Star prosecutor, Kristen Mayhew, works hard to put criminals behind bars where they belong. Tragic events from her own past drive her to do the very best job she can, but sometimes despite her best efforts, defendants who are guilty as sin still walk free. Now someone sinister has taken notice of these breaches of justice and has stepped in to set things right. A vigilante has begun killing off the accused from Kristen's former cases, along with some of their slimy defense attorneys, and dedicating the murders to her, declaring himself her humble servant. A part of her is relieved that these rapists and murderers are no longer on the streets to do others harm, but she knows it's still wrong. Teaming up with the Chicago PD, she's determined to put a stop to the avenger's killings.
Detective Abe Reagan lost his wife when she took a bullet that was meant for him. He was left in limbo for five years as she lay in a persistent vegetative state, before finally passing away a year ago. During that time Abe poured himself into his work in undercover narcotics, only rarely surfacing to visit his family. Now that his wife is truly gone, he's finally left the undercover work behind to become a homicide detective, and his first case is the vigilante killer. Two years before, Abe had chanced to spot Kristen at the jail and was extremely attracted to her, but with a wife on life-support and him undercover at the time, nothing ever came of it. Now he's working in close proximity with the woman he's never been able to forget. Abe senses she's carrying dark secrets inside her, and he wants nothing more than to be the man who tears down her protective walls. But as the vigilante's activities escalate, the killer makes a very dangerous enemy who believes that Kristen knows his identity and will stop at nothing to get that information from her. Even with Abe and his fellow officers guarding Kristen day and night, can he keep her safe and alive long enough to fulfill the promise of their budding relationship or will his love story end in tragedy once again?
I can't believe it's been almost three years since I last read a Karen Rose novel. I have no idea why it's taken me so long, except that her books tend to be longer and I oftentimes have trouble fitting long books into my reading schedule. Her books have not disappointed me yet though, and I'm Watching You was no exception. It is a meticulously plotted story that unfolds slowly and methodically as it gradually builds to that final nail-biting climax. As I've come to expect from Ms. Rose, the body count is quite high, but despite the sheer number of deaths, for some reason, this one didn't seem quite as gory as the last one. Perhaps that was owing to the author using a different type of villain this time, who wasn't as utterly frightening, which I'll discuss later. In any case, I loved everything about this book, the characters, the plot, everything, and I wouldn't have changed a thing.
The heroine, Kristen is the primary focus character. She's a talented prosecuting attorney, who is a determined bull-dog in the courtroom. She's driven to seek justice for victims of violent crimes, because of painful events in her own past. In fact, it hurts her like she's reliving her own past every time she loses a case, but when that happens, the victims and their families often end up blaming her. As a result, she's admired and envied by some for her tenaciousness, but has become a convenient scapegoat for others. One of her admirers has become a vigilante serial killer, carefully choosing his victims from the list of perpetrators she unsuccessfully prosecuted, as well as the weaselly defense attorneys who represented them, and then dedicating his kills to her. Kristen is a very courageous woman. I greatly admired her strength and outward composure, even though inside, she felt like falling apart. She's been through so much in her life already and although her vigilante admirer would never hurt her personally, his actions end up causing her more pain and suffering. I was so glad that Abe was there to help her through everything. Kristen is a beautiful and compassionate woman who is anything but the frigid female she's been accused of being. If anything she's a woman with underlying passions that can only be tapped by one man.
