Title: Missing, Presumed Dead (An Amethyst Cove Mystery)
Author: Christiane France
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Length: Novella/84 PDF pages/23,000 words
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by LadyM
Review summary: Unsatisfying mystery without a single likable (or smart) character
Blurb: Private investigator and ex-cop, Greg Stewartson, is on his way to bed when his Hollywood-producer brother, Vance, shows up on his doorstep. With him is the handsome, sexy, and blond Tim Fensham, the brother of Vance’s latest girlfriend, movie star Petra Lianne. Vance says Petra went missing more than a month ago after last being seen in Amethyst Cove. He has new information, but the police refuse to follow it up. They’ve closed the case, declaring the actress “Missing, Presumed Dead.”
But Vance and Tim don’t believe Petra is dead and ask Greg to take the case. After Greg agrees, Tim stays to help him find Petra, while Vance returns to L.A.
Greg doesn’t want or need help, and wishes Tim would leave, too. He’s attracted to the man and figures the feeling may be mutual, but he doesn’t mix business with pleasure and he doesn’t need the distraction of Tim staying in his house. He also doesn’t like the way Tim keeps trying to interfere in the investigation, or the unexpected moves Tim puts on him during a power failure.
Still, Greg can’t tell Tim to take his case elsewhere for fear of upsetting Vance, but he does tell Tim to back off. The trouble is, Tim is not a very good listener…
Sometimes the story has almost all the elements to be successful, yet, it still fails to deliver. Unfortunately, Missing, Presumed Dead is one of those stories.
Greg is a PI, living in the small seashore town in California. He quit the police force because he didn’t get along with the Chief, who, by Greg’s account, is probably dirty. He is a co-owner of security and investigation agency, has a very interesting family history (including a grandmother who walked out the door one day and disappeared without the trace) and was just asked to look into the disappearance of an up-and-coming Hollywood actress. The fact that her brother is a very handsome man and obviously interested in Greg should just make things more fun, right? Well… no. I had several problems with the story, but the biggest were that I couldn’t find a single character to identify with and a very weak mystery with almost laughable resolution. Also, this is not a romance and the readers should not expect it. Greg and Tim are ships in the night who fall in lust, share a few moments and move away.
Greg, our first person narrator, is indecisive as a man and ineffectual as a detective. He tells us over and over (and in the most inopportune moments) that it’s a bad idea to get involved with the client, but when Tim makes his move, he takes his pleasure and then backs away. His horny thoughts interrupted the narrative and frustrated me to no end. He is quite indifferent to his brother’s crass ways and rude to his client, although I suppose the aim was to make him look stern. Maybe I would have liked him more if the story was told from the third person POV and we weren’t forced to be in his head all the time. On the other hand, Tim jumps the man who works for him and is looking for his missing sister and tries to interfere in the investigation. Greg suspects that Tim is someone used to command and get his own way, however I saw him as sulky and juvenile. In fact, both men behaved as teenagers (and Tim is nearly 40 years old). The other characters weren’t especially likable either. Vance, Greg’s brother, is a typical Hollywood asshole with “me, me, me” attitude. One of the “suspects” is a true sleazebag and he never gets his comeuppance. In the end, it was clear that even the missing woman is selfish and insensitive.
The character development was also a problem. It seemed to me that none of the characters (but most importantly Greg) changed in any significant way by the end of the story. Greg’s background is sketchy: it’s never quite clear why he left the force (beyond disagreeing with the Chief), it is not clear why he avoids commitments, we never get to meet his partner in the agency, etc. At the end of the story, he is pretty much the same guy he was at the beginning. Tim remains a hot guy nearing forty. We don’t even get to learn what he does for a living until the last pages. The same goes for the other characters.
But, what really didn’t work for me was a mystery. It’s too bad, because, like many other things in this story, it had the potential. As I said, Greg isn’t a very good detective, in spite of Vance’s and Tim’s endorsement. He theorizes endlessly about possible scenarios that led to Petra’s disappearance, never giving his full attention to either one of them. He jumps from one conclusion to the next, changing his opinion from page to page. The clues and witnesses coincidentally fall in his lap. His secretary is a wonder woman who can find privileged information (such as private financial information) faster than her computer boots up. In the end, the resolution of the mystery was revealed to him voluntarily by the presumed bad guys and Greg takes their story at face value, even if one of them is a slime who likes to harass women and take advantage of his connections within the police. But, the most telling about the overall story is the fact that the other one is the nicest person in it.
Some other complaints include the big info dump in the opening scene, occasional odd turn of phrase and rather unexciting sex scenes. Overall writing was decent, but that wasn’t enough to save the story for me. I gave the book an extra half star for some interesting hooks that will probably be explored in the following books like presumed corruption of the local police and Greg’s partner’s fear of the Chief of Police. In the end, mine is just one opinion and other readers may feel differently. The book will certainly interest the author’s fans.