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The Heart of a Killer by Jaci Burton

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: The Killer, Book 1
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 400 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Mira Books publisher Harlequin via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Got My Heart Pounding

That night had been like youth itself, full of promise and hope, colored bright by young love and flavored with the tight yearning of burgeoning sexuality. She'd been sixteen and nearly incandescent with it. Her boyfriend Dante, just a little older at nearly eighteen, and his three best friends, boys on the cusp of manhood all, were to her just her boys, and had stopped by the ice cream shop where she was working to pick her up after her shift.

It went so very wrong. The knowledge of how much worse it could have been still haunts her. And she still bears the scars.

Twelve years have passed and homicide detective Anna Pallino is called back to the cold, unforgiving alley that witnessed the end of her innocence and death of her childhood. The scene was horrifically familiar to her, the man standing near the body, surrounded by two others who she had once considered hers, was a shock.

Dante Renaldi had disappeared from her life after that night so long ago. He'd left town, left her, and she hadn't heard from him since. Now he's back, and near his feet is the body of a man he had considered his father. A man who had been beaten to death...like the young man her boys had beaten after her attack, with a carved heart on his chest...just like the one in her own scarred flesh.

Someone knows the secret they had kept for over a decade. Someone knows what happened in that alley, knows who was there, what was done. Someone knows and is taunting them as he claims more victims.

Dante knew that coming back would be painful, but he had no choice. His employers, the ones who had trained him so very well in the art of death and had erased his identity from existence, would cut him enough slack to do what he needed to do. But he hadn't expected quite so painful a reintroduction to the raging mistress of grief, and he certainly hadn't expected to come face to face with his past in quite so grim a circumstance.

Meeting Anna's eyes across the alley that had changed everything in his life reminded him of two things. He had never stopped thinking about her, and his regrets always came with too damn high a price tag. With his foster father murdered and the love of his life glaring at him as if he'd done it, all Dante knows for sure is that he isn't going anywhere until he finds the killer and reclaims what he lost all those years ago.

~*~

Maybe it's ironic, but for all the books I read and all the reviews I've written, I still can't quite put my finger on what it is that makes some books hit me with more force than others, touch me more, make me feel just a bit more. I haven't quite been able to pinpoint that wow factor. I can certainly recognize it when I feel it, though. I felt it while I was reading this romantic suspense series debut.

From the gripping prologue which, quite literally, had me by the throat in bony talons of dread, through to the surprise conclusion, which I hadn't seen coming, this book worked for me beyond the elements of quality fiction it features, beyond the sum of its parts, and it became one of my favorite romantic suspense reads of the year. I just don't know why...though I suppose the why doesn't really matter in the big picture.

What does matter is that Burton impressed me with her gritty, tense narrative and the shadowy secrets and taut suspense surrounding every one of her main and secondary characters. Nothing and no one is as they seem in this book, and it was done with such talent and intelligence that I just sat back and admired as I read along. Dante, in particular, was so much dark, dangerous fun that I fell for him quick and hard. He was a strong male lead and his character was written so well that the marks left from his shadowy past clearly defined him as a man and as a lover as he evolves throughout the book.

Anna was a little harder to enjoy, but the payoff was worth it for the attempt. Scarred by her past and so damn realistic and believable it hurt, she is prickly, closed off, and tough. Her independence and gritty determination in her job is the focus of her life...well...it is her life. She doesn't have much of one beyond the job. And I totally understood why, just as I understood her less than thrilled reaction to Dante's return. What I appreciated, though, was the book never swerved into a quagmire of emotional angst over the past and instead Anna and Dante owned up to the emotional fallout...if not always the reasons for it. It may have taken me a while to warm up to Anna, but I always respected her, and that was part of the reason why.

And Gabe? Wow, okay, he may have been a secondary character, but I can't wait for his book, because I loved everything about him. He stole every scene he was in.

Burton wove a tight, suspenseful psychological thriller and a decent police procedural together for the suspense arc of this book. Each piece of the puzzle was carefully distributed throughout the book, and the twists and turns in the story were as plentiful and as exciting as those on any theme park coaster. I was thrilled by the red herrings, by the investigative process, by the characters' interactions on the case, by the clues uncovered and the paths down which those clues took the book. I was thoroughly and fully engrossed in it all and enjoyed every minute of it.

That I also completely bought the realistic evolution of the romantic arc between Dante and Anna, and appreciated every single moment of their relationship development, just iced the cake and lit the candles. Okay, and yes, they were smoking hot together. Their chemistry was off the charts.

I have to admit, the conclusion wasn't quite as thrilling to me as all the rest. It's not that I thought the big reveal was disappointing - it was a true stunner. It's just...the level of crazy in the Big Bad was a little surprising. I can't say I completely bought into every aspect of the Big Bad's actions and motivations, or believe that that much crazy wouldn't have been at least been a little noticeable at some point. Still, I enjoyed it. And as that's the only complaint, small as it is, that I had with the whole book, you won't hear me belabor the point.

I still don't know what it is, what mysterious element or elements that combine to reach out and press that wow button for me. I may never know. It's more than just a particular mix of characters and story that makes up a book, of that much I'm sure. To be honest, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it. When I come across books like this one though, I sure do settle back against the cushions with a smile on my face, thoroughly and completely enjoying it. And really, that's enough for me.

2 comments:

Addicted2Heroines said...

Great review! I love a surprise ending. And I love that smokin' hot cover too ;)

Tracy said...

My god, isn't it just a SIZZLING cover? Yummy and sexy as hell.

Thanks, Cat!

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Ratings Guide

Here is a rundown of what the star ratings mean to me! It's not a perfect system, so you may see me add in a .5 star here and there if my impression of the book falls somewhere between these:

5 Stars - Loved it
4 Stars - Liked it
3 Stars - It's okay
2 Stars - Didn't like it
1 Star - Hated it

2014 Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.
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Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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