In 1994 Elise Title was still writing Harlequin Romances. In 1996 she turned a page and penned ROMEO, a chilling psychosexual thriller that readers still find riveting. Then, a few years later, she published what would be the first in a new series starring Natalie (Nat) Price. CONVICTION is the third offering in that series.
Price is a savvy law enforcement officer, employed by the state of Massachusetts as the superintendent of Horizon House, a halfway house for prisoners. But when Jessica Asher, a call girl with a high society clientele, is murdered, a tsunami-like scandal breaks in the wake of her death. The tidal wave of public slander could reach into the secret lives of a coterie of powerful men who comprise the movers and shakers in Boston's hoi polloi.
Nat's boss is the Deputy Police Commissioner who liaises between the Corrections Department and the Parole Board. He is a married man and the father of two sons, who Asher was blackmailing. When he emerges as "the suspect most likely," the head of the Department of Corrections wants Natalie to investigate. Could Asher have had her hooks into others with deep pockets and trysts to hide? The only way to find out is to enter her world.
So it won't surprise readers when Natalie goes undercover as a call girl. Adorned in a wig, draped in designer clothes and "faking it" with a padded bra, Price enters Jessica Asher's dangerous playground. Her sleuthing takes her to some of the darkest spots in Boston's vice-ridden underbelly. Things move quickly in this shadowy place, and Natalie has little time to reflect upon how ironic it is that her life is in danger for a man she doesn't even like.
Title is still honing her skills as a writer of police procedurals and has not entirely reprised her startling performance in ROMEO. CONVICTION has its share of melodrama, which emerges when her hero faces a clearly unplanned and unwanted pregnancy; when she becomes involved in an imbroglio of wills with a female colleague; and when she puts the two Carlyle sons, one a disabled man and the other a thug, directly in the line of the investigation into their father's seamy love life. On the debit side, Natalie Price is a compassionate woman and a good law enforcement officer who has her priorities in order. She displays a strong penchant for fairness and getting things done. These qualities work to define her, and if the series continues, she should become even more finely lined.
Elise Title has the ability to write and to tell a story. Both ROMEO and CONVICTION are proof of that and attest to the fact that she also has talent and imagination. With a bit more honing and perhaps a return to more complicated plots, she has a good chance of winning an audience of mystery readers who expect interesting stories, fully believable characters, a fast-paced narrative and sophisticated prose. This book is a perfect beach/vacation read, and in her next appearance, Natalie Price hopefully will appear in full blossom.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on December 28, 2010