A serial killer is just one of the men jockeying for the heroine’s attention in this suspenseful, distracted romantic thriller.
Fleeing her unrequited passion for a lifelong friend, Scott, 20-something veterinarian Audrey West embarks on a road trip across the South to the house she’s inherited from her uncle on Wright’s Island in South Carolina. Unfortunately, along the way she piques the interest of Ridley Myers, the notorious River City Killer, who feels that the feisty, fiercely independent Audrey will make challenging quarry. After freaking her out with his creepy mien and scorpion tattoo, Ridley decides to play a subtler mind game by planting himself, in disguise, on the island and anonymously stalking her while he savors her mounting terror. Ridley is a mesmerizing sociopath, a mix of cold cunning and seething psychotic rage, and the author makes his surreptitious siege of Audrey meticulous, devilishly shrewd and very scary. But Tharp can’t quite decide if she’s writing a dire thriller or a blithe romance, and the conflicting impulses disperse some of the novel’s tension. Audrey’s dance card is so full that Ridley sits out for long stretches while she dallies with roguishly handsome fishing-boat captain Jack Walsh. Brimming with concern and jealousy, Scott shows up to complete the triangle and provoke Audrey’s fraught ponderings of their relationship. Ridley may be spying on her from his hiding place, but Audrey is plenty busy with her own ogling of “the sweat on [Scott’s] back and the thin line of untanned skin at the top of his low hung shorts.” Tharp is a talented, observant writer with a knack for taking us inside her characters’ heads, no matter how unsavory. The gripping crime yarn and the romantic melodrama are effective on their own terms, but when smushed together, the tonal clash lessens the impact of both.
An entertaining but sometimes discordant blend of nerve-wracking fear and randy ooh-la-la.