Wealthy hotel heiress, Regan Madison, reluctantly agrees to attend a self-help seminar with her two best friends, Sophie and Cordie. Sophie is a writer who is vying for a position as an investigative journalist at the newspaper where she works. She is convinced that the guru who runs the seminars is nothing but a con-artist, who may have even murdered a woman, and is determined to prove it. At the seminar, the leader gives all the attendees, including Regan and her friends, the odd assignment of writing down the names of people they know without whom the world would be better place. Regan hurriedly scratches down the names of a few people with whom she has had recent run-ins, but then is called away before completing the assignment which included burning the list. What with being pursued by a strange man in the parking lot and then having knee surgery, she had all but forgotten about the list until the people on it start turning up dead.
Detective Alec Buchanan is about to leave his job with the Chicago PD for a post with the FBI. After he shares a heated confrontation with his lieutenant, the man has it in for Alec. When Alec gives three weeks notice of his resignation, the lieutenant assigns him the job of playing bodyguard to a rich young woman whose life may be in danger. He's none to pleased with his assignment, but decides to make the best of it. He just didn't expect the pretty heiress to be so down to earth and charming, and finds himself falling for her. Regan reciprocates Alec's attraction, but can't help wondering if she's just another assignment to him. With Alec leaving Chicago in three weeks, a long-term relationship may not be possible, and they may not even have a chance to find out if they could make things work, when the police discover that Regan has been the killer's target all along.
It's been a really long time since I've read one of Julie Garwood's romantic suspense novels, since before I started writing reviews to be exact. Murder List was a pretty good read, and about on par with what I remembered of the other books in the Buchanan series, but not quite up to the caliber of some other romantic suspense authors I've read more recently. Having a killer on the loose, who seems to be obsessing on the heroine, worked reasonably well from a suspense/thriller perspective, but the mystery surrounding this part of the story was a little weak in my opinion. I'd be quite surprised if readers figure it out before the reveal, as the breadcrumb trail leading to the culprit was pretty sparse. I really prefer when the author can engage me in actively trying to solve the mystery rather then being a passive bystander. The romance needed a little more pizazz too. Other than a mutual attraction, not much happens between Alec and Regan for more than half the book. They don't even kiss. Then about ¾ of the way in, things finally get moving, but it all kind of happens at once. There is only one moderately descriptive love scene which I did find romantic, but then things cooled down as Alec prepares to move and Regan believes it was just a one-night stand. I could tell that they really liked one another, but I wasn't entirely convinced that it was enough to build a lifetime commitment on.
Alec and Regan were pretty typical of Julie Garwood's heroes and heroines. Alec is what I like to call the alpha with a heart. He's attractive in a messy, un-put-together sort of way. He's a cop who's good at what he does and knows it, but is about to make a move to the FBI. His lieutenant gave him the job of bodyguard to Regan for his last few weeks in town as retaliation for him leaving the force and for making the guy look bad during a confrontation. Once Alec gets to know Regan, he seems rather amused and endeared by her quirks and intensely possessive and protective of her. I thought it was very sweet that he didn't want to spend the night at her hotel suite after they made love, because he was concerned about her reputation. Regan is a hotel heiress ala Paris Hilton, but much, much nicer and more intelligent. While her two older brothers run the family business, she runs the family's philanthropic efforts. Being so much younger than her brothers and not having involved parents, Regan has kind of gotten lost in her brothers' shadows, so it was rather funny when she started fighting back against their overbearing natures. Regan is not unlike most of Julie Garwood's other heroines in that she can by turns be a little too emotional, a little too nosy, and a little clumsy, while still being kind-hearted, and underneath it all, she's strong when she needs to be. She's also quite attractive, but mostly unaware of her physical beauty. Alec and Regan are both very likable characters, but I wouldn't exactly call them stand-outs. There just wasn't enough character development for that.
There were a number of secondary characters in the story. I enjoyed the breezy interactions between Regan and her two best friends, Sophie and Cordie. Sophie is an outgoing journalist who is trying to get an investigative beat. I thought it was rather interesting that she was the daughter of an infamous con-man, and it looks like she gets her own book, Fire and Ice, later in the series. The most intriguing of the three to me though was Cordie. I think this was because of her dichotomy, or perhaps trichotomy as the case may be. She's a girlie girl, who as a science teacher is a bit of a geek, but she also does auto mechanic work on the side as something of a hobby. As I mentioned earlier, Regan's two oldest brothers, Aiden and Spencer can be pretty overbearing and overprotective, and tend to try Regan's patience. The youngest of the brothers, Walker, is a jet-setting race-car driver who we don't see much of in the story, but he still factors into it. I think any of these three might make good hero material, and in fact, it seemed like something might be brewing between Aiden and Cordie, but nothing ever came of their seeming attraction. It might be interesting for these two to get together, but as of yet, it doesn't look like Ms. Garwood as written any books for them or the other Madison brothers. Since Alec is part of the large Buchanan clan, I was a little disappointed that we didn't get to see more of them. In fact, his brothers and sisters are really only mentioned in passing, but friend of the family, Noah Clayborne who has his own book, Shadow Dance, does get to have a couple of phone conversations with Alec.
Murder List has a rather leisurely beginning as the author introduces the reader to the hero, heroine and killer separately. At the time, they seemed to all be doing completely unrelated things, but gradually, their lives begin to intertwine. At that point, it became more involving, although at times the pacing was still a little slow for a mystery/suspense novel, in my opinion. Overall the story was pretty good and the writing itself fairly solid. Even with its flaws, Murder List still held my attention which is probably why I consider Julie Garwood to be a good author. Even when she's not at the top of her game, her books are still quite readable. Murder List is the fourth book in her Buchanan series, and I'll be looking forward to meeting and getting to know more of the Buchanan family in future books.
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