The "Perfect Trilogy" are Books 4, 5, and 6 of The Last Stand Series
by Brenda Novak
Despite the fact that each book contains a different plot, a different crime, a different set of characters, and a different premise, it doesn't escape me that the formula is almost identical throughout the six Last Stand books. I enjoyed the first three books; and while I DID enjoy the last three books, there was just something a little off about each one that didn't quite work for me, though I'm not entirely sure what it was.
This isn't to say that I didn't like these books--if I didn't like them I wouldn't have enjoyed them despite the many things within the books that I didn't care for. But in the end, I truly DID have fun reading the entire Last Stand series.
Reading a Brenda Novak book, I've realized, is like watching a suspenseful action/crime thriller: Once you start, it's hard to stop.
There is constant activity, constant action, constant progression; you move from one point to another without any effort and then you just keep going. Everything happens so quickly that you only know that you want to see what happens next.
And despite the fact that these books often had frustrating situations, little in the form of a unique story formula, and definitely NOT the most readily likable or relate-able characters, I still manage to hooked into the books without fail, every time.
These "Perfect Trilogy" books were definitely entertaining even though they were a bit less to my liking than the first three. However, I did find that I liked some of the characters in these last three books more than some of the mains from the first three books. It's not a perfect world after all.
The main thing that bothered me about the Perfect Trilogy had to be how much time we spend delving into the psyche of our "villain", following the thoughts and twisted logic and lack of conscience that goes through the killer/rapist/crazy's minds. There's a certain appeal to it all, I'm sure, and the author does it very well--these characters freak me out a bit if only because I know that these types of people can exist in real life and seeing those thoughts in detail make it too realistic for me to handle. In some ways, I like it; in other ways, I would just prefer following a good ol' fashion murder mystery from the perspective of our detectives or investigating teams... the good guys.
Yeah. I know. I live in a world where I prefer bunnies and sunshine and rainbows and Happily Ever After as part of my reading indulgences. That's not too much to ask.
Nonetheless, it's not like I didn't like this new perspective either. It's just different than what I prefer. Brenda Novak has her ways with suspense and crime thrillers, which I like a lot.
At some points, the stories and events even seem grittier and more real than that of a lot of other romantic suspense novels I've read--the way in which people react in varied ways that can come off unfair, ugly, or even careless or stupid; it's credible enough. In this aspect, I like how the characters are handled, main or side or background.
Zoe Duncan's thirteen year old daughter goes missing from her own backyard when she should have been at home recovering from a case of Mono. While everyone else believes that she must have run away because she's less than enthused about her mother's fiance, Zoe is adamant that her daughter wouldn't have done such a thing--she's a good girl and has been trying to be supportive of her mother's impending marriage. As a friend of Zoe's, Skye Kellerman requests the help of Private Investigator, Jonathan Stivers, to assist Zoe in locating Samantha Duncan. As the pair delve deeper into an investigation that has extremely little evidence to go on, it becomes increasingly clear that something much more sinister is at hand, and Sam was abducted by someone close by.
I'm inclined to feel that either Zoe's blind to obvious strange happenings, or she's too trusting of the wrong people, and not trusting of the right people. The couple next door is creepy as heck, which goes to show that so long as people are good-looking and can act normal enough, no one ever suspects them of anything. Colin and Tiffany Bell come across as the perfect couple and perfect neighbors, but there were moments when Colin says or does things that, if I were Zoe, I would have been a bit more wary of, even if I didn't suspect them of kidnapping a child.
Anyway... this is one of the books in which I felt there was much more time than necessary focused on our psychotic, child-killing couple with no conscience. While that's unique and some people may enjoy seeing the world through an antagonist's view, I wasn't too thrilled with it, myself and would have preferred to see more investigation going on. This so called "Perfect Couple" just came off right creepy. Had Colin not given himself away with some unrestrained outbursts and his uncontrollable need to hurt Zoe and Sam together, I don't know if anyone would have been able to save the day.
The romance between Zoe and Jonathan had little to stand on and I wasn't quite satisfied with the conclusion either.
Overall: Only enjoyable in the fact that I had the urgent need to finish the book just to know what happens in the end. As it stands, this is probably my least favorite of the Last Stand novels.
Air force captain Luke Trussell awakens one morning to find the police at his door--he is being charged with rape of a fellow air force teammate, Karina Harter. We very quickly learn that, while Luke did sleep with Karina, he in no way forced her to do anything she didn't want to do. In fact, because of Karina's lust and obsession for Luke, she has devised this whole scheme to sue him for rape, and then drop the charges at the last moment in hopes that he'll be grateful enough to fall in love with her and be with her forever.
Talk about delusional and a little unsteady...
When Karina enlists the help of Ava Bixby from The Last Stand to help her investigate her rape case with the claim that she doesn't think the military will be fair to her because of her more promiscuous lifestyle, Ava soon learns that there is something more disturbing about Karina than she lets on. Very early on, Ava realizes that Karina is an unstable woman, not only lying without a guilty conscience, but also set on making Luke Trussell belong to her alone, even if she has to kill for him.
