Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dead Weight

Dead Weight
by T. R. Ragan
Recommended Ages: 14+

Lizzie Gardner is a Sacramento private investigator who collects mysteries the way a porch light attracts moths. As a teenager she was held captive by a serial killer, only to escape from him and, years later, kill him when he came after her and those she cared about. Now her job is supposed to be all about sniffing out cases of workman's comp fraud. She can't help it that the creepy crawlies keep swirling into her orbit. They don't know any better.

In this installment, Lizzie and her assistants Haley and Jessica are on the trail of not one but two missing persons. One girl disappeared 20 years ago off the side of a highway, and the creepiest thing about her disappearance is how little effort her parents have made to find her - until now, when her mother is dying of cancer and just wants closure. The other girl has only been gone a few months, but her sister suspects that a dynamic weight-loss guru may be involved. As Lizzie and her bickering duo of assistants get closer to the answers, it seems increasingly likely that a lunatic is involved - someone who, to judge by interleaved chapters depicting an extreme type of fat farm that borders on torture, may like to see plus-sized women disappear a pound at a time.

Or maybe not. It's not actually entirely clear that a serial killer has anything to do with this story. In fact, the character who seems closest to becoming one is young Haley, who was repeatedly raped as a child and has a plan for revenge that will have you squirming and biting your knuckles. I wasn't sure which would be worse - if she were to accomplish it, or if the plan would backfire.

It's a girl-power mystery thriller that will definitely live up to this, lo and behold, Adult Content Advisory. Its "toughness has no gender" shtick is so over-the-top at times that I giggled, for example, at Lizzie's hesitancy to say "I love you" back to her tenderly devoted boyfriend Jared. She is so totally the guy in that relationship, one can only guess this series plays out in a fantasy world defined by a reversal of traditional sex roles. It almost works out that way, but for the vulnerability of Lizzie and her girls Wednesday and Friday (guess which is which). And it is that vulnerability that makes the climax of this book's three story lines almost unbearably suspenseful.

This is the second book in the Lizzie Gardner series, which began with Abducted and also includes A Dark Mind, Obsessed, Almost Dead and Evil Never Dies. T. R. Ragan is also the author of the upcoming (in March 2016) thriller Furious and, as Theresa Ragan, eight other novels of romance, romantic suspense and time-travel romance. This review is based on the audiobook read by Kate Rudd.

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