Book Review

The Last Kiss Goodbye by Karen Robards

F+

Title: The Last Kiss Goodbye
Author: Karen Robards
Publication Info: Ballantine August 2013
ISBN: 978-0345535825
Genre: Romantic Suspense

Book The Last Kiss Goodbye 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!

But no:

“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.


This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Caro says:

    Ew, yeah. This book was terrible. I have a bad mental tick that my brain confuses “Karen Robards” with “Linda Howard.” (Dropped as a child? The mystery remains.) So I’ll be at the library and brain says, “Oooh! A new Karen Robards *while thinking of Linda Howard.*” Then I read these and got so. darn. angry. that the author of “Prey” could write outhouse rat crazy book. Halfway through I always remember my name blindness problem and promise not to be fooled again . . . only to be fooled again.

  2. 2
    Layla says:

    I want you to read the next book in the series if only so I can read your reviews on them. This is hilarious:  “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.”

    This book sounds like it is delightfully crazysauce.

  3. 3
    DonnaMarie says:

    So, I’m laying the bet down now that some how, some way this ends with Bartoli dying and going into the light right before the paddles bring his body back to life; enter Garland to live HEA in Agent Dreamy’s body. Okay, not an original idea, but I’ve got fiver on it.

  4. 4
    KellyM says:

    While I have zero interest in reading these books, I’m REALLY enjoying reading your reviews of them.  My co-workers are giving me stink eye for all the manic giggling coming from my little corner of the cube farm.  Thanks for reading this so I don’t have to.  And also thanks for Alexander Skarsgard reading nekkid.  :-)

  5. 5
    Maite says:

    Anybody else think: “This is gonna be fun!” when an F+ review appears?
    Or is it just me?
    @DonnaMarie: I’ll add another fiver to that theory. Though I’ve got this alternate theory where Garland has a brother who’s the one responsible for the deaths, and Garland’s covering up for him. And they are both really screwed-up people because their father raised them to be killers, and the murder of Holly’s family (from the first book) was Dad’s idea of a fun family outing.

  6. 6

    …… good lord. I may actually have to read these, just for the crazysauce. Mmmm. Crazysauce. Goes well with chocolate!

  7. 7
    LaurieF says:

    Great review! I also get excited when I see an F review.
    Hope you tackle book three.

  8. 8
    DonnaMarie says:

    @Miate, that’s a possiblility, but there’s still that pesky purple haze. I’m sure you don’t get the purple haze for being wrongly accused or a bad childhood. Surely the purple haze must be something you earn, or if you’re from my generation, smoked.

  9. 9
    Charlotte Russell says:

    All I have to say is: “Thank you!” Needed a laugh and a few giggle-snorts today.

    password: needed92—well, I don’t need quite that many giggle-snorts. Could become painful.

  10. 10
    Brandy says:

    I have another five on DonnaMarie’s theory.

  11. 11
    Gry says:

    @Maite, you’re not the only one! The Fs are when the gentle reviewers pull out ALL the stops, and when necessary, invent new shades of snark to describe the insanity.

    Also, I’ll add a ten to the pot on @DonnaMarie’s theory

  12. 12
    CarrieS says:

    You have to read them all, Eylse!  Take one for the team!  Because now we have to know what is going on (I’ll add a fiver to DonnaMarie’s theory).  I dislike the sub genres you like but I love love love your reviews!

    Captcha:  lines41:  There were at least 41 funny lines in this review

  13. 13
    Kim says:

    F reviews are like a sweet, sweet drug.
    (Of course, I write this while eating a highly narcotic bag of baby carrots.)

  14. 14

    @Miate When I saw F+, I literally turned to my dog and said, “Its and F+, Mia.  Jackpot!”  She totally understood me too, because he tail started to wag like crazy.

  15. 15
    Maite says:

    Sounds like we could have a support group of: “I like F+‘s”.
    @DonnaMarie: I meant Garland didn’t kill those seven women. He could have killed other people, raped, psychologically tortured others, verbally/physically abuse people, etc. And he doesn’t have an alibi for the murders because he was off doing other similarly heinous stuff
    I so see Charlie (or the author) going “See? He’s not a serial killer! He’s deserving of the purple fog, but he’s just a rapist/murderer/abuser.”
    And in a shocking twist, it will turn out Agent Dreamy is the brother.

    And I’m plotting fanfic for a series I have never read. And having fun doing so.

    Please Elyse, soldier on. I have to know what crazysauce is going to happen next.

  16. 16
    Betsysalt says:

    I thought F+ would result in at least 2 photos of Alexander Skarsgaard!

  17. 17
    kkw says:

    God I wish I could buy books. I can’t wait to read this. The first one rocked.

    Possession is a possibility, of course, I’m not ruling it out, but my money is on her joining him in death. He’ll go to a white light in the end, with her, because he redeems himself working with her, and once his name is cleared, he’ll be less surly. Cause that’s why he’s going to hell, obvs. Little attitude adjustment, it’ll work out.

    No, seriously, if you have a father that sucks so much you’re forced to kill him in self-defense (am I imagining that part?) and you go to prison for a crime you didn’t commit (he didn’t, I’m like 85% sure) I think the bitterness and the misery and violence would make you ineligible for white light in an understandable and potentially redeemable way. Unlikely, sure, but redemption generally is. And this is a guy who really cannot seem to catch a break. Crappy childhood, life sentence, dying young: it’s true that the things that make him an interesting character make him a pretty poor bet as a romantic selection. But Charlie didn’t choose him. Circumstances stuck them together, and given her background, of course she’d fall for him. If we fall for mates who allow us to recreate and potentially fix traumatic patterns, he’s the ideal candidate for her.

