HelenKay: Romance and serial killers – two topics one might not view as being compatible. Books about one generally don’t sit on the shelves with books about the other. Sure, some authors write romantic suspense. Some write it very well. In most, the suspense centers around a crime or a murder. Some even touch on multiple murders. In Are You Afraid? you get a creepy serial killer. Scary and suspenseful – it’s all in here. So is a smart and realistic romance between two wounded and lonely people.
Dr. Jessica Langford runs a therapy practice specializing in treating fears and phobias. She also has a nightly radio talk show on the same subject. All of that makes Jessie an expert. So does the fact that years earlier, at the age of sixteen, she escaped a serial killer. The T and B Killer – which may sound a bit like real-life BTK serial killer for those who follow true crime files – grabbed her off the street, raped her, tortured her and tried to bury her alive. She escaped and so did the killer, but the murders stopped.
Eighteen years later Jessie is divorced from Larry, her ex with a fidelity problem, and single mom to six-year-old Charlie. Life is good. Then one night the calls start. Someone starts following her, calling her at work and at home, and puts a funeral wreath on her front porch. Shaken, Jessie visits the police department and speaks with detective Jake Merridan. Jake’s working on another serial killer case. Somone is kidnapping young women, raping and killing them, and leaving them with a white lilly. When Jessie leaves the station spooked and without confiding anything other than the fact she’s getting crank phone calls, Jake is intrigued. Jake has some baggage of his own, including an increasingly distant twelve-year-old son and an ex-wife who abandoned him, but he’s attracted to Jessie and tries to earn her trust. Informal dating turns more serious just as the threats on Jessie’s life escalate.
While the romance peaks before the suspense, one of the strengths in Are You Afraid? is the careful and convincing blending of the competing aspects of the book. The romance never overpowers the suspense. The suspense never short-changes the romance. Cassidy balances eighteen-year-old murders with present-day killings. The compelling backstories of both Jessie and Jake weave throughout the death and violence with ease. The romance unfolds in a manner that is both sweet in its vulnerability and sexy in its intensity.
Jessie’s traumatic history shapes her but does not destroy her, adding a richness to her character. She is strong without being superhuman. She carries the scars – physical and emotional – from her attack as a teen. Her weaknesses manifest in the form of believable faults and fears. The only flaw or questionable part of the story comes in trying to figure out just how many hours per day this woman works between her practice and radio show. But, those are the kind of odds and ends that are easily ignored.
The relationship between Jessie and Jake is, at times, playful. But, the overall tone of the book stays true to what one would expect from a romance with a serial killer in it. It is dark in the sense that the subject matter is dark. A tough yet caring hero helps to keep the balance. As does his son Jimmy, who is precocious but not annoyingly so.
Cassidy also handles the secondary characters with ease. Some of the female characters play roles that, basically, are limited to explaining how Jessie and Jake can manage to leave their respective children to spend time together at night. The manipulation by Cassidy is slight here and needed to prevent a situation where the parental roles overwhelm the romance. The males fare even better because Cassidy does not go for easy or stereotypical character traits. Cheating ex Larry, limelight-hog radio executive Chris, and the mysterious Mark Smith all play small roles but feel well-rounded and important in the context of the overall story.
Serial killers and romance won’t mix for some people. Many may believe the subject has been covered too many times to feel fresh or interesting. Some may even say covering this topic once in the history of romance novels would have been enough. For everyone else, and for those who enjoy suspense in their romance, this is a well-drawn addition to the subgenre. Are You Afraid? doesn’t cover new ground, but it is written well enough that it stands on its own.
Final Thoughts: A serial killer romance with bite and heart.
You can purchase this book here and here.