Book Review: Karen Robard’s “The Last Kiss Goodbye” — a different kind of ghost story

You all know my fondness for a good romance novel, especially when it’s mixed with suspense.  Karen Robards has been a reliable writer in that regard, whether she’s writing historicals or contemporaries.  Too often romance novels are claustrophic books with the central pair waltzing around each other in a sea of misunderstandings.  Robards, however, has a knack for writing taut thrillers that are genuinely enjoyable, entirely separate from the romance part.

With the recent passion for vampires and other supernatural characters, Robards has decided to try her hand at the genre as well.  Her first paranormal book was The Last Victim: A Novel (Charlotte Stone). The heroine is Dr. Charlotte Stone, who witnessed a serial killer — the “Boardwalk Killer” — in action and who went on to become a psychiatrist specializing in what makes serial killers tick. She also sees dead people.

The plot gets going when Stone is at a prison interviewing a serial killer named Michael Garland, who has God-like looks and a dirty mouth. Garland gets stabbed by another inmate and, despite Stone’s best efforts, he dies. Garland’s ghost immediately attaches to Stone and won’t go away. While she’s adjusting to this haunting, an FBI team, led by a good-looking agent, approaches her for help.  The FBI believes the Boardwalk Killer has returned and Stone is their best bet to stop him. The rest of the book has Stone and the FBI racing to catch a killer, while Stone finds herself torn between the FBI agent and the good-looking ghost of a convicted serial killer.

As the book goes on, it becomes very obvious that the serial killer is winning Stone’s heart — which means either that Robards has become one strange lady as a writer or that the serial killer was falsely convicted. And that’s kind of where Book 1 ends: with Stone losing her heart to a ghost we can no longer believe is a serial killer (although there’s no evidence to the contrary) and, of course, with the whole team solving the crime.

Book 2 in the series is The Last Kiss Goodbye: A Novel, which comes out in August (I was able to get as a preview copy).  The book picks up immediately where the last one left off, within hours of Stone having successfully solved the previous murder.  Garland is still a ghost, Stone is still conflicted, and the FBI still needs Stone because there’s another serial killer out there.  In other words, there’s nothing new about The Last Kiss Goodbye.  If you enjoyed the first book, which had Robards’ trademark pacing and sizzling romance, you’ll like this one, which has Robards’ trademark pacing and sizzling romance.

I wouldn’t rank The Last Kiss Goodbye as one of Robards’ best books but, in her defense, I’m not a fan of the whole paranormal genre.  I prefer it when my romantic heroes are real people, not vampires, or werewolves, or ghosts.  I just don’t see where a romance can reasonably go when the hero’s instinct is to suck your blood or dismember you or when, as here, he’s dead.  Believe it or not, though, Robards does manage to work around the whole sex thing, which gives hope that, in subsequent books, Stone and Garland will get to live (or die) happily ever after.

Overall, I don’t regret reading this book.  I never regret reading Robards’ books.  I just can’t rave about it because (a) the premise is a little too strange for me and (b) Book 2 has a slightly recycled feel to it.  I will certainly read Book 3 in the series (I assume there’ll be one), because even when she’s a little disappointing, Robards is still a cut above the rest.