Jess McConkey's novel Love Lies Bleeding is only the second adult book I've read this year (not including audiobooks and comics). The first one was Jennifer McMahon's Don't Breathe a Word, a book I received from Harper Paperbacks that impressed me quite a lot. Based on Don't Breathe a Word, Harper does quite well with female-driven thrillers and mysteries, so I was pleased to receive another book in the same vein - Jess McConkey's debut (this one from William Morrow, another paperback imprint of Harper Collins).
The books share some similarities - both involve 30-something female protagonists who become caught up in a mystery that may or may not have otherworldly explanations. Beyond that, though, the similarities end. While McMahon's novel was well-written with compelling characters and a nicely spooky tone, I found McConkey's writing sub-par. The suspenseful plot was there, but it lacked almost everything else required for a great read.
The first problem is the characters. Our protagonist is Samantha Moore, a thirty-five year old woman who was brutally attacked in a parking lot one night and has been sent by her overbearing father and fiance to recuperate in a cabin in rural Minnesota. Her father hires a nurse, Anne Weaver, to care for her, which includes monitoring her medication and administering physical therapy. Sam has a few neighbors in the town, and it quickly becomes apparent that these neighbors have a lot to hide - and the secrets all seem to involve a woman named Blanche who used to live at the cabin Sam now inhabits.
Sam's situation should have created automatic sympathy for her on the part of the reader. Instead, she's almost unbearable. It's understandable that she should be experiencing a fair amount of self-pity after what happened to her, but it's taken to extremes here. What really bothered me was her relationship with her father and her fiance, Jackson. Sam allows them to micromanage her life and her recovery and then acts like she has no power over the situation, which is completely false. She's not a minor with no legal way of taking control of her own life - she's an adult with a fair amount of money and the ability to take care of herself. But she doesn't. She prefers to whine. I understand that characters must begin somewhere small so they can grow over the course of the novel, but Sam is just unbelievable as a grown-up. When teenagers act like teenagers, it's good writing. When thirty-five year old women act like teenagers, it's just annoying.
Sam was the biggest problem, but not the only one. The level of the writing overall was poor. Characters say things that contradict their earlier actions, sentences feel awkward or too simplistic, and McConkey inserts clumsy chapters told from the unnamed bad guy's point of view that muddle things up and make the red herring glaringly obvious. It felt like the work of an amateur. When writing is great, it's easy to tell. The writing here is not great.
I had a few other minor complaints (subplots are left unresolved and some characters are hard to distinguish from one another), but poor writing and an unlikable protagonist (whom the author wants so badly to be likable) are enough to damn any novel. That said, I did find the overall plot compelling enough to make me finish the book. I wanted to know whodunnit, and in making me want that, McConkey accomplished at least one thing that she set out to do. I'll look for more suspense novels from William Morrow, but I'll probably pass on anything else by McConkey.
Copy received from the publisher. Love Lies Bleeding will be on shelves July 26.