I should probably have stopped with The Last Victim—a romantic suspense thriller I reviewed previously and found to be liberally dosed with crazysauce.
If you haven’t read that review, do so now, because you need backstory to understand my reaction to The Last Kiss Goodbye.
The Last Kiss Goodbye picks up almost immediately where The Last Victim left off. These books really do need to be read in order, so if you want to read The Last Victim, you might want to do so before my reading my review as it could be very slightly spoilery. I gritted my teeth during a large portion of The Last Victim because while I really loved the mystery, I also really hated the hero.
Who happens to be a ghost.
Of a serial killer.
I thought The Last Kiss Goodbye might resolve some my issues with Michael Garland—said ghost serial killer—but if anything they made me reach for the bite guard. This book, in all its epic, crazy glory, teeters right into F+ territory—that sacred land of the books so bizarre and awful they are also wonderful and addictive. I can’t really take this book seriously, but I also couldn’t put it down, so that says something right there.
Our heroine Dr. Charlotte Stone has just wrapped up a case with FBI Agent Tony Bartoli—who is gorgeous and gentlemanly and has sexy brown eyes—catching a serial killer known as the Boardwalk Killer. Charlie is a psychiatrist who studies serial killers. She’s also a psychic medium who can see the ghosts of the recently, violently departed.
All of this sounds like a lovely set up for a romance between Charlie and Agent Dreamy—who totally buys the psychic thing and doesn’t give her shit about it, by the way. But it’s not. Nope. Not even a little teensy bit. Because Charlie has the hots for Michael Garland.
Michael is not a sexy FBI agent. He is not a cop, or another psychiatrist or the UPS man. Michael is the ghost of a serial killer. He killed seven young women, and Charlie was interviewing him in prison just before he was stabbed and killed. Now Michael, who is apparently a totally ripped Nordic-god-looking-dude, is tethered to Charlie and refuses to pass on to the Next Place. This is because for Michael, The Next Place is not a white light, but rather a scary purple fog with something demon-y prowling it.
Now if you need a moment to process the fact that Charlie—a psychiatrist who studies serial killers—is FALLING IN LOVE WITH A MOTHER FUCKING SERIAL KILLER go ahead and take it. Take a deep breath. Eat a piece of chocolate. It’s going to be alright.
So Charlie knows she should be with Agent Dreamy as he’s a pretty nice guy and, you know, hasn’t savagely murdered anyone lately. She lets him take her to dinner, but when she gets back Michael’s ghost is waiting for her and he’s pissed. You see, they had ghosty sex in the last book so he figures he’s got a claim to Charlie, and if he weren’t probably a serial killer, I’d say he’s got feelings for her too.
So Charlie’s struggling with the ghosty sex and the fact that Michael won’t move on to the Next Place, when there’s a pounding at her door. It’s a girl who is soaked in blood and is hysterically screaming that a man with a gun is chasing her. Charlie locks the door and calls the police, and then someone rattles the door and it’s all very OMG “the call is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE” terrifying, but then the cops show up and its okay.
Turns out the girl is Jenna McDaniels, a young woman who recently went missing. She tells everyone she was kidnapped along with three other girls. They were held captive by a man in a dark hood and white mask that threw the women into a well and told them to fight to the death. The winner (poor Jenna) was released. Said killer also left a note for Charlie on her kitchen table that reads “You Can’t Catch Me.”
This particularly horrifying MO belongs to a killer called the Gingerbread Man. He kidnaps three victims and forces them to kill each other before releasing the final victor. Charlie immediately calls Agent Dreamy in for help.
So the mystery premise of this story was Charlie working with the FBI to catch the Gingerbread Man before he captures and kills (by proxy) anyone else. That was pretty enjoyable, although I’d figured out the end two-thirds of the way in.
The rest of the book, a larger portion actually, is about Charlie’s relationship with Michael, the serial killer ghost. Charlie has recently received evidence that might prove Michael isn’t a serial killer (yay!), but since she started sleeping with him and falling for him before she had any reason at all to doubt his guilt, I’m not letting her off the hook.
The evidence proving Michael killed those seven women is still pretty damn strong, and basically Charlie just takes it at face value when Michael tells her he didn’t do it. And even if he didn’t, he’s still not going toward the white light. Nope he’s hiding from the scary purple fog place where people get dragged to hell. So what, pray tell, did Michael do to earn the purple hell-fog? We don’t know. Neither does Charlie. And she still wants to bone him.
Charlie’s feelings for Michael and total denial of his nature is just so crazypants insane that it boggled my mind. There. Was. So. Much. Boggling.
She knows this is a really bad fucking idea:
Falling in love with him was not an option. In life he’d been the baddest of bad men, the convicted murderer of seven women, sentenced to death for horrible, brutal crimes.
