Dying Scream by Mary Burton

A murder mystery set in Virginia, USA – Intriguing.

When Adrianna Barrington, the beautiful wife of Craig Thornton, decides to sell her dead husband’s estate to pay off a mountain of debt, it triggers off a sequence of events that lead to murder.

Craig Thornton, a blue-blooded Virginian, was the last surviving heir of the Colonies. He died two years previously in a tragic car accident that left Adrianna penniless and a legacy of deceit and alleged affairs – Thornton and Barrington family secrets that are to be protected at all costs – and by any means.

One of those secrets is that Adrianna finds out she was adopted as a baby to replace a presumed cot death, and she struggles to come to terms with her own identity and how the baby died.

Now, the new owner of the Colonies wants the family graves evacuated, and Adrianna is caught up in a saga of unsolved crimes when two skeletons are discovered in the grounds. Then a series of loving messages arrive from someone who is pretending to be Craig Thornton, a mystery person, who is also a killer.

Detective Gage Hudson, an ex-boyfriend of Adrianna, never forgave her for marrying Craig Thornton, and it’s his case. He thinks the skeletons are missing females that had secret affairs with Thornton and were killed by him – a speculation that is abruptly refuted when a fresh body is found in the woods – and identified as the woman that was driving the car that killed Thornton.

Hudson, caught up in his reborn emotional entanglement with Adrianna, realises that a serial killer is at large, a serial killer who will continue to kill to protect the Thornton reputation and to win Adrianna.

This is the fourth crime novel by Mary Burton and, while the storyline is strong, I felt the characters (apart from the killer who was chilling) were lacklustre, lacking sparkle, and the writing clichéd, as if painting by numbers. For example, every time a character was introduced – there were many – there followed a bland description of what they were wearing; to me a stereotyped info dump that didn’t engage me – in fact, it was annoying.

Similarly with scene setting descriptions loaded with metaphors, and wooden dialogue dotted with numerous adjectives and adverbs. For example, what is “a nervous hand”? What is “a small cry escaped Adrianna”?

Here is one segment near the end of the story that seems meaningless character behaviour at that point:

Adrianna hung up and stared at the rumpled bed. She’d made her bed almost every day of her life and had never questioned the chore.

And now, in the grand scheme, worry over something so trivial seemed stupid. She left the bed as it was and got dressed. Fifteen minutes later, she left her unmade bed and got into her Land Rover.

Maybe, I’m being too harsh – but I would expect better from a critically acclaimed author. In fact the teaser prologue into her next book “Senseless” was much more engaging – that sparkled.

Bottom line: excellent book cover and blurb, intriguing story, creepy killer – otherwise forgettable.

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