by Alicia Thompson
Two of my biggest hobbies are reading romance and listening to True Crime podcasts. When this popped up on my BookTok FYP with someone saying it was the perfect mashup of the two, I ran to buy it.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me as much as I thought it would.
First off, the things I liked. The main character, Phoebe, is 30, and working on her PhD. I cannot tell you how much I am here for this trend of more mature female leads in romance. A decade ago, you couldn’t find a heroine over the age of 25. Phoebe is also fat, and while she has some insecurities about her weight, they read like totally normal body issues. She doesn’t harp on them, and they don’t cripple her or make her think she’s undeserving of love and desire or other bullshit that I’ve read in some other romances with fat heroines. I don’t know if I’m explaining this right, but what I’m trying to say is that it just felt very real and relatable and I am as here for body diversity as I am for older heroines.
Also, the True Crime references were everything. I read some other reviews where people complained about them because they either a) don’t understand the macabre fascination some of us have with serial killers or b) didn’t get the references because they weren’t explained so they had to keep pausing their read to go to Google. Both valid complaints, but for me, someone who is obsessed and did get all the name and crime drops, it was heaven.
Lastly, the male lead, Sam, is a NICE guy. Like, really nice. He’s not one of those typical one-dimensional, personality-free alphaholes. He has depth and nuance and it’s easy to see why someone would swoon for him. Unfortunately, this also brings me to one of my biggest issues with this book: I didn’t buy the romance between him and Phoebe.
Let me explain. From the moment they meet, Phoebe is wary of him. I mean, it’s a weird meeting, and she is an intelligent, world-wise murderino, so she should be. Then there’s a strange, late-night incident where her paranoid brain starts to think that maybe he’s a serial killer – even though there are no known active murderers in Florida at the time.
Because of this distrust, she’s rude to him. But the thing is, she continues to be distrustful and short with him even when it becomes apparent that he’s a nice guy. And then she’s just flat out weird with him. Intensely staring, staying quiet when he asks her benign questions, and the like. Her conversations with him are painful to read and I cannot fathom being in them IRL and somehow liking this person, like Sam ends up doing. It felt very schoolyard “she’s mean to you because she likes you”.
Phoebe then party-crashes a retirement celebration at Sam’s house that she was definitely not invited to, and has another painfully awkward encounter with him in his kitchen that had me yelling at him to kick her out. Does she know any of these people? Nope. And does that stop her from immediately bringing up incredibly divisive political topics? Also, nope. When I tell you I shuddered reading this scene…
Look, I’m pretty goddamn liberal, but if I was standing in a mixed-company party with my co-workers and a white lady I’d never met before started loudly and randomly talking about police brutality and then what a shame it was that JK Rowling is a TERF, I would disappear from that circle of people like
I came to celebrate Barbara’s career, not fistfight Michael from the IT department.
The politics continued from there, and I wasn’t really a fan, even though I agreed with literally all of her beliefs. I felt like it was preachy, and like a lot of these views were forcefully inserted into random conversations just to virtue signal.
And look, a large part of me got it. Phoebe has her back up. She’s a complex character with trust issues and a lot of these aspects of her personality is her either testing people to see if they’re her type of human, or a defense mechanism to keep them (namely, Sam) away from her – a reject them before they can reject her sort of thing.
My issue is there wasn’t enough vulnerability shown to balance this out, especially in the first half of the book, so by the time Phoebe started to display some character growth, it was hard to get on board because she had spent so much time being rude and grating. Typically, I love this type of character arc, and I don’t have to love MCs to love a book, but the execution here just didn’t work for me.
My last issue with this book was that it was super low stakes. The blurb misled me a bit, if I’m being frank. I came expecting a civilian inserting themselves into the hunt for a serial killer and what I got instead was a cozy romance. It would have been vastly improved (for me) if there was an active murderer on the loose and Phoebe spent the book spying on Sam because she had legitimate concerns he was the guy. Imagine the potential hilarity!
Overall, I loved the idea of this book, but the reality of it just didn’t work for me.