Review: What’s in a Name? by Angela Breen (2020)

Department of Second Chances, Book 1

Heat Factor: Just when I was beginning to suspect it would be no sex… BAM

Character Chemistry: There was so much going on in the suspense plot, the relationship between the protagonists was relatively superficial

Plot: FBI agent + attractive single mother + serial killer

Overall: I’m not entirely sure how to reconcile my feelings about the first half of the book (chilling serial killer drama) with my feelings about the second half of the book (why are these characters so frustrating?)

In terms of audience, I’m probably the right audience for this book. I don’t go for the romantic suspense first, but I used to watch crime shows like they were going out of style. This book is like a cross between Mindhunter and Criminal Minds. Which are both pretty dark, so if that’s not your jam, this probably won’t be either, but it very reasonably could have been mine. 

What I thought as I read What’s in a Name? was that I understand what Holly means when she says that if she wants suspense she’ll just go for suspense rather than romantic suspense. Where this book is concerned, I was forced to consider if my expectation was not properly calibrated for romantic suspense. This was because the serial killer plot line was…killer. It was so intense that I had to take a break for a couple of days. The prologue was chilling. The drama exciting and suspenseful.

But all of that substance in the serial killer plot situation meant that there was not as much depth as I’m accustomed to in the romance, so the romance didn’t quite work for me. I wasn’t clear on why they kept working so hard at being together (or later, why he in particular was SO committed to her) when 1. They can’t manage to go to dinner ever and 2. They live in different states, and the hero was only in town for a training with the local PD. So maybe love at first sight? But they spend very little time together. Ergo, much of the romantic drama felt superficial and very much secondary to the serial killer drama. But maybe that’s normal and I just don’t have the right expectation for romantic suspense so I need to recalibrate when I pick one up. 

Breen also has her characters doing some emotionally messy stuff, and I tend to struggle with emotional and irrational characterizations more than Holly or Ingrid, so that impacted my read as well.

There was one point when I was trying to figure out if I was being unreasonable because I was beginning to have an inkling that the characters were making bad decisions. I was extremely frustrated by this, erm, remarkably unintelligent behavior. (It really wasn’t an inkling, it was actually already an enraging decision. She was going to go back to the same town where her abusive ex lived after escaping him and keeping her whereabouts secret from him for over a year, and she just decides to throw that away because REASONS and I was like, NO.) Then I read a few more pages, got more frustrated, and asked my husband a similar question.

Holly and Ingrid, accustomed to my frustrations with people, tried to point out some ways I might be just a wee bit unreasonable because people aren’t always rational. My husband, also accustomed to me being ranty, simply kept telling me that obviously this was all reasonable because PLOT, and really, what did I expect because PLOT. (For real, he actually used the word plot, I’m not abbreviating that.) So I was left feeling like I was perhaps slightly unreasonable but still annoyed. So maybe if you enjoy emotionally messy characters and romantic suspense, this will work for you.

The other aspect of this that I struggled with in terms of my own reasonableness was that it’s set in 1997. An aside – I suspected this setting based on clues early on, but I only had reason to suspect because I happen to know that the FBI’s BSU changed to the BAU, although I had to look up precisely when, and because the gas station wasn’t self-service and I was like, “WTF is this, it’s not set in New Jersey”. But then also the name of the guy who helped start the BSU was not correct, so I thought maybe I was wrong about interpreting the temporal setting if this other information was wrong. Holly and Ingrid were like, “Wow, you’re a nerd, who cares?” Answer: ME, I CARE. And I didn’t get confirmation that the setting was 1997 until a quarter through the book, which is probably too late to establish setting. But back to the point – this really does matter, because it’s set in the 90s, but the 90s are close enough to contemporary that it’s hard to separate my modern expectations for how these people should behave from the way BAU agents would have been operating in the 90s. That was 20 years ago, things have changed significantly in 20 years. So I kept having to force myself to remember that maybe they didn’t know that something was a legitimately awful idea in the 90s. On the other hand, I never studied psych in my life, so even someone in the BAU 20 years ago maybe should not have been making decisions that made me want to SCREAM. I guess we’ll never know.

On the other hand, the setting of the 90s was really good/interesting because Breen was able to delve into some seriously problematic misogynistic behaviors and make them work for her. I think we often think that some of those behaviors are outdated nowadays, and we’re also able to say, “We’re past those caveman days!” when we read Regencies, so a modern historical setting was a solid reminder that some of these behaviors are totally not things of the past. Basically this was an interesting exercise in historical romance. 

I mulled over a lot of stuff while reading this book. It was much more mental work than I expected it to be, which is more interesting to me than frustrating or annoying. Challenging oneself to think about gut reactions is good, right? So I guess this was an interesting read overall, but it’s definitely not going to be for everyone.

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

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