Field of Graves by J. T. Ellison

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Pepper C. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Romantic Suspense category.

The summary:

With FIELD OF GRAVES, New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison goes back to where it all began…

All of Nashville is on edge with a serial killer on the loose. A madman is trying to create his own end-of-days apocalypse and the cops trying to catch him are almost as damaged as the killer. Field of Graves reveals the origins of some of J.T. Ellison’s most famous creations: the haunted Lieutenant Taylor Jackson; her blunt, exceptional best friend, medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens; and troubled FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin. Together, they race the clock and their own demons to find the killer before he claims yet another victim. This dark, thrilling and utterly compelling novel will have readers on the edge of their seats, and Ellison’s fans will be delighted with the revelations about their favorite characters.

Here is Pepper C.’s review:

I was both excited and scared to death when it came time to sign up for the RITA Reader Challenge this year so I was more than relieved when I had the chance to choose a book from my favorite genre – romantic suspense. After I looked up the blurb for each offering in the category, I happily selected J.T. Ellison’s Field of Graves because it seemed to have so much catnip for me: a strong but fractured heroine, a troubled but brilliant profiler, a twisted serial killer antagonist, and a unique setting for the story, in this case, Nashville. Alas, the highest expectations often lead to the greatest let downs and such was the case for my reading of this book.

Before I get to my thoughts, I want to give a little background on the book. So, Field of Graves is listed as the eighth book in the series but really its more of a prequel as it tells the story of how the two main characters, Lt. Taylor Jackson and Dr. John Baldwin meet and fall in love. The author reveals in the note at the end of the book that she wrote this book first but it didn’t sell so she put it in a drawer and moved on to the next story, which did sell and launched the series. She then used this original manuscript to draw from as she wrote the other books. I wish I had known that from the beginning because it would have helped me understand the story better and the writing style as well.

Now, because I believe in focusing on the good before the bad, I am going to start with the parts of the book that I felt deserved kudos. First, though somewhat typical, the plot had a well-done suspense element with twists and turns and a darkness that I really liked. Ellison created a perfectly functional serial killer who provided an adequate amount of fear and loathing.

Secondly, I really liked seeing both main characters struggle with issues related to past incidents in their careers. The emotional baggage they carried felt real, tragic, and important to their character development. This is one area I feel the author really did a great job with the story.

Third, I really enjoyed the author’s use of the Nashville setting, as it both enhanced the story and made me want to travel to the city – a win-win situation in my opinion. Because Ellison makes her home in Nashville, I like that she was able to offer an insider’s view of the city which is useful for a book of this nature.

And now I must list the quibbles I had with the book and unfortunately, they outnumber the kudos.

The number one problem I had with this book was its lack of romance. By my estimation, the book is approximately 7.25% romance and 92.75% suspense / police procedural and this was a major issue for me. I have to question how this book was a finalist for a RITA when it contained so little of the romantic elements I thought it should have to warrant a nomination. I prefer my romantic suspense to be more balanced with the story leaning in the direction of romance rather than suspense. Instead, a majority of the book passes with nary a prolonged gaze of desire and then suddenly there is kissing, and feelings, and declarations of “Hey, you’re my person now”. Say wha? I really liked Taylor and John and I really wanted to see them together but I wanted more from this couple – more build-up of their attraction, more steps in their relationship, more focus on them as a couple, and dammit I wanted more sex. Wait, I can’t ask for more sex when the reality was there wasn’t any sex so let me instead say I wanted sex – c’mon – just one scene where I felt this couple could live up to the expectations I have for romantic books. Because this is the only book in the series I have read, and I’m on the fence as to if I will read any others in the future, I’m not sure if there are more sexy times than what I saw in this book. So I will give the series the benefit of the doubt but if this is as far as it goes in the romance department, it won’t be an auto-buy for me.

The second issue I had with the book was the use of the secondary characters because, with the exception of the MC’s best friend who also happens to be the medical examiner and has her own series of books, the rest felt underdeveloped and frankly, too stereotypical to be more than one-dimensional elements of the story. One of the glaring examples of this was the description of all the members of Lt. Jackson’s squad. Each guy felt like a caricature of what people expect homicide detectives to be like – there is the seasoned veteran partner who is also a quasi-father figure, the suave and well-dressed detective who we must be informed is African-American though none of the other detectives’ races are identified, and the eager-beaver junior detective who is looking to prove himself. Oh, and don’t think I didn’t notice there isn’t one other qualified female, save the M.E./ best friend, who can be part of the story. Really? Not one of these other characters could be a woman and still allow the heroine to be the star of the book?

All of that being said, I still enjoyed this book and am glad I read it and am especially glad I chose to participate in the review challenge. It has been an enlightening experience reading everyone’s reviews and then figuring out how I wanted to write my own.

I would give this book a solid B- grade – an A- for the suspense elements of the book and a C for the romance part. Yeah, a good but not a great read for sure.

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Field of Graves by J.T. Ellison

June 14, 2016

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