“My darkness is squatting like a demon, right around the next corner, lurking in every shadow, just waiting for me to slip. And when I do it’s gonna grab me, Vince, and I don’t know if I can fight my way free the next time it does.”
Maggie’s Shayne’s The Gingerbread Man, opens with Vince O’Mally, a smart detective who has trouble separating himself from his victims. He’s haunted by Sara Prague, a mother who is determined not to let the cop forget her missing kids, and makes him promise her that he won’t rest until they’re found. Vince O’Mally does the unthinkable; he promises her that everything will be alright. When it turns out to be a promise he can’t keep, he gets forced into a 30 day leave and finds himself following leads on his own time.
Holly Newman is a cleric at the Dilmun Police Department; Dilmun is a small town in New York where the community is tight and nothing bad ever happens. She suffers from OCD and panic attacks brought on by PTSD, brought on by the one time something bad did happen in Dilmun. In 1983, Holly Newman escaped an attempted kidnapping, but her little sister Ivy, wasn’t so lucky. Holly had to overcome the trauma of witnessing her sister’s abduction, and put her life back together. Now rude Detective Vince O’Mally threatens her peace of mind.
I have both good things and bad things to say about this story; I’m starting with the good.
First the writing: Maggie Shayne had a vision for a mystery and she brought it to life. I’m not criticizing that. The story starts slow and picks up speed; there’s a serial pedophile on the loose and he’s murdering his victims. Two characters from different worlds with troubled pasts, find themselves obsessed with catching the creep. And MS knows what it takes to keep the reader reading: a dark crime, some complex characters, a little misdirection here an attempted murder there… I didn’t guess ahead by the way (I certainly tried). I know some reviews are saying they knew at the 25% marker. At the 25% marker I was staring suspiciously at the misdirect, but I didn’t know. And it makes me question whether the people who say they knew ever finished the book. The only part about the story I found hard to believe, was the idea that a mother wouldn’t recognize her own daughter.
Now. The editing. I’m not stupid. I know not everybody who writes, makes it rich. I know professional editors are expensive. But what stops this Maggie Shayne from printing/emailing out a dozen copies to trusted friends and family and saying, “Hey, read through this, when you have time. Highlight spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, dropped punctuation. Notate repetitive phrases, story discrepancies-- anything you’re not sure of and want me to double check its correctness…” Because as close to Maggie Shayne gets to perfect, it isn’t perfect. There were spelling mistakes; silly ones. There were dropped punctuation marks. There were unnecessarily repetitive phrases that subtracted from character complexity…The most obvious being Vince’s aversion to “needy women” that “needy was dangerous”. There had to be more than one way to word his fears and yet we read the same thing again and again and again; it makes Vince sound like a shallow idiot.
If Maggie Shayne’s mystery plot was undoubtedly a slam dunk, then she butchered her romantic subplot like a zombie ripping out Dale’s large intestine (Walking Dead fans will get that). I loved the mystery but I struggle to understand the romantic elements, most of which were cliché. In The Gingerbread Man (and other novels by other authors), romance is again defined as the art of behaving like a douche to your potential significant other and having them love you more for it. I don’t get it and it pisses me off. Don’t forget the heroine is also a Virgin. I just don’t get it. And Virgin is synonymous for (In-The-Closet) Porn Star. And I don’t get it. He says he won’t love you, but don’t worry he’ll change his mind once he sees you naked. I don’t get it.
I give this three stars. Could have been a four star rating with some editing. Could have been five stars if the romantic aspects had been better thought out. But over all, I enjoyed this story enough to consider reading more from this author.