Book Review: Eighty-Eight Keys by Catherine Lavender

eighteightkets_10032012_oneTitle: Eighty-Eight Keys

Author: Catherine Lavender

Genre: Romantic Suspense

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 4 stars

Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Leah is a young woman who is trying to break free from a strict religious background and pursue her dream as a pianist in the world of show business. While trying to find her independence her heart is held captive by Jason Rowe, a local basketball star who established an organization to help troubled youth. When Jason is found murdered in his home, Leah is determined to get answers from a closed investigation. During her state of emotional turmoil, Leah finds comfort not only in the melody of her music, but in the arms of a married man named Calvin. With her dreams at her fingertips, Leah is tangled in a web of lies and deceit. Despite the fear of learning the truth, Leah has to realize that only the truth can set her free.

A dead lover, with a trail of broken hearts…
A married man, with a double-life…
A dream chaser, with a killer at her heels…
A piano, with eighty-eight keys…

I’m having a hard time coming up with a proper rating for Eighty-Eight Keys. The book is a romantic murder-mystery with main character Leah stuck in the middle of something she barely understands. Her lover, Jason, was murdered. Now Leah is left to pick up the pieces. The police has no clue as to who’s done it, and the trail has reached a dead end. Occupied with hosting a charity gala for the foundation Bright Horizon, a foundation Jason helped established, she’s caught in the middle of schemes and plots. Rosa, the mother of Jason’s son, little Jay-Jay, helps out at Bright Horizon as well, and she’s the last person Leah wants to see.

But then Leah gets knocked out while at work and Tanvir, one of the other employees, gets attacked and falls into a coma. It looks like whoever killed Jason isn’t done with them yet. There may be more murders before the culprit gives up. Leah has to find out why and who, not ust for her sake, but also for Jason’s. Meanwhile she tries to get over Jason by dating another man, Calvin, who happens to be married. As Leah tries to solve the mystery, she also tries to find who she truly is.

My main issue with this book were the characters. Some of them fell kind of flat, like Coach Turner and Tanvir. We’re introduced to them, but that’s all. Their purpose in the book is minimal at best, so I didn’t understand why some parts of the book were from their POV. I think it would’ve made more sense to leave that out, since they’re small, insignificant characters anyway.Marla, Calvin’s wife didn’t have much personality either, yet again she gets some scenes from her POV. I actually felt sorry for her, and I didn’t mind her scenes, but I’d rather the story would’ve been more focused on the mystery at hand than dwelling off into several directions.

Some of the other characters do have personality, like Calvin, Leah’s newest love interest. To be honest, I barely understand the reason why Calvin would be introduced in the book in the first place. Making the main character likeable isn’t going to be easy if you have her snooping around with a married man, so this overly complicates things. Leah isn’t the most likeable person in the world from the get-go, but this just made everything worse for me. If actual feelings are involved then I can live with ‘home wreckers’ and adultery, but here it seemed so…random. Calvin is a pretty awful character. What little personality traits he has, they’re all awful. He’s the kind of spineless jerk who can’t stay faithful to one woman, and who can’t stand being on his own, so he jumps from date to date, cheating on his wife Marla like it’s a national sport. While that makes him an awful person, it actually had the potential to turn him into an interesting, dynamic book character. However, he fell a little flat, and this made his actions incomprehensible and random at times. I disliked him from the get-go.

What’s worse is that I disliked Jason as well. All right, he never makes a real appearance in this book except through memories – he’s dead the moment the book starts- but that doesn’t mean I can’t come up with my opinion about him. And my opinion is that he’s kind of a bastard. All right, they can try to blame Rosa as much as they want about trying to tie him down to her, but in all honesty, he was the one who chose to have sex with Rosa, which ended up in Jay-Jay being born. Rosa is a fierce woman, but she clearly loves Jay-Jay. Yet Jason was determined to ‘take his son and run’. Right, because that shows he’s the best Dad ever, and a responsible adult. The excuse for this woudl be that Rosa threatened to do the same. Two wrongs never made a right before, and it doesn’t happen here either. I actually thought Rosa was more likeable than Jason, and while I understand some of the nasty feelings toward Rosa, I thought she had every right to feel nasty feelings toward Leah as well.

