RogerBW's Blog

Second Shot, Zoe Sharp 18 September 2014

Sixth thriller in the series about Charlie (Charlotte) Fox, former soldier and currently private bodyguard. Charlie guards a woman whose ex-boyfriend is causing trouble after a lottery win, but it soon becomes more complicated than that.

This is getting to be a habit. On her last bodyguarding assignment, Charlie's client turned out to be one of the minor bad guys; the time before that, the client was one of the principal villains. This time, the client's killed by the police in chapter one… but then we have quite lot of flashback, around half the book, getting back round to that point.

I'll admit I'm less tolerant of non-linear storytelling than most, but here it really feels unjustified, shifting an action scene up to the front purely in order to start things off with a bang and carry the reader over the "boring" setup until the action can start again. If the setup's boring, write it so that it's more interesting – or leave it out, summarising it in a paragraph or two of flashback rather than laying it out over half the book. If the killing had come without forewarning, it would have been a really powerful and effective shocking moment. As it is, we get all the build-up of tension about the client while already knowing that she's going to be killed, which is where the real story starts.

And it does: Sharp's a bit naff at general descriptive writing, but she can capture an action scene. The first half deals with the client, Simone Kerse (and her Terribly Adorable four-year-old daughter, oh dear), searching for the father who vanished from her life when she was a small child; he turns up, or at least someone who claims to be him turns up, though various things feel "off" to Charlie. But if he's a fraud, why's he so keen to have a DNA test and prove it?

The basic problem for me is that Charlie's horribly unprofessional. On several occasions, Simone proposes to do something silly and dangerous; Charlie, as her bodyguard, tells her not to; Simone replies that if she feels that way Charlie's services are no longer needed; and, here's the key bit, Charlie backs down in order to stay on the job because she wants the Adorable Daughter protected. Yeah, I know, without it there wouldn't be a story, but it's horribly sloppy practice and I can't help feeling that Charlie deserves what she gets. Which is shot.

After Simone's killed, the real investigation gets going, and the second half of the book is rather better than the first; Charlie's badly injured, just about able to get around with a crutch, which rather puts a spoke into her usual style. She's used to being a good shot and a good fighter, and having to approach problems by other means is an engaging twist in her story.

Sharp's writing style is heavy on Charlie's interior monologue of self-criticism, presumably so that the reader is meant to react against it by saying "no, no, there's nothing else you could have done". Unfortunately that wasn't how I reacted as Charlie made mistake after mistake; for example, when she explains to the principal villain that she has recognised the P.V. as such, she is completely surprised when the P.V. pulls a gun on her. That's just stupid, and Charlie isn't meant to be dim. What was she expecting – that the P.V. would just say "it's a fair cop, guv"?

There's a good sense of place, both in Boston and in the small town in New Hampshire where much of the action occurs. The mystery plot is sadly obvious once a key piece of background information has been given. Ongoing series considerations, like Charlie's relationship with her lover and boss Sean Meyer or with her father, get fairly short shrift; at the end they're pretty much as they were at the beginning. An epilogue suggests a major change in venue for future books in the series, perhaps in the hope of reaching an American audience. I'd recommend reading the earlier books in the series first; they're frankly better than this, though it still has some fine moments, mostly when Charlie's acting rather than wandering around being gormless.

For readers of the Jack Reacher series, the Frances Neagley who appears here is not particularly related to the character of the same name in those books; apparently the original is an American thriller fan who won a character-naming auction at Bouchercon, and various thriller authors are now incorporating variations of her into their works.

Followed by Third Strike.

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