I like the premise of this series, each book following a female undercover operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, especially since the concept has its basis in actual history (I was a bit skeptical at first and actually looked it up!) Nevertheless there were a few things that held this novel back for me, most prominently a reliance on too many clichés, both in establishing the conflict and in building up the romance, too much time taken to explain the characters’ thoughts to the reader, and a plot that really just meandered for the first half of the book.
Although this is the third novel in the series the characters from the previous novels in the series aren’t even mentioned, so it is truly a stand-alone novel. Katie Madison, one of Pinkerton’s most successful undercover operatives, has arrived in Calico, Kansas, to investigate the deaths of two waitresses at a Harvey House restaurant. For most of the first half of the book, this involves little more than sneaking out at night to try and investigate the ‘scene’ (which invariably results in an encounter with Sheriff Branch Whitman), and trying to surreptitiously interview Harvey House’s employees and patrons whenever the opportunity presents itself (with little result). The tornado that ‘hits town’ is really just a passing plot device, and not much happens until we reach the incident that sets the ball rolling on the ‘past deception’ plot line.
This was the first point in the novel where I felt my attention grabbed rather than me simply choosing to bestow it. The scriptural tie in made it even more compelling, but in the end it didn’t live up to my expectations. I thought the author chose a very easy way out and I actually felt a little cheated – as though this plot was manufactured to ramp up the conflict and pad out the story (and I still find myself wondering how an alternative resolution could have played out).
With this out of the way, we finally begin to get somewhere with the original investigation, but even here I felt as though the plot relied on a few obscure (and perhaps overly convenient) observations for its resolution. Some of these observations are made at earlier points in the novel, but they are all dropped into the novel in such a way that they kind of stick out and make it obvious they’re going to be relevant later (eg. “She couldn’t help but notice… ”). I also got tired of having so many aspects of the investigation explained to me, even down to the mundane things like why Katie wore dark navy rather than black when she went on her little night excursions.
As far as the romance was concerned, it relied on too many clichéd observations and interactions for me to really enjoy it. Every opportunity was taken for one of the characters to make the usual sensory observations – masculine or feminine scents, the sound of the hero’s voice, and the usual visual/tactile moments of meeting gazes, admiring each others’ looks, touching hands, etc – and it just became too repetitive. Even those moments where they did connect on a more emotional level were a little too cheesy to work for me, relying on sentiments like, “No one has ever done that for me before,” or, “Wow. My child is so shy around strangers but he’s really taken with you,” kind of thing. The ending also milked the “I can’t trust/let myself be hurt” conflict long after the udder was dry.
I’m sure there will be plenty here to satisfy other readers, but I need a little more meat to the story if it’s going to make four or five stars.
Calico Spy will be released on 1 January 2016. Thank you to Barbour Publishing for providing a copy in return for my honest review.