Dying Breath – Helen Phifer

I write this knowing full well I’m surrounded by 5 star reviews so please file this in your 🚨 Danger, Will Robinson! Unpopular Opinions Ahead! 🚨 category.

I’m so conflicted about Dying Breath. By the time I’d finished the first chapter I’d searched Amazon for the first book in the series. By chapter five I no longer wanted to read it and wondered if I’d even make it through this book. By halfway through I wanted to read the first one again. Then partway through the second half I no longer wanted to and could have DNF’ed it (and would have if I hadn’t committed to reviewing it). Now? I honestly don’t know.

Before I go any further, a word of warning. If you plan on reading this series I highly recommend reading them in order. During the course of this book I learned the name of book 1’s killer and what happened to them, so any suspense I would have had if I decide to read The Lost Children has gone bye byes.

What mostly ruined any potential for suspense for me in Dying Breath was that the blurb gave away way too much. Before reading the first sentence of this book I knew how the first two victims were going to die and I knew that this was a copycat killer using infamous serial killers as their inspiration. While reading I kept waiting for the cops to work this out and it takes until after 70% for this to happen. Had I not known that the killer was copying famous murder scenes I imagine I would have wondered along with the police and there would have been some satisfaction upon uncovering the truth instead of me muttering, “Finally!” under my breath.

I enjoyed reading about the killer’s upbringing and pivotal moments in their life that influenced their development down the dark, twisty murder path. The sections from their perspective were my favourite scenes and I wanted more of those.

Part of my problem is that I always compare books in this genre to Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles series. I love the banter between the characters. I love the intricacies of the murders and subsequent investigations. I love the baddies with their own backstories and foibles. I love that the ‘minor’ characters are so well thought out that you feel like you know them as well and can figure out who’s speaking without an “X said”.

Knowing that this is what I’m looking for, here are some of my observations about this book:

  • The banter between characters – there wasn’t the ease in conversations that comes with people who have worked together and seen each other at their best and worst. I didn’t feel like I was being included in inside jokes or that there really were any.
  • I actually found some of the conversations too polite (“I prefer to believe it’s because you’re so good at your job.”) and others cringeworthy (“Aren’t we lucky that we’re all so bloody good at working this stuff out and catching the bad guys and girls.”)
  • No one seemed to have a specific ‘voice’. I couldn’t tell who was who from the way they spoke and sometimes I didn’t even know who was speaking after I was told their name because there wasn’t a personality, quirk or feature I could attach to some of the characters to be able to tell them apart for a long time.
  • The characters didn’t have the confidence in their abilities that I would have liked to have seen. “Catherine smiled at Lucy, making her feel a whole lot better. If the doctor thought she was on to something, there was a good chance she really was. She didn’t often agree with anyone.” And another. “Is that okay?”
  • Some of the wording was awkward. “It’s not for me to say for definite.”
  • The main character’s controlling is he or isn’t he boyfriend. “She wasn’t sure whether she was flattered by his persistence or annoyed that he hadn’t taken any notice of her telling him she wasn’t interested.” Please, girl, grow some self esteem!
  • Apparently in Brooklyn Bay the ambulance service are seriously underfunded. “One of the paramedics looked up at Mattie. ‘We need to get him to the hospital now but we both need to work on him – is there someone to drive the ambulance.’” Ooh! Pick me!

There was a sentence in Chapter 21 that gave away who the murderer was. There were red herrings but I’d already fixated on this person. The murderer takes pride in everything being absolutely perfect, well planned and executed. However, there’s one murder in particular that they don’t copy exactly because they don’t want to have to deal with the clean up of blood. Don’t just not stab the person. If you want to be a copycat you either stab the person and deal with the blood or choose another murder to copy that doesn’t involve so much blood.

For most of the murders it’s vital that the victim matches the original one as closely as possible. Then there’s a murder where it doesn’t matter to the killer if the victim is male or female. With the personality of the killer and their meticulous planning, these things are simply incongruent. So, did we catch the murderer because of our brilliant logic, deductive reasoning and pure brilliance? Nope, we found them by accident.

My favourite character was Toby’s nan. She may have only been in a few pages but that woman has attitude, grit and I loved her. You don’t need to feature in a book to be memorable to me. I just want people to have distinct personalities.

Just a few burning unresolved questions …

  • What happens to Mal? Did what Lucy tell him make things better or worse for him?
  • What eventually happens to the murderer? The end of the book just cut off before that character was resolved enough for me.

After all of this it may sound like I hated this book. I didn’t. It’s just it had so much potential and with some further editing it could have been a superstar, so I’m mostly disappointed by what could have been. I still enjoyed reading it. There were times I could forget about my question marks and simply enjoy the ride but not as often or as long as I would’ve liked. I’m still thinking about whether I’ll read the first book or not. I’m interested in reading the next instalment because despite what I’ve said above I do believe there is a gem to be found here. It just needs to be polished.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bookouture for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Take a breath. Pray it’s not your last.  

Just a few months after a terrifying case that nearly took her life, Detective Lucy Harwin is back with her squad in the coastal town of Brooklyn Bay – and this time, she’s faced with a case more horrifying than anything she’s encountered. 

Along with her partner, Detective Mattie Jackson, Lucy is investigating what appears to be a vicious but isolated murder; a woman found bludgeoned to death on a lonely patch of wasteland. 

But when a second victim is discovered strangled in an alleyway, then a young family shot in their own home, Lucy and the team must face the unthinkable reality – a killer is walking the streets of their town. 

While Lucy and the team try to find the link between these seemingly unconnected murders, they uncover a disturbing truth – these murders are replicating those carried out by infamous serial killers. 

Lucy must get to the killer before he strikes again. But he’s got his sights on her, and is getting ever closer … Can she save herself, before she becomes the final piece in his twisted game? 

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