Blood in the Bayou, by C.M. Sutter [Review]

A disappointing first book in a new series. A poor effort by an author who can do better.

I have seen free and discount offers on C.M. Sutter’s many thrillers. She has wildly successful books with tens of thousands of reviews. The first one I tried I couldn’t get into, but recently I picked up book #1 in her Jade Monroe FBI series and pledged to read the whole thing. This is not the first series featuring detective Jade Monroe, but picks up her career when she is promoted to Senior Special Agent at the FBI, transferred to Milwaukee, and matched up with a new partner. The plot here seems compelling – somebody in the bayou of Louisiana is abducting people, murdering them, and leaving behind piles of bones, stripped of “meat” as if flayed by a butcher. Jade and Lorenzo (“Renz”) are sent away to the bayou to investigate on Jade’s first day in the office. Can they track down this cannibalistic killer in a remote area where the locals are generally hostile to police? Will Jade and her new partner be able to work together effectively? Will the killer set his sights on Jade? It should be a great opportunity for an experienced author to launch an established character into a new series. Many people, apparently, think it was a success, and Ms. Sutter wrote 8 books in this series. But, for me, this was a very disappointing read and does not make me want to read any more about Jade.

Right off the start, any new readers who are not huge fans of the earlier books featuring Jade should skip chapter one of this book. Really. Just start with chapter two. Chapter one is a wedding scene where Jade meets up with a parade of people whose names and relationships with Jade fly past in quick succession with no connection to anything. I’m sure for readers who are familiar with these characters from prior books will find it comforting and familiar to see their names and find out how they are doing. But for a new reader, it is confusing beyond description. None of those characters have anything to do with there rest of the book and they never appear again, except for Jade’s niece, with whom she has meaningless check-in phone calls throughout her trip to Louisiana. The first chapter is worse than a waste of time – it’s affirmatively confusing. Skip it. Start with chapter two. You will thank me.

The rest of the story follows the structure of a common police procedural as Jade and Renz travel to the bayou and try to find the serial killer. The author gives us many chapters from the point of view of the killer, leaving no suspense about who the killer is. The killer’s point-of-view adds some context, but fails to create suspense. He tells us exactly what he’s doing, what he intends to do, and how he’s going to do it. The gruesome kills are no more compelling because we have a relationship with the killer. As the story plays out, Jade and Renz are clueless and make no progress toward finding their killer. The killer, however, insinuates himself into the investigation as a helpful local citizen, hoping to keep tabs on the feds and also hoping to have the chance to kill (and eat) Jade. When he finally tries to carry out his scheme, it’s not a surprise.

The killer seems too smart and too well-spoken for his environment and backstory for most of the book. His plans go off without a hitch and he stays two-steps ahead of the police. Then, as the story winds down and the federal agents are scheduled to leave town whether they have solved the case or not, the killer makes a series of stupid and clumsy mistakes that lead to his downfall. The big climax is not nearly as suspenseful as the author wanted it to be, the bit twist was easily predicted and the ultimate end was way too easy and quick. The execution of the story here is simplistic and includes numerous questionable logic, not the least of which is the very idea that the feds would invite this unknown local into their investigation without any background check and that Jade would expose herself in the end while earlier in the story the feds always had a squad of local deputies with them to act as a buffer against the locals.

The prose here is clean and the reading easy, which makes the story tolerable. But there are far too many descriptions of irrelevant events and unimportant details that do not advance the story, nor set any important tone. There is no relationship between Jade and Renz, no other characters in the story who have any personality, and no subplots to keep the story interesting. It feels like a phone-it-in execution of a reasonably interesting story premise – as if the author didn’t have time to develop the characters or carefully present the narrative. As the first installment of a new series, this book does not make me want to read the next one.

If you’re looking for a comfortable read where the plot moves along toward a predictable conclusion to pass the time on an airplane or beach, this is fine. I was frustrated by it, but not all readers will be. If you like your police procedurals to have suspense, follow realistic procedure, and have characters you care about, you should look elsewhere unless you are already emotionally invested in Jade Monroe.

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