In this debut novel, Terri Persons combines the supernatural with crime-solving in a thriller that features a new and unusual protagonist. Bernadette Saint Claire has been pushed from pillar to post by the FBI due to her unusual methods. Landing herself in a new town, St. Paul, with a new boss and a basement office, Bernadette finds herself arriving just in time to help solve a string of grisly murders.
Bernadette’s gift - or curse - is the ability to see through the eyes of a killer simply by holding an object the killer has touched. A handy tool, one would think, for an investigator, but her visions are not always clear. She has in the past misinterpreted her visions and seems uneasy with her abilities.
Someone is brutally murdering people and chopping off their right hands; the bodies and hands are turning up separately. The killer’s anger is appallingly observable in the vicious beatings inflicted upon the victims. The victims are linked only in that they have been tried or accused of crimes themselves. Is there someone with vengeance on their nefarious minds? But who - and why chop off one hand?
In a lucky stroke for Bernadette, one of the hands found has a ring on the finger that the killer has touched. Now she has an instrument to see through the eyes of the killer to obtain clues to his identity and hopefully throw some light on his reasons and whereabouts. Of course, since she sees through his eyes she cannot see his face, but she can feel his anger and his fear.
To complicate things in her new home and new life, a mysterious, handsome neighbor is determined to woo Bernadette. He becomes part of the mystery when he gives her some advice that proves pertinent.
For a series to be successful, the sleuth needs to be clever, adept and, if not likeable, at least have the character to pull you in. Bernadette is likeable enough, but she is not the most well-rounded character, and her crime-solving abilities need some work.
In fact the story, could do with some work. There are quite a few flaws, although Blind Spot is generally well-written and Persons has a decent voice which I am sure she can develop. It is difficult to spill too many details without requiring a spoiler alert.
That this book features elements of the supernatural may put some people off, though it has been done successfully and there is certainly an audience. Kay Hooper has done many books featuring psychic detectives, many in the FBI. She excels at suspense and may very well be the queen of paranormal thrillers, especially with her successful Shadows series. Persons will have to pull her socks up to be compared to Hooper, whose novels feature top-notch crime-solving, suspense and character development using psychic elements, rather than making the psychic element the main theme.
Many books revolve around female FBI agents or female sleuths solving crimes without supernatural elements, but psychic or not, the characters, plots, twists and turns should meticulously executed to keep readers on the edge of their seats. At present, Persons could not be compared to Cornwell, Reichs or Fairstein, but there are signs of potential.
So why does this book not quite make the cut? The first problem, which many avid crime readers may notice, is the convenient fact that the killer touched the ring that becomes Bernadette’s touchstone, her connection to the killer. If he did touch it, should it not have gone to the lab for an examination for fingerprints or DNA rather than being handed over to Bernadette by the medical examiner? And what decent serial killer doesn’t wear gloves these days? Her abilities should be most difficult to use, as rarely does a killer leave his mark behind so clearly. If he were that bumbling, a psychic FBI agent would not be needed; the villain would be apprehended in a flash through pure forensic investigation.
Some elements in this novel are obviously meant to be twists, but instead of the usual ‘ah-ha’ that accompanies such revelations, the reader is left pondering how on earth it took Bernadette so long to come to the conclusion. The greatest problem is that Bernadette, while revealing interesting snippets from her old life before St. Paul, including the source of her curious abilities, seems to lack basic common sense and detective abilities despite her continued insistence that she uses conventional as well as psychic methods.
The only place where she can concentrate enough to accomplish her psychic work is a church. The religious bent may be there to contrast with her unearthly skill, but Bernadette also holds herself out to be a Catholic. Her meetings with a priest confuse rather than help her, though. Relevant religious references easily deduced by myself, someone who has attended a church service once and been taught only occasionally at school anything about the Bible, escape this person brought up as a Catholic. Has she never opened a Bible?
Bernadette is too wrapped up in her special methods to see what is happening around her. She makes no effort to profile the killer or learn about the victims other than that they have all been accused of crimes themselves; even this fact she does not assign enough significance at first. She makes mistakes and reads thing incorrectly, so she struggles to deduce things that the reader has long ago realized.
In the book’s favor is Bernadette’s relationship with her new boss. Although skeptical of her abilities, he is nonetheless much more accepting than others she has worked with. He is something of an enigma, changing moods towards Bernadette: he acts the boss sometimes and friend at others. The relationship is sometimes tense, yet the pair demonstrates signs of being a great love/hate crime-solving duo of the future.
One twist in the novel, although it has little to do with the actual case at hand, is a surprise and gives a new basis to build upon in future novels. This fuels the hope that Persons will grow as a mystery/thriller author.
This is basically a good first attempt at a thriller with a fair number of suspenseful moments, although some wrinkles need to be ironed out. Persons needs to work on Bernadette’s detecting abilities and be careful not to make her unaware of what is blatant to the reader. Clues need to be better disguised, and she needs to decide what the kernel of the narrative and character is – someone who is psychic and religious and struggling with it, or someone who catches serial killers using everything in her power?
Terri Persons is a former reporter and freelance magazine writer who lives in the Midwest with her husband and two sons. I am sure we will hear more soon if Blind Spot becomes popular and a “Bernadette” series ensues.