I’ve recently read three of Iris Johansen’s books, three of Karin Slaughter’s, and most of John Sandford’s. I cannot recommend Iris Johansen to anyone who is interested in actual detective fiction, although that is the section in which we at The Book Shop display her novels. We put them there because we don’t have an “adventurous romantic wish fulfillment” section. The underlying plot of each of the three I’ve read is the same–a supposedly independent woman becomes embroiled in a nasty, life threatening situation not of her own making. Also involved is a smart, dangerous, good looking man who comes to protect her, and he naturally falls deeply in love with her during the ensuing adventure, and she with him. The specifics of the individual plots are not uninteresting, but the unbelievable progression of the romance and the poor writing are too profound to overcome. I won’t be reading any more of them.
Karin Slaughter has a much better style, and while we do learn about characters’ personal lives, they are not a predictable as Johansen’s. Her stories are well put together, complicated, and exciting. The only drawback from my point of view are the horrific depictions of violence to which we are subjected. Even recurring characters are the victims of difficult to stomach abuse by criminals, and when they survive, there doesn’t seem to be any devastating emotional effect of the ordeal. Victims are still functional, and while sometimes reminded of the abuse, manage to live their lives quite normally. I try to remind myself that it is fiction, after all.
Similarly, Sandford’s stories are intricately plotted and keep us eager to find out who done it. His characters are sympathetic and, of course, noble, brave, and honorable. We like them. But as with Slaughter, the violence can be downright nauseating, and victims of it seem to bounce back with no ill effect. He also has a tendency to pile up the bodies, increasing the actual murder rate in Minnesota to a quite unbelievable degree.
Overall, I’ll keep reading Sandford and Slaughter. As dreadful as the violence is, it’s easier to take than the fantasy romance Iris Johansen makes us slog through.