Love in the Time of Serial Killers, by Alicia Thompson

I am often fooled into picking up contemporary romance books. I read every synopsis and think to myself that this one will break some kind of mold, despite that the story and characters sound exactly like every other book of its kind. The same thoughts whirled through my head when I did a double take at Love in the Time of Serial Killers. On second glance, it seemed natural that true crime would worm its way into such a clean, polished, oft-tread genre as romance. It was out of pure curiosity, rather than actual craving for romance or true crime, that I bought it and read it.

Phoebe Walsh is in the middle of writing a doctorate dissertation on true crime when she learns that her father has suddenly passed away. She drives from North Carolina to Florida to spend the summer at her childhood home, cleaning out her father’s possessions and spending more time with her nearly-estranged brother Connor. But she has a sneaking suspicion that her next-door neighbor, Sam Dennings, might be a secret serial killer, so she sets out to discover his identity. She just never expected to catch feelings for the guy.

Like I said, I went into this book with zero expectations. I would not be surprised if it was good, but less so if it turned out to be run-of-the-mill contemporary schlock. I will say that Phoebe, the main character, was a breath of fresh air. She is a healthy mix of tomboy and awkward, with a very relevant zest for true crime. I like how she felt like a regular person just figuring out her life and trying not to mess it up. She’s honestly the most relatable romantic lead I’ve read in a while.

Sam is also not a cliche romantic lead. He is a nerd who loves music and children and making things, with no beefcake characteristics in sight. He doesn’t really stand out in any other particular way, but I love when a male lead does not conform to the Fabio picture with muscles and sharp chins. Lean guys can be quite attractive too, you know.

Everything else was pretty standard fare, honestly. Although, I’ll probably remember this book best not just because Phoebe is a nicely-defined protagonist but also because of what she is grieving for.

Phoebe’s father was a complicated figure. He flew into rages over the smallest issues, made people feel small, and did not have great emotional intelligence. Phoebe has accepted his death but has some unresolved issues with his parenting, especially with how he didn’t tell Phoebe he loved her or that she made him proud.

I found myself nodding along every time that Phoebe talked about her resentment toward a parental figure, because it’s something that I’ve dealt with before. Like Phoebe, I’ve come to better understand those feelings and why they were there to begin with, and it’s nice to see other characters dealing with those issues.

And that’s about as deep as this book goes. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s about what you’d expect from a book of this caliber. It’s short, it’s enjoyable, anyone with a thirst for true crime stories may like it, and it’s a nice distraction, so there you go.

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