A review of Beauty of Fear, by L. E. Perez

Read July 2014

ONLINE SUMMARY: The First One died to pique her interest,
The Second to touch her soul.
The Third One died to steal her peace,
The Fourth makes Fear, his goal.

Violence leaves a stain on your soul, and the fear that accompanies that violence can never be removed. It can be hidden, shadowed, and put away, but throw in just the right set of circumstances and it will blossom once again.
Leigh Ramirez has been through a lot in her short life: an abusive husband, raising two kids on her own, and two near death experiences on the job. All she wants now is to get back to a sense of normalcy, in her life and at work. She wants to move on from all that’s happened to her. It was her decision to leave police work and put that life behind her, but when a young girl is found dead in a local park with something of Leigh’s in her hand, Leigh is lured back into the world she left behind.
Someone wants Leigh to experience the beauty of fear. They want her to live it, feel it, and breathe it.
As young women continue to turn up dead, their resemblance to Leigh is lost on no one, least of all her. Each victim found takes a piece of her soul, steals more of her peace. It doesn’t take long for Leigh to realize that this can have only one end. Even while her friends try to protect her, Leigh refuses to go into hiding and is ultimately forced to face her greatest fear, as it threatens both her children’s lives and her own.

MY REVIEW:

Note: this review refers to the 99-cent Kindle edition of this book.

I found L. E. Perez’s Beauty of Fear while browsing sappicabooks.net. (If you enjoy fiction with lesbian characters and want to support some talented indie writers, I encourage you to check out the site.) Beauty of Fear is a really good story with some terrific characters. A thriller, well, more of a chiller, actually, with a nascent romance providing a nice counterpoint to the more grisly aspects. The writing, from a narrative standpoint, is quite well done; unfortunately, there are plenty of copy-editing issues, about which more, later, that prevent the book from being all it could be.

Leigh Ramirez and Jordan Samuels, the two principal characters, are likable and we come quickly to care about them. Strength and loyalty define their friendship. Perez does a great job of showing Leigh’s increasing alarm as the events unfold and escalate. Leigh’s emotions alternate between nearly succumbing completely to abject fear and then finding an implacable will to survive and to protect her two daughters. This seems perfectly natural given the circumstances. Jordan’s unwavering support of her friend is a highlight of her character. Leigh’s and Jordan’s realization that their relationship may be verging on something more than just friendship provides a nice counterpoint to the more climactic elements of the story. The idea of two male characters who are “crushing” on Leigh doesn’t ring quite as true to me, for some reason, but despite that, it adds another level of complexity.

Perez does an especially good job creating suspense: The serial killer is a genuine “wack job,” every bit as menacing as Gerritsen’s Hoyt or Cornwell’s Temple Gault. She also deftly shows us Leigh’s rising terror, but counterbalances it with a the firm resolve to prevail no matter what. The alternation of tense, dramatic events with the characters’ personal interactions keeps the sense of foreboding and terror from overwhelming us while at the same time heightening that suspense by creating anticipation.

The narrative style is 3rd person limited with the POV shifting between various characters, though largely centered on Leigh. Scenes from the perspective of characters other than the two principles are fairly brief, but the author still manages to give the supporting characters sufficient depth. My favorite minor character by far is Leigh’s mid-teen daughter, Victoria. Though obviously out of her depth in the violent, traumatic events taking place, she displays a strength and resiliency equal to her mother’s.

From a strictly narrative standpoint, the writing is very proficient, fluid, well-paced and emotionally moving. No question, Perez knows how to write and how to involve the reader in her tale. From a purely mechanical point of view, though, things don’t quite measure up. While I understand that what I read was a 99-cent offering, capable copy-editing would have significantly improved the reading experience. There are lots of missing commas, and places where existing commas could be omitted. There are also more than a few cases where words are obviously left out of sentences. I wouldn’t consider these to be egregious mistakes, more an annoyance, really, but things like disagreement in number between pronoun and antecedent, or incorrect use of pronouns (“between she and I” instead of “between her and me”) do seem to fall in the former category. The problem, of course, is that any kind of mechanical error, however minor, lifts the reader out of the story; the focus, even if only briefly, is on the surface, the actual words on the page, rather than on the tale being told. This is a disservice not only to the reader but also to the writer: a story this good, and otherwise this well-written deserves better.

Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed Beauty of Fear, an entertaining and often compelling read. By virtue of the characters and the almost visceral dramatic impact, I definitely recommend it. I hope the author will bring Leigh and Jordan back in another novel. In any case, I’ll almost certainly turn to more of Perez’s work at some point and, given that whole “so many books, so little time” conundrum, I think that says a great deal.