Abe is a prince among men. He experienced his own personal pain when his pregnant wife was shot in the head by a bullet that was meant for him. She spent the next five years in a persistent vegetative state, before finally succumbing to death. Abe has lost so much, and he coped primarily by burying himself in his work. Throughout the years that his wife was on life-support, he worked undercover narcotics, only surfacing occasionally to visit his family. Now that she's gone, he's transferred to the homicide division. Abe first saw Kristen two years earlier and was extremely attracted to her. Of course, he felt guilty for that, given the state his wife was in, but since he was deep undercover at the time, nothing ever came of it. He hadn't seen her again, except on TV, until the vigilante killer case comes across his desk. As they start working in close proximity, the old attraction burns hot. Karen Rose really knows how to create some delectable heroes. I loved that Abe has been celibate all those years. It shows how committed he is in relationships and how much he truly loved his wife. Yet, when things start heating up between him and Kristen, he's very patient, never pushing her to do more than she's comfortable with. Abe is a true gentleman in every sense of the word, and I adore how he sees into Kristen. He intuitively knows what she's been through and wants to be the man to tear down the walls she's erected around herself and draw her out. Family means a great deal to Abe. He's always there to support them and vice versa, and they readily accept Kristen into their fold, which is exactly what she needs in her life. Abe is very protective of Kristen but at the same time he's a gentle man who cares for her tenderly. In fact, Abe is so sweet, I'm half-tempted to classify him as a beta hero, except that he is a cop after all.;-)
It takes a while for things to heat up between Abe and Kristen, but I had no problem with that. Sometimes slower is better, and this was one of those cases. Their attraction is immediate and palpable, yet their romance progresses at a languid though steady pace. Given Kristen's history this made perfect sense. In the meantime, Karen Rose is masterful at building that romance and sexual tension with mere looks and touches which is something I can deeply appreciate. There's so much meaning in their every interaction, and Ms. Rose doesn't waste a single opportunity to explore their budding relationship. It was very nicely woven into the fabric of the mystery, such that I was never anxious while waiting to get back to the romance. The love scenes, while not overly descriptive, were very sweet and sensual. Even though the story unfolds within a mere ten day period, it felt like Abe and Kristen had known each other half their lives, which made the speed at which their relationship blossomed much more believable.
The main villain in I'm Watching You is the vigilante serial killer. He's an interesting departure from the terrifyingly cold-blooded murderers of the previous two books I read. Not only was I scared to death of those villains, I hated, loathed and despised them. I recall that one was so evil I even wanted to jump into the story and off him myself. The vigilante in this book is entirely different in that he actually comes off as somewhat sympathetic. We know from the prologue what's driving him to take such extreme actions, and he only targets individuals who, in his mind, and often in reality, have done something wrong but never been justly punished. Therefore, he's set himself up as their judge, jury and executioner. While his actions unintentionally end up hurting innocents, including Kristen, he never actually sets out to do those who aren't culpable any harm, and when he realizes that his actions are having unintended consequences, he has the decency to feel guilty about it. While what he was doing was definitely wrong, I'm not the only one who kind of sympathized with him. Some of the victims and their families wanted to throw him a party for ridding the streets of such evil, and even Kristen and the cops had a hard time condemning his choice of victims to target. Perhaps to give readers someone to truly fear, the author set up secondary villains in the form of a mob boss and his lackey who start meting out their own brand of vigilante justice after the mobster's son is killed by the real vigilante. Then there was Zoe, the mean-spirited, self-serving newshound readers will love to hate, who got far more than she bargained for in the end.
I've been reading Karen Rose's books in the chronological order in which they were published so that I can get the full effect of her complex character web. While all the characters in I'm Watching You are brand new to the character palette, many of the ones in this book will appear again in future books. Abe and Kristen themselves will pop up as secondary characters in several other books that take place in the Chicago area. Abe's brother, Aidan, seems like almost as good of a guy as Abe. He'll be a supporting character in the next book, Nothing to Fear, before becoming the hero of the following book, You Can't Hide. Abe's partner, Mia, can't seem to find Mr. Right, but she'll get her chance as the heroine of Count to Ten after playing supporting roles in the next two books as well as the later book, I Can See You. I was slightly disappointed to find that Jack, the head of the CSI team, and Julia, the ME, don't have their own book. I kept thinking these two needed a romance of their own. I guess they kind of got together, but it was little more than a mention. The rest of the police force and Abe's gregarious, close-knit family round out a superb cast.
I honestly can't say enough good things about I'm Watching You and Karen Rose's books in general. I love how she delves deep into the psyche of her characters, both good and bad, and allows the reader to really feel like she knows them. Reading this book has reminded me of all the reasons why Karen Rose became one of my favorite authors so quickly. I'm really looking forward to continuing my foray into her work, so I'll try not to wait so long this time to get to the next story.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook