Immoral by Brian Freeman

So, this is a book I normally wouldn’t review, but it’s an audiobook re-read, and I said for them to count, I had to review them. Would I not normally review this book because it’s bad? No. Not at all. Bad books deserve to be reviewed. It’s just that this book is just a little too middle of the road to normally prompt a review. I actually quite enjoyed it. It’s not bad; it’s just not excellent either.

Immoral is the first in a series about Detective Jonathan Stride, and it has its good points. If you like procedural crime fiction, you’ll probably like it. I read it because I’d read Freeman’s The Bone House and liked it so much I wanted to check out the rest of his books. It ended with me reading the first four books in the Jonathan Stride series. I stopped there because my library didn’t have any more of the audiobooks in the series. I decided to give this one another listen when I went camping with a friend who was on the fence about audiobooks. Our campground was 8 hours, so audiobooks are a great way to kill time on the drive. I brought along a couple that I knew were in a style she likes and weren’t horribly read. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, it was a rainy trip. We got through our first book before the week was out, so we started this one.

I’d forgotten a lot of what happened in this book, so the re-read was nice. The basic premise of the series is that Stride is a typical Minnesotan who also heads up the detective’s unit of the Duluth police. In this first book, two girls have gone missing: one, a runner and good student, has been missing a year and now, a more promiscuous, less liked girl has also gone missing. There’s no sign of either body, but there are signs of foul play in the most recent disappearance. Trying to figure out what’s happened to Rachel becomes more difficult as they realize how many people don’t like her. Her classmates, teachers, won’t admit that they slept with her boys, even her mother.

It’s pretty typical crime fiction at the beginning. There’s an unexpected suspect. A more unexpected death. A romance. An affair. A marriage. It’s starting to sound like a Shakespeare play – it’s not. I’m not actually making that comparison. Don’t jump on that idea. One of the things that Freeman does well is that he isn’t tied down by the speedy resolution. The book takes place over the course of several years. I’m going to talk about the ending now – you’ve been warned. After Graham dies, and Rachel’s body is never found, the case goes cold. Just like the girl who went missing the year before. It feels realistic. This is what happens more often than we, or tv dramas, would like us to believe. It’s three years before the case opens up again – when Rachel actually turns up dead. Freeman uses this time lapse to take us away from Duluth and into Las Vegas, where Rachel has been living during the elapsed time. This introduces us to Serena Dial – who will become an integral part of the series.

The story takes an interesting twist here and we’re brought into a family full of secrets and hate and sexual abuse. It gets pretty twisted, but oddly believable. Until we get to the murderer. It was a crazy weird twist. Andrea easily weaseled her way into Stride’s life and then used that relationship as a way to get away with murdering Rachel for stealing her first husband. Was that her intention when they got together? Probably not. She probably thought Rachel was dead, at the time. But eventually, this is what her plan became. Maybe it’s not so unbelievable. Maybe it’s just underhanded.

It’s a pretty entertaining story. The problems come in the writing. It’s a little heavy handed with the descriptions. And it gets dated pretty easily. It’s not even ten years old and it’s already showing its age. It’s not because of the technology, but the clothes. When Serena arrives in Duluth, she’s wearing a crop top and baby blue leather pants… Britney Spears called, she wants her outfit back. This is described as extremely sexy. She’s in her 30s. And I’m not saying we ladies in our 30s can’t wear whatever we want, but that one just seems… okay, it’s a bad outfit – even for the time. Freeman tends to pull out the polysyllabic words to make the work sound more literary, but it ends up just highlighting how commercial it is. It should embrace its genre.

If you’re just looking for a fun, fluffy, mystery novel, Freeman is a decent way to go. It’s great summer reading. Or as we head into the longest season of the year, curl up against the storm reading.

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