Dead in the Water (A Jason Wade Forensic Crime Thriller Book 1), by Donna Collins [Review]

Jason Wade is a police forensics technician and a former professional boxer – an interesting combination. Although the subtitle of this first book in what promises to be a series indicates a forensic crime thriller, there is not much forensics involved – but there is plenty of crime and thrills. At the start, the story seems to be about Jason’s quest to prove that his sister, Leah’s, death was a murder and not, as the authorities insist, an accident. Throughout this novel, the author gives us small bits of information about Leah and the mystery surrounding her death. But, that’s not what this book turns out to be about. Instead, eight months after Leah was pulled from the Thames, another woman is rescued from the cold winter water and survives. But she has amnesia and cannot remember anything from before her incident. Jason, who is assigned to take her fingerprints to help identify her, becomes interested in her situation, and wonders if there is any possible connection to Leah’s death. And away we go on a twisting road with peril at every turn.

What I liked. Ms. Collins has created a deeply flawed and disturbed character in Jason Wade. Somehow, he’s likeable, despite behavior that would seem selfish and reckless. Jason’s relationships are all dysfunctional. He refuses to let the police psychiatrist help him. He leans on his ex-girlfriend for help at every turn, but neglects her. His best friend is a cop who he also uses without much reciprocity. Everyone in his life (including us, the readers) cut him breaks and help him out (possibly out of sympathy for the loss of his sister), but it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to cut him a break based on how he acts. Tragedy seems to follow him, and his actions imperil his friends and accomplices, but we’re still rooting for him. The deep backstory about Jason’s sister and his misplaced guilt that he didn’t do more to prevent her death is a gripping undercurrent to the main plot.

The chief villain – whose motives and ultimate intentions are shrouded – is trying to kill Kate, the woman with amnesia. Jason is trying to protect her, despite his own injuries and danger. The plot is a rollercoaster of emotions and action sequences that rival a Jason Bourne movie. As our Jason attempts to unravel the mystery – both of Kate’s true identity and the reasons why someone is trying to kill her – he’s also piecing together how her assailant may be connected to Leah’s death. The intertwining of the stories is expertly done and the plot moves along at a brisk pace that kept me turning pages as fast as possible. The story had plenty of surprises and kept me interested throughout.

A few issues. As each scene unfolds, the author’s third-person narrator takes on the inner voice of whichever character is in frame. This is an interesting style, but takes some getting used to and results in a shifting narrator point-of-view. The device of the damsel in distress who has amnesia works for the story, but puts a bit of soap-opera feel to the plot. Jason carries on through the story despite more and more injuries that would stop a mere mortal, making his character a bit like a comic book hero. There is never a complete explanation about why Jason suddenly acts on his suspicions about his sister’s death eight months later, despite being obsessed with it, and the clues that Jason’s ex-girlfriend comes up with are a bit implausible and convenient. But, the story rushes along so fast and with such passion and energy that it’s easy to overlook these little nits.

The reader should understand going in that this is the start of a series and it does not end with much resolution. Some portions of the plot reach an ending, but much is still very much up in the air at the finish of book 1. It’s not a true cliff-hanger, but be prepared to keep reading beyond this book if you want to find out everything. I have no idea where the story is headed, but I’m sure I care about it and want to find out.

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