But Rosa isn’t the only woman Jason cheated on Leah with. He was also having an affair or something – it’s never really mentioned if it was a full-blown affair or not – with Claudia, a mysterious woman who once send him a love letter. So really, I have no freaking idea why Leah, Rosa, or anyone else would like the man. He clearly clarifies for the title of ‘scumbag of the year’ along with Calvin. Jason keeps on telling Leah he’s not ready for a full relationship and the troubles that come with that, yet he’s willing to settle down with Rosa and his little son. He keeps Leah on a string, and it angered me.

Then there’s something else. Leah. She’s the main character of this book and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to like her. I just couldn’t. It’s not that she’s mean or anything, but she’s just so ignorant. She acts like a sixteen-year-old girl instead of a grown-up woman. She goes around and dates Calvin although she knows he had a kid, without once bothering to wonder what could possibly have happened with the kid’s Mom. Even when she finds out Calvin is married, she happily goes on dating him after throwing a tantrum. Uhm. Right. That move certainly didn’t add to her credibility. She never really stops to think about Jason’s son either when she’s dating him, or the consequences it might have on the little kid that his Dad is seeing other women. And the moment she lands in Vegas, she instantly starts dating yet another guy, forgetting all about Calvin, Jason, etc. First of all – the meeting with Austin, the Vegas guy, was weird. I wouldn’t trust that, but Leah, although thinking he’s a creepy stalker at first, quickly changes her mind and hangs out with him. Why is every guy she meets interested in her? And why does she have to say yes to every person who asks her out? On top of that, her mind isn’t focused. She’s supposedly still mourning over Jason, but when she’s with Calvin or Austin, it sure looks like she’s moved on rather quickly. She’s trying to find who murdered Jason, but meanwhile she’s focused on her own journey to finding herself. I truly supported the latter, and thought that, especially for a character like Leah, some soul-searching would be great, but when Tanvir was attacked, it seemed logical to me she’d jump on the case and try to solve it asap. Why? She’d been attacked earlier, and the attack on Tanvir was obviously a lot more brutal, so wouldn’t she at least have considered herself in danger?

Oh, and that said, when Tanvir was attacked and put in a coma, the police was pretty much absent, like through the rest of the book. Even if they have no leads, the police handled the case rather disinterested here, and I don’t think it would happen that easily in real life. There’s protocol, and if a friend of a recent murder victim was brutally attacked, the police would look into it.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff. Because there is a lot of good stuff here too. The idea behind the book was intriguing, the build-up suspenseful. If the book had focused only on the murder mystery, or more profoundly on the murder mystery, it would’ve probably gotten a higher rating from me. As it stands, the plot is a bit all over the place. There’s the murder, the upcoming gala, the many murder suspects lining up, Leah doing her soul-searching. It would’ve worked if the book had been longer, but in its current form, it’s too much too soon, and it makes the book hard to follow. I was trying to find out who’d done it – like I usually do with mystery books – but because of the various directions the plot took, I had trouble focusing on the mystery. However, when it’s revealed who’s done it and why, and all the strings come together, then the plot starts to make sense. There are still some storylines left unresolved, but the main plot ties up nicely.

The writing itself was good, but it could use another proofreading round. There were about ten places I counted – and my grammar isn’t perfect either – where there should’ve been commas that had been left out. That aside though, the pace is solid, the style isn’t too flowery or descriptive, and the author obviously has a rich vocabulary and isn’t afraid to use it.

All that taken into account, I did enjoy the book. I wish the plot had been more consistent and the characters more likeable, but c’est la vie, and it’s actually quite refreshing to read a book about a main character I don’t like at all. The suspense build-up was solid, the writing was good and the overall reading experience pleasant. For a debut novel, I think the author did rather well. I’m looking forward to reading more books by this author in the future. If you’re a fan of the genre, this is a decent, quick and enjoyable read.

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