    I could not forgive Logan or Brandon. The big difference with Michael is that it doesn’t matter that I don’t want him personally, he is a fascinating character in a well-written book. Those other two ‘heroes’ were saddled with writers who were too busy struggling with a wet paper bag to spend any time piecing together a fractionally worthwhile story, or developing character, or establishing a style, unless ghastly counts as a style. I’m just sayin.

  18. 18
    KarenH. says:

    Well, I forgave Brandon because I was 13 when I read that book.

    But seriously, Fate and the Universe do not condemn you to hell if you were unjustly accused of murdering 7 women.  Nor, hard as it is to believe, if you dog-eared books from the library.  You have to do the Big Bad for Hell.  Otherwise, it’s a doctor’s waiting room like any other.

    And I would like to join the “I love F+s!!” support group, please.

  19. 19
    CG says:

    Ohmigod, please read the next book soon because I really have to know how this particular bit of insanity turns out. I mean, I really have to know, like it’s going to keep me up at night.

  20. 20
    PamG says:

    Back in my salad days, when gothic was the romance of choice, one of the commonest plot devices involved two love interests, one of whom was a nice guy and the other, a total buttmunch.  The heroine invariably ended up with Mr. B. and Sir N.G. was almost always a villain in disguise.  As a result this plot doesn’t freak me out so much, but dragging it out over three books has only one benefit: Elyse’s reviews!

  21. 21
    Mary says:

    FWIW, the only Karen Robards I’ve read was Bait, and it was one of the better romantic suspense novels I’ve read. The hero is actually an FBI agent and not a serial killer, the suspense/mystery was excellent, and the writing was generally good, if at times a little overwrought for me (but then, I like simplicity and not “beautiful” language”).

    But I am enjoying these reviews of Elyse’s. Even good authors have some batshit crazy books.

  22. 22
    Heather says:

    The purple haze is what’s getting me. From what I understand about the whole “light” issue, if you’re getting scary purple haze, you did something to earn it. The “maybe he’s innocent” clues that Robard is apparently dropping seem like they may be misplaced.

    I’m with whoever upthread brought up the crazy brother. And, darnit, I’m going to have to read these!!

  23. 23
    MissB2U says:

    I’m hopelessly behind the curve on this one.  I had to look up Alexander Skarsgard, (and I hope that book he’s reading is on melanoma self exam…), ‘cause I thought you meant THIS guy: http://www.stellanonline.com/  And .when I hear “purple haze” all I can think about is Jimi Hendrix.

    Great review Elyse!  And thank you in advance for reading the next book.  What will you use as a cerebral palate cleanser when you’re done?

  24. 24
    Vicki says:

    Well, that Skarsgard made me smile so that’s good. And, yes, Purple Haze is all Hendrix to me to and hard to think that’s bad.

    Captch is peace66 – perfect.

  25. 25
    Kim says:

    @PamG : Perfect, now whenever I think of Mr. B in Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela”—which is fairly often, since I work on 18th century lit—I’ll think of him as Mr. Buttmunch. Which works, since he did a lot of that old skool “alpha” shit (kidnapping, rape attempts, etc.). He actually may be the original Mr. Buttmunch!

  26. 26
    RebeccaHM says:

    I wonder if there is any ambiguity with the purple haze.  Years ago I saw this movie where this guy dies and goes to rescue his suicide wife from hell but it was a hell of her own making due to her guilt.  Or could it be like stories you hear about battlefields being haunted, the soldiers who died keep reliving the battle and the purple haze is his guilt about whatever he did that is hopefully far less awful than killing 7 girls. *off to check library for these books*

  27. 27
    Amanda says:

    This reminds me in some strange way of the book Chill Factor by Sandra Brown, in chich a TSTL heroine feels an immediate Strong Physical Attraction for a guy she thinks is a serial killer. Here is my review of it:

    Listened to this book on the drive to and from SC at Thanksgiving. It was a way to fill up the long and empty miles, but as a piece of literachoor – it was an enormous piece of feculent nonsense.

    Where to start? How about the part where Lily, the heroine, convinced she is snowed in with a serial kidnapper/murderer, has hot monkey sex with him, despite the whole HE’S A FREAKIN’ MURDERER thing.

    Or how about the fact that the hot, monkey sex happens between a woman who is weak from a nearly-fatal asthma attack and a man who has:
    a concussion
    bruises all over his body from being HIT BY A CAR
    an open head wound
    a sprained ankle.
    Plus, the HMS takes place in a freezing cold cabin where the two people are marooned. So cold that normal people would just be curled up INSIDE the fireplace, not getting naked in front of it. Jeez. I realize it’s fiction, but couldn’t there be some sense of ‘this could really happen?’

    The side story about the high school athlete, steroids,
    the worst father in the world, and his dishrag of a wife was just distasteful.

    Won’t be reading / listening to any more Sandra Brown, that’s for sure.

  28. 28
    DonnaMarie says:

    Wait, wait, wait!! @kkw-the purple haze will go away once his surly attitude improves? $#!+ @ !! I AM DOOMED TO THE PURPLE HAZE !!!!!!!!

  29. 29
    Kristen A. says:

    Is anybody else singing Squeaky Fromme’s song from Assassins right now, or is that just me?

  30. 30
    Anna Fondant says:

    @Caro – YES! I keep doing that, too! And I love Linda’s books, dislike Karen’s, so I don’t know why this keeps happening. So weird. :)

    I also forgave Brandon, maybe because of my age at the time (14).

    This review was hysterically funny!

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