And as sexy and charming as he might be, he was the exact same person in death.
That’s what she had to keep reminding herself of, even if some too-stupid-to-live part of her refused to accept it.
At least she knows she’s a TSTL heroine, I guess. But it doesn’t stop Charlie from justifying her lust for Michael. Since his ghost follows her around she sets boundaries in terms of him not following her into the bathroom or watching her get dressed, etc. She reflects:
He might (or might not) be a charismatic psychopath/serial killer, but she’d already figured out he wasn’t a creep.
Well that’s nice. He might stab you to death with a steak knife, but he definitely will not sneak a peek at your panties. I mean…oh wait, are you fucking kidding me? She’s justifying that’s kind of okay because he’s not a giant perv while reflecting on the fact that HE’S A FUCKING SERIAL KILLER.
How does this happen? I never, ever in my entire romantic suspense reading life, thought I would read those words in that order.
For the most part Michael doesn’t act like a murderer. He seems unsettled by gore, and while he doesn’t deny being a bad person, he does deny killing those women. He’s not particularly likable, though, at least not to me. He follows Charlie around, jealous any time Agent Dreamy shows up. He claims to care about Charlie, but when she and Agent Dreamy share a kiss, he starts sabotaging things by breaking lamps, basically acting like a kid having a tantrum.
He is, in short, not very heroic. I don’t mind alpha heroes. I’m down with brooding. Sometimes I even forgive heroes when they are total dickbags. Hell, I forgave Logan in Big Girl Panties and he was a giant douche canoe and borderline emotionally absuvie. I forgave Brandon from The Flame and the Flower and he was basically a rapist asshat. I could not find any reason to like Michael.
He’s sexy and flirty, but also a dick. Example:
“You don’t scare me, Casper,” [Charlie] hissed beneath the cover of a hand she lifted to ostensibly cover a yawn.
“Watch it, Doc,” he said. “You’re pissing me off. Lucky for you I don’t have access to a ghost knife.”
Yup. He totally just made fun of the fact that he went to prison for stabbing seven women to death. Hi-lar-ious. That’s the kind of talk that’s going to put the whole family at ease when she introduces him at Thanksgiving. “Want me to carve the turkey, Stan? I’m pretty handy with a knife, ha ha ha!”
So okay, maybe he didn’t kill those seven women. We don’t know. There’s evidence supporting both his guilt and his innocence. But it doesn’t matter because AGENT DREAMY IS RIGHT THERE! I’m like dancing up and down pointing at him and Charlie isn’t noticing at all. I felt it was almost comical, like there should have been a scene where Agent Dreamy starts rinsing off with a hose in slow motion all while wearing a white tank top and holding a pan of dark chocolate brownies. He is perfect in every fucking way…gorgeous…smart…he catches bad men…he is kind and respectful…. And nothing. Charlie knows she should want him, but she doesn’t. More boggling.
Charlie takes her TSTL status seriously. She’s writing her thesis on being TSTL. Short of running around in heels and falling on knives it couldn’t have gotten worse.
At one point Charlie follows Michael into the purple scary fog. When she gets there she finds Michael looks a little different:
Savagery radiated from him like rays from the sun. Ruthlessness was there in the set of his jaw, brutality in the curve of his mouth. There was a hardness around his cheekbones and closed eyes. This was what a man capable of killing looks like, was the thought that came to her unbidden…
Yes! Yes Charlie see the scariness! He’s literally walking around in hell-fog because he did something to deserve it. Run to Agent Dreamy now! Go! He has brownies!
“Michael.” Her hands unclasped from around his waist to gently stoke his back. Whatever the Dark Place had brought out in him, she chose to attribute it to the place, not him.
GOD FUCKING DAMNIT, CHARLIE!
I bet she thinks Voldemort was just really misunderstood too.
If I were to completely remove the whole in-love-with-a-serial-killer-maybe thing, this book would be solid. The mystery is good. The characters (except Michael) are good. I liked it. The Charlie-Michael crazy don’t-drink-the-Kool-Aid romance thing made it so I couldn’t really take the book seriously…but somehow I still liked it. I was absolutely flabbergasted and appalled, but also kind of delighted in how balls-to-the-wall crazy this book got.
Robards could have skirted the whole serial killer ghost thing by making Michael definitively innocent, but she didn’t—she brought it on. There’s a lot of ambiguity there. Even during the sex scenes he’s got a sort of repressed violence vibe going on. You have to admire that kind of moxy: “Yeah, I’m gonna taunt you with Agent Dreamy and then totally take this in a different direction. Surprise muthafucka!”
So, I have to give this book an F+. It’s insane. I think it knows it’s insane. I think it might be taunting me with its insanity. And here’s the thing—I’m going to read the next book in the series. I know I will. I have to see how this ends. Tread with caution, readers, because here there be monsters.