Simply put, I liked Luke Trussell because he seemed so much different than the brooding alpha males you see in so many other books. He's charming and gentlemanly, a good man with a good heart, and a boy that any parent would be proud to call their own. And he's honest about his feelings and his motives.
In contrast, Ava came off as a real big bitch. Maybe I liked Luke immediately and didn't like the way she treated him. Or maybe it was because of the way she treated him that I liked Luke even more. I'm not sure. Granted, she probably earned the right to be a bit snippy--she's had a tough life--but I'm not sure that justifies her unmerited judgement of everyone she meets or barely knows.
When she first meets Luke, she claims that she's neutral and works to uncover the truth, but she had already condemned Luke and spent more time fishing for more reasons to further condemn him as a rapist. Even after she learns the truth about Karina, she still holds Luke at a distance, leading him on only to pre-judge that he only cares about his pride when she rejects him--y'know, not that he'd ever be able to truly feel for someone or fall for a woman because she believes him to be the type of man who sleeps with women and then moves on like a womanizer.
Anyway, story-wise, this one was kind of weird and despite the suspenseful execution, I feel like the case dragged on for a lot longer than was necessary. And again with the seeing things from the antagonist's perspective with her twisted logic and stuff like that.
Overall: I liked Luke, though he made lots of bad decisions. Entertaining book at best, but not much in terms of story. The romance also was quite lacking.
I'm not sure I like that we start the book in the killer's head, because that certainly gives away the premise, making the blurb given kind of useless: "For More than a year, Sebastian Costas has been trying to unravel the truth behind the murder of his ex-wife and son. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he's convinced that her second husband--a cop--committed both murders, then faked his own death."
But the first chapter introduces Malcolm Turner and his thoughts on how to enact the perfect murder. It's a little disturbing. And takes away a lot of the suspense and surprise elements. Then we move on to Sebastian traveling across the country on a lead to track down Malcolm, bent on seeing the truth come out. Due to a possible kidnapping case, Jane Burke contacts Sebastian for information that the man he's looking for may also be the same man who has abducted a pair of sisters.
Of course, as the formula goes, sparks fly amidst the joint investigation, but now Malcolm is tuned into the fact that Sebastian is on his tail. Now Malcolm has decided that he needs to get rid of Sebastian and hit him where it hurts the most since he seems to have taken the existence of Sebastian a bit too personally as a slight against him.
I really did enjoy The Perfect Murder more than the previous two books in this trilogy. There was more of a premise of investigation and I was delighted to find that I didn't think of Jane as annoying as I had when she was a side character in the first book, Trust Me. In fact, I very much enjoyed following her through her renewed life as a single mother and newly appointed victims' rights advocate. I also thought that she and Sebastian made a pretty nice couple, even if the romance was kind of quiet. Sebastian's interactions with Jane's daughter, Kate, were very heart-warming.
As a romance, this book may not have been a win, but it was good nonetheless. As a murder/crime thriller, the book might have fallen a bit short. I'm not even sure I know what all really happened, but I'm inclined to be satisfied with what I liked.
I liked Jane and I liked Sebastian--which, considering this series, is a first that I don't have too many quibbles about the main couple, either together or individually. Interesting, that.
Overall: Very enjoyable. Delightfully, surprisingly likable.
A few random last thoughts about the full Last Stand series overall.
- While the premise of this series was more attractive to me, I still like Brenda Novak's Stillwater trilogy more--the characters are more to my liking, if only because there seems to be more of a cohesive "togetherness" between those characters. The characters featured in The Last Stand series gave me conflicting feelings
- Cain Granger (Watch Me) remains my favorite of the men featured throughout The Last Stand. At a close second and third are Luke Trussell (The Perfect Liar) and Sebastian Costas (The Perfect Murder). I thought I liked Jonathan Stivers (The Perfect Couple), too, since he's a P.I. and Iike P.I.s, but he didn't come across all that great and I prefer him as side character more.
- Following that line of thought, Watch Me sits as my favorite of the six books; there was more of a murder mystery premise and a whodunit scenario than the rest of the books had.
- I admire Brenda Novak's penchant for taking a character who wasn't all that likable from a previous book and making me change my mind about her. Jane Burke first appears in Trust Me as the naive, entitled, and pampered wife of a dentist and well-liked man who turns out to be a serial killer. Her behavior and personality was a big turn off that didn't sit well with me; when I saw that she would be the main female character in the last book, I was a bit conflicted. Turns out that I actually enjoyed following her progress as she managed to get her life back together and move forward from the days of being married to a psychotic serial killer and become a victims advocate working with The Last Stand charity organization. Kudos to that.
- In terms of romance, The Last Stand seemed a bit lacking. I either didn't like the romance or didn't like one of the two people involved in the romances. Or, as in The Perfect Couple there really wasn't a semblance of romance at all. Surprisingly, Jane's and Sebastian's relationship is probably my favorite of the couples.