Length: 200 pages
My take: 3 out of 5 stars
Riley Paige has her own demons to face. The horrifying memories of the last case that had almost cost her her life still hold her in their grip. But when a woman turns up dead in the outskirts of Virginia, her body grotesquely positioned to mimic a doll, Riley gets an opportunity to fight the fear that is slowly claiming her. Although unsure of whether she should really be back in the field, the knowledge that this is the work of a killer who’s struck before, and who will strike again, makes the decision easy for Riley. And she does what she knows best – slips into the mind of a serial killer and chooses to get obsessed with the case. But the past has a stronger grip on her than she’d first realized. With her personal and professional lives crumbling around her under the strain of the trauma she’s faced, Riley is forced to face questions she may not want answered. Will she ever overcome the fear that continues to haunt her? Has she truly lost the grit that made her who she was? And can she stop the killer who is claiming lives with growing frequency, or will more victims pay the price for her breaking mind?
The first thing to know about Once Gone is that it is, simply put, a fast paced, page turning, crime thriller. It’s got a bit of abnormal psychology in it – the protagonist is, after all, a part of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, but it’s not a psychological thriller as much as it is a crime thriller.
The story itself is really good. It’s got just the right amount of suspense, thrill, background, and detail, and moves along at a brisk pace. But it falls short at the end. It ends very abruptly with almost no real depth to the ‘why’ and ‘how’. It just gives a brief insight into those aspects and that leaves you a bit disappointed.
The characters are decently developed. Most of them are likable, or detestable, as the case may be, even if they have very small roles to play. Pierce has a good way to create very real personalities for the characters. Which is why some aspects, however small, really get to you.
Riley Paige, for instance, is one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever seen, while still managing to be likable. You can feel for her through most of the book, sympathize with her, even associate with her to some extent. But there are also these times where she acts like an absolute blithering, fragile, little thing. And given that she’s supposed to be this tough, excellent-at-her-work agent, you feel like smacking some sense into her. What worsens this is that even though she’s fighting the bad memories from her recent past (and crying about it a whole lot), she still continues to act in the same way that got her into that bad situation in the past in the first place. So it seems like she’s okay with crying about how her life is breaking apart because of one decision gone bad, but she doesn’t want to change the ways that made her take that decision in the first place.
But, Riley is meant to be obsessive and stubborn. And the repetitive behavior could be an indication of her actual personality which is still persisting in spite of everything that is trying to break it. I just wish that Pierce had depicted it slightly better, and not like she was on a constant mood swing. So although you get the meaning behind her actions, it does get annoying that you have to look through layers to be able to see it.
There is constant development with the other characters too. A lot of them come into their own as the book progresses, standing out better and stronger than when it began. And that works well for the storyline. It gives the story a nice rounded off feel rather than making it seem like it rides only on one character who is just about likable.
So what makes it a 3-star read? Its pace and ease to read. Once Gone is not meant to be literary art, it’s meant to be a fast moving crime thriller, and it does its job really well. It’s got just enough twists, turns, psychos, dramas, and trauma to make it a good read for fans for the genre. In fact, it does well enough to make you want to read the others in the series. Which is why I will definitely be reading more of Blake Pierce when I want to read something that is quick, light, and fun.
One thing that does strike you about the book is that it does not paint a rosy picture of a world where there is no evil or where good always trumps bad. Pierce paints a realistic picture of the existence of evil in a world we often assume to be safe and warm. It’s a harsh truth and the author puts it across bluntly enough. It is just something that is put forth, making everything that happens, a part of that truth – and this is a given for the characters and the story.
If you’re looking for something that is going to make you think deep and long about life and society and anything philosophical, Pierce is not the way to go. But I’d definitely recommend the book to anyone who likes TV shows like Criminal Minds, or who enjoys crime thrillers and psychological thrillers. It’s also a great book to take on vacation to read on a flight or drive – short, to the point, and quick.