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  • Caitlyn Lynch

Book Review: Rival's Break by Carla Neggers

I’ll start this review off by saying that if you’re a big fan of Carla Neggers’ Sharpe/Donovan series, you’re probably going to love this. All but a very few characters have previously appeared and played significant roles in earlier books, so it’ll be like catching up with a group of old friends and seeing what’s going on with their lives.

If, like me, you haven’t read any of the previous books, you’ll be wondering ‘who are all these people and why do I care about the mundane details of their lives being thrown in this supposedly suspenseful read?’

There are far, far too many point of view characters in this story and the points of view of several of them are completely and utterly irrelevant. I’m going to list them here and explain what I mean:

PoV 1: Emma Sharpe. FBI agent. We start off in her PoV and return to it periodically, but she’s never more than a passive observer to events, except on one occasion where she acts as a vehicle for the reader to learn about poisonous mushrooms when getting some information about them.

PoV 2: Colin Donovan, Emma’s husband, also an FBI agent who helps his brother out investigating the case of food poisoning which turns sinister. Colin at least gets to actually Do Stuff.

PoV 3: Parish priest Father Finian. Utterly irrelevant to the case. His house acted as a temporary base for some of the principal actors.

PoV 4: Former art thief turned MI5 asset Oliver. Irrelevant as he was never more than an observer.

PoV 5: Emma’s brother Lucas Sharpe, wandering around the Irish hills with their grandfather and doing… nothing related to the case.

PoV 6: Georgina, a chef whose father is poisoned and who MAY be responsible for the food poisoning which kicks off the mystery. She’s actually the only person here who I got to care about in the slightest, because she’s the only one who had something at stake - her father’s life and her career. And guess whose point of view we only visited maybe four times in the whole book? That’s right. We spent just as much time in Father Finian’s head, or Lucas’, and neither of them had anything to do with the case. Just when things were getting interesting for Georgina, we’d switch back to Lucas wandering around the hills in Ireland castigating himself for eating too much bread (yes, seriously).

The high stakes referred to in the book’s blurb turn out to be a damp squib. There’s one death in the book and it’s off-screen, a character we only ever see on the page filtered through the PoV of others as they talk about him. And for a mystery suspense, this is missing the crucial element of having clues to the identity of the villain planted early in the story. I’d narrowed it down to four possible characters by process of elimination - everyone else was a ‘known friendly’ - but the villain’s eventual dramatic self-reveal just fell utterly flat because there’d been no foreshadowing. Instead, we were told after the (fairly pathetic) climactic scene what the villain’s motivations were, and it was made clear that they had no hope of carrying out their plan anyway. A massive letdown followed by a tour of everyone’s point of view as they reacted by deciding to do utterly mundane and boring things.

I haven’t read a Carla Neggers book in some time, but I remember them as being a lot better than this. An absolute bore-fest which needed a solid content edit to clean out all the mundane nonsense, cut all the extraneous points of view and add in some actual suspense, mystery and stakes. Oh, and add some diversity, because this is yet another read in which everyone is white, straight and abled. And I don’t know if you’d noticed, but the world really isn’t like that. Making Georgina a queer woman of color, for example, would have added a WHOLE ‘nother layer of nuance and tension as she negotiated the situation in a very white Maine coastal town and the Irish Catholic law enforcement officers on the case.

Two stars, for a mystery suspense which failed to be either mysterious or suspenseful.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

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