothes and stiletto shoes routinely worn by Cleo, and frankly while reading I thought the story was becoming more and more farfetched. Having lived in the US while a serial killer was at large, I know from first hand experience that their police force are more than capable of bringing someone to justice - and in real life Dr Snow would have probably found herself arrested for getting in the way of an extremely complicated (not to mention dangerous) investigation!

      There is a very definite sexual undertone running through the entire novel; it's by no means pornographic or erotic, but the very nature of Morgan's work requires the reader to be a little grown up while reading. There are two or three sex scenes, although strangely they tend to revolve around the emotions involved in the act as opposed to putting graphic images into the readers head. I don't think they are overdone, but neither do I believe the story would suffer if they were cut from the novel. Throughout the book, however, are small sensual comments which are meant to show that Morgan is now getting over her divorce and is ready to begin meeting members of the opposite sex again. I thought these were quite nicely done, although a little overboard at times in my opinion as however sex starved our main protagonist is I don't see the need to show her becoming so terribly excitable at the merest touch from a man.

      I found the characters to be very well rounded; Morgan Snow has a wonderful attitude to both her patients and her peers, I thought she came across as slightly more condescending than I would have liked but this does work to her advantage as the story progresses. As is fast becoming the norm in any type of thriller, she had a miserable childhood with her mother (an alcoholic ex-child star) and this leads her to become terribly protective of her own daughter, Dulcie. For her part, Dulcie is incredibly 'together' and while not completely understanding the adult nature of her mother's work she is grown up enough to be able to joke with her about it, towards the end of the story Dulcie does start rebelling against this protective 'bubble' her mother wants to keep her in and I thought their exchanges regarding this were well written and very true to life.

      Noah Jordain is the detective in charge of the case involving the murdered prostitutes, although he is portrayed as a caring and considerate man I simply could not warm to him. The author makes a point of accentuating the fact that he is from the South of the country and this turns him almost into a caricature, we were told at the beginning of his Deep South upbringing so I couldn't understand why each time he appears in the story it is to a mention of jazz, his 'musical' accent or even the food he cooks. He is obviously instrumental in bringing the murderer to justice but although he is described as a man who very much wants to do his own thing, I personally thought he leaned on the opinions of Morgan slightly too much for this characteristic to ring true.

      There are, of course, other characters passing through the story but it is definitely Morgan and Noah who are at the centre of events. After a small introduction to Cleo we barely meet her again, although this can be forgiven as she was obviously in captivity for the bulk of the novel! I liked how Cleo was portrayed, the author never lets you forget that she is a prostitute but has given her such high class attributes and a pleasing personality that you are instantly aware that this girl is not a regular 'street' prostitute. In her own way she is as much a therapist as Dr Snow as she helps to teach men their worth, mainly they are in a stale marriage with a woman who has lost interest in sex as the time passed - Cleo is quite simply offering a service, in surroundings which are more regal than seedy!

      Overall, I thought this was an enjoyable but run of the mill thriller. There are barely any twists to speak of and the story simply pushes on through the pages and chapters, this means it's a very easy book to read and I actually finished it within three days of not terribly quick reading. The characters become more fleshed out as the story progresses and their roles within the tale are apparent almost from the outset, I did like the fact that all the characters used have a certain part to play in the book, this might not be obvious to the reader straight away but you will appreciate this as time goes on.

      The Halo Effect is part of a series of novels set within The Butterfield Institute, this being the office block where Dr Snow practises her therapy and meets her patients. I would like to read more of the Butterfield novels, although there are other more interesting looking books available so I don't think I will be in too much of a rush to hunt them out.

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      • More +
        28.05.2007 13:22
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        A book with a great deal of unfulfilled promise

        When my cousin gave me this book and said it was well worth a read I was surprised that I hadn’t spotted it before as the synopsis sounded exactly like something I would enjoy reading.


        Morgan Snow is a sex therapist who works for the Butterfield Institute. Having recently gone through an amicable divorce she has started thinking about how her work affects her and how big a role it plays in her life. Even though she loves what she does, listening to other people’s sexual problems, often involving tales of incest and sexual abuse might have had a more profound effect on her than she has ever previously considered.


