After I recently reread The Mermaid Murders and realized it didn't quite live up to my original impression, I dialed down my expectations for this book. I really only wanted two things: an explanation of why Kennedy is the way he is, and a reason for me to root for this couple. It delivered on the first - eventually. It did not deliver on the second. I can’t be invested in a "relationship" that was barely lukewarm in the first book and then "developed" in between books, started the second book with them split up and kept them apart until the 60% mark. I had no reason to care about Jason's moping - and boy did he ever mope, often while processing crime scenes. He really needs to learn to compartmentalize. Jason and Sam had no chemistry and I really didn't care if they got an HEA or even an HFN. The sex scene was just that - a sex scene.
Kennedy's reasons for treating Jason in the passive-aggressive, jerkass way that he does certainly did explain a lot - but it's not what I expect from a 46-year old top-notch FBI investigator-now-supervisor known for his directness. His behavior was very wishy-washy, and his excuses were more suited to a man half his age and a fraction of his supposed maturity.
The mystery was good once it got going. There were a lot of layers to it, but it's not overstuffed. There are some TSTL moments from both Jason and Sam, and I actually have a hard time believing these guys have been in the FBI as long as they have - or never seen or read a mystery book to know basic murder mystery tropes. The climax was rushed and would never have gone that way. There's this thing called mobilization. And not running off solo to chase down something hinky when you've got an entire task force at your beck and call. Also, Lanyon needs to research basic physics on how bullets work. I was not at all in suspense when Jason was being shot at while underwater. I was scratching my head why the bad guy was wasting his ammo.
I had a vague feeling while reading the first book that Jason and Sam were lightweight versions of Adrien and Jake, and that impression was solidified here. Jason's not as interesting a POV character, and Sam's not as complex or compelling as Jake, so the comparisons just make these characters feel flatter as a result. That whole sidestep with Shipka had shades of Bruce Green to it too (minus him being a homicidal maniac). Lanyon often reuses themes in her stories, but this is the first time I felt like she was reusing characterizations. On top of that was the constant pimping of Winter Kill, another just-okay book with likable characters that I never got invested in, during the last half of the book. It worked my last nerve. Lanyon's crossovers used to be a lot more subtle. Not anymore. I didn't want to read about Winter Kill; I wanted to read this book.
To try to figure out a rating for this book, I'm going to split it up:
Romance - 1 star. It's pretty much non-existent until the last 75% of the book and that's just too late for me to get invested.
Mystery - 3 stars. The various branches of the mystery were interesting and seeing Jason's determination to solve them was great. The resolution for Jason's case wasn't the usual, but I actually liked that. The climax was good until I started thinking about it and all the TSTL crap that went on.
Characters - 3 stars. I did like what we learned about these two, but the side characters were just filling in spots, with maybe the exception of George. Kennedy's reasons for treating Jason like crap were pretty big - but something he should've worked out with a therapist early in his career before his obsession could become a potential liability to his investigations.
Editing - 4 stars. Above the average for this genre, but there are a lot more typos than Lanyon usually has in her works.
Writing - 4 stars. Masterful as always, and really the saving grace here. She has a way of describing imagery and settings that put you in the location. She gets a little purple in the sex scene. I really wish she'd tame down the purple metaphors and similes. It's not as bad here as in some of her other works, but it still pulls me out of the scene.
Will I read the next one? I don't know. Maybe eventually, but it won't be a pre-order.