tl;dr: weak heroine but great whodunit
Someone is setting fire to an array of buildings set along the Riverfront district in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and it’s a veritable who’s-who of whodunits. That’s where the story begins, between a quivering real estate developer with a past and a handsome firefighter with a hero complex.
Chloe is trying to forge ahead with her career as a real estate wunderkind, flipping old abandoned warehouses into useable spaces with businesses on the ground floor below modern condominiums, revitalizing old with new. (An apt metaphor for her life.) Unfortunately, the building that is her current project goes up in flames, and she is considered a person of interest as all the evidence points to arson. Ryan was on the scene for the fire, and he’s training to be a fire inspector or something, so he is abreast of all the evidence that paints Chloe in a not so great light. Also, when he meets her, despite their immediate attraction, she’s pretty skittish and his spidey sense is alerted that she needs saving.
Chloe is a mess. I think that’s the takeaway from this book. She tries to put up a fight, but she’s just an object here, while the men in the story drift her this way and that, pushing her around like a pawn. There’s a pretty large cast of characters here, but Chloe is the weak link, which is not good when she is supposed to carry the novel. And by weak, I don’t mean that she has a weak character that’s well-developed; I mean that her character is weakly developed. I don’t understand her pull towards her ex-boyfriend since he seems clearly awful, and might as well have EVIL tattooed to his forehead. She seems too self-aware to be haunted by her past and the abuses she suffered from her father. And her strength is all talk, because any time she needs to face something big, she postures a bit and then whimpers.
Ryan, on the other hand, his storyline and arc were very well drawn, except for the fact that his haunting past and his current feelings toward relationships have a bit of disconnect. He claims he has trust issues, when the issue should be less about trusting other women, and more about not pushing the woman he’s in a relationship with beyond her comfort level, which he does almost entirely too much with Chloe.
I found the writing to be generally mediocre. There were many passages that were confusing, including some where actions happened that shouldn’t have been happening, where hands suddenly appeared where they hadn’t been before.
He curled his hand into a fist, but she laid her hand over his and brought his gaze back to her. […] He moved his hand on top of hers.
So did he put his other hand on top of hers? Did he take his hand away and place it on top of hers? Things like this. (One of the sex scenes was also confusing in a similar way.)
Use of metaphor was over the top. Examples:
She hadn’t expected to enjoy the industry as much as she did, to get such a thrill from taking something dilapidated and worthless and transforming it into a new and exciting space. She desperately needed that type of transformation herself.
Lizzie smoothed the wrinkles in a blue silk blouse before placing it in the closet, the same way she was trying to smooth over this subject.
Chloe was too self-aware of the damage wreaked by her parents and Christopher to continue to fall prey to the same abuses, but she did. The trauma from what she experienced should shape her reactions to what was happening around her, by making her distrustful, but I found her too detached from it all. She was strong in theory, but generally, she was a shivering mess. I think that, even if not present in the book, a clear vision of what her and Christopher’s courtship would have been like should have informed her character more. The little we’re given seems unbelievable.
All that said, the slow unveiling of both characters’ hidden pasts was one of the best Big Secret unveilings I’ve read in awhile. I’ve railed on before how characters aren’t going to mentally block out secrets by not naming them in their thoughts, or alluding to previous events at all, and this one gave just enough to know the basics of what happened but still drawing it out for the reveal towards the end. It was a little rough, but compared to many other books I’ve read recently, it works much better.
With some editorial massaging, this book would be pretty decent. The overall plot was interesting, and the whodunit worked well, casting suspicions on a variety of characters, all of whom had good reason to commit arson. Chloe’s character was poorly drawn, but I liked Ryan a lot.
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