        One of her clients, Cleo, who is a high rent prostitute, awakens a protective instinct in her and they form a bond during the sessions. This leads to Cleo handing over a manuscript to Dr Snow for her to be the first to read. The book is a memoir of Cleo’s life as a call girl to the rich and often famous men of the city and tells all about their often strange fantasies and desires. Cleo’s boyfriend, whom she calls Caesar, is obsessively worried that one of the very lightly disguised men in the book will find out about it and try to stop it, through any means. Even though Cleo tells Dr Snow about this she herself is not too worried and is adamant the book will be published.


        When one day Cleo does not turn up to her therapy session Dr Snow starts to worry. When she then gets a visit from the police, the very attractive NYPD detective Noah Jordain, her fear increases. There seems to be a possibility that Cleo’s disappearance is somehow connected to the very gruesome and ritualistic murders of prostitutes that have taken place around the city in the last few weeks. The murderer dresses the women in nun’s habits and performs certain religious rituals on them before eventually leaving them dead covered in blood and with their pubic hair shaved into a cross.


        The police, including Noah Jordain who Dr Snow is developing a romantic interest for, do not take her fears for Cleo seriously as she seems to have little in common with the other unfortunate women except for being a prostitute. This leads to Dr Snow deciding to go undercover in Cleo’s world and meet the men from her memoirs. She plays her role well and gets to meet several of the men in question but it’s a dangerous game to play and Dr Snow might not be as much in control as she believes she is.


        At first I found this book absolutely unputdownable. The first lines draw you in and you can tell that this book will be special. Sadly this feeling doesn’t last as the crime story ends up taking second place to the developing and, to me, completely unbelievable romance between the doctor and the detective. Whereas the idea for a crime novel is excellent too much time is spent trying to titillate the reader with extracts from Cleo’s memoirs describing detailed sex scenes in what I can only describe as a Harlequin romance way, very clichéd. Love sword anyone?


        I’m certainly no prude but I’m simply not interested in too detailed a view into sordid sex or even romance when it takes over from the actual story that I want to read! Morgan Snow’s thoughts around her own sexual and emotional problems are a vital part to this book and the look into sexual dysfunction is interesting. However, I would have loved for it to be toned down a little bit to leave more room for the rest of the story to develop as I feel this would have made this book much better. Many may not agree with me on this and might like this mixture of romance and brutal slayings. In fact, I have just had a little look at ratings for this book at Amazon at it seems that many do actually enjoy this as the book has been rated at 4.5 stars by readers.


        This book was released in the UK in 2005 and is the first in a series about the Butterfield Institute. You can buy the paperback version from Amazon for a fairly reasonable £5.59.


        Personally, I found this book to have a lot of promise which was never fulfilled. However, if you know that you enjoy a mixture of ‘erotic’ fiction and crime then this may indeed be something for you. I still enjoyed reading it and I would possibly try another book by MJ Rose although I would worry about being disappointed again.

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      • Product Details

        The mutilated body of a prostitute in a nun's habit, her pubic hair shaved into a cross, appears on page one of this suspense thriller, making it plain that Rose's latest (after Sheet Music) is not for the squeamish. The novel is the first in a new series featuring the Butterfield Institute, a Manhattan sex therapy clinic employing psychiatrist Dr. Morgan Snow. One of Morgan's patients, the clever and selective call girl Cleo Thane, has written a memoir full of thinly disguised portraits of her clients, powerful men with odd fantasies and fetishes. She leaves this potentially explosive manuscript with Dr. Snow and then misses several appointments, causing Morgan to suspect foul play. Yet NYPD Det. Noah Jordain and his team, diligently pursuing leads in what's become a gory, ritualistic series of prostitute murders, have no evidence that Cleo, whose clientele puts her in a class by herself, might be a victim. Noah and Morgan are drawn to each other, but when Morgan can't persuade Noah to devote more effort to the search for Cleo, she determines to go undercover and meet Cleo's principal clients herself.