Tag: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Bad Blood (Naturals #4)

Cover image for Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnesby Jennifer Lynn Barnes

ISBN 978-148475732-1

“Without order, there is chaos. Without order, there is pain. The wheel turns. Lives are forfeit. Seven masters. Seven ways of killing. This time, it will be fire. Nine will burn. So it has been decreed, and so it must be. The wheel is already turning. There is an order to things. And at the center of all of it—all of it—is you.”

When Cassie joined the Naturals program, she hoped that she might find a way to solve her mother’s murder. But Lorelai Hobbes isn’t dead but rather has spent the past several years in the hands of a cult of serial killers. Now the next Fibonacci date is rapidly approaching, and soon the ritualized murders will start again. But the race against the clock is interrupted when the Naturals are called in to consult on the disappearance of Celine Delacroix, the daughter of Thatcher Townsend’s business partner. Michael is only days from his eighteenth birthday, and being free of his abusive father forever, but seems that Townsend Senior isn’t willing to let go so easily. Now the Naturals have two problems on their hands, and time is running out.

When it comes to mysteries, I generally prefer cases were the detective is not being personally targeted. Writers usually use this technique to increase the stakes, but it more often jumps the shark. Going from individual serial killers to a cult of serial killers further ups the ante. Combine the two, and it is safe to say Bad Blood can get a little melodramatic. The series finale is naturally the most grandiose, graduating from serial killers to cults of ritualistic serial murders with clear ties to the disappearance of Cassie’s mother. However, at this point in the series I am much more invested in the characters than the plot.

As Michael’s eighteenth birthday draws near, we learn more about his relationship with his abusive father. Michael and Lia also get back together, and inevitably end up engaged in the conflicts that come from always know what your significant other is feeling, or when they are lying. The unusual dynamic created within the group by the Naturals’ uncanny skills remains one of the strongest aspects of this series. The presence of a cult also shines a light on Lia’s past life growing up under similar circumstances. Unfortunately this was not explored in depth, but it was still an interesting peek at her past.

I was particularly delighted to see a love interest for Sloane introduced in this volume. Jennifer Lynn Barnes has made it amply clear throughout the series that despite her social awkwardness, Sloane cares deeply for her friends and fellow Naturals. She also suffered tremendously from losing her brother in All In. It was great to see Barnes show Sloane’s romantic side, and it was a sweet grace note for the series to introduce a new character who appreciates her for who she is.

Bad Blood brings the Naturals series to a dramatic close. It has been a fun ride, and I am going to miss these characters.

All In (Naturals #3)

Cover image for All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

ISBN 978-148471643-4

“It’s always personal…Even when it’s not.”

After finally receiving permission to consult on active cases, Cassie Hobbes and the rest of the Naturals are called in to assist with an unusual string of murders in Sloane’s hometown of Las Vegas. This new serial killer is unpredictable; everything from the type of victim, to the location, to the murder weapon varies with each new kill. The only thing that is a consistent is a string of numbers inscribed by various means on the bodies of the victims. As rest of the team watches suspect interviews and struggles to profile the illusive killer, Sloane tries to crack the code, hoping that it will help them figure out when and where the killer will strike again. It might be their hardest case yet, but the Naturals team is also distracted by personal problems stemming from their unusual childhoods. Michael has recently come to a troubling new agreement with his abusive father, Sloane is preoccupied by trying to keep a secret from her Las Vegas past, and for the first time since her disappearance, there has been a break in Cassie’s mother’s case.

Following up on The Naturals (2013), and Killer Instinct (2014), All In retains many of the elements that made the first two books strong. The members of the Naturals program have become one another’s chosen family, but their unique skills ensure an unusual dynamic and spirited banter between them. Jennifer Lynn Barnes also continues to incorporate the creepy “You” sections that take readers into the head of the killer in the same way that Dean and Cassie try to get in their heads when they are profiling. Setting the story in Sloane’s hometown finally reveals more about a character that hovered on the periphery of previous installments, and we also get a couple of key glimpses at Lia’s old life, as well.

A common tactic in mystery and thriller novels is to make it personal by putting the protagonist in the way of danger, or having the case link to their tragic past. Cassie has already been held hostage by killers twice when their cases got personal, so this is a dynamic that Barnes has used extensively in the series. All In more than doubles down on this technique, linking to the past of some characters, while actively targeting other members of the Naturals team. Even Judd, who is supposed to be responsible for remaining objective and prioritizing the well-being of his charges, find ghosts from his past turning up in unexpected places in this case. Barnes no longer has to find excuses to pull the Naturals off cold cases and into the action, but she is still relying on other favoured plot devices, such as personal vendettas, and new murders mimicking cold cases.

As Barnes moves from episodic murder cases to revealing some large elements of her overarching plot for the series, All In undergoes a rather sudden tone shift, from a CSI or Criminal Minds-like vibe to a more Da Vinci Code-type feel. These revelations have broad implications that would tend to ensure that the next volume in the series will have to continue in this direction. It is still possible to make it all work, but the tone has changed dramatically. Currently, no title or publication date has been announced for the next installment.

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Killer Instinct (Naturals #2)

Cover image for Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnesby Jennifer Lynn Barnes

ISBN 978-142316832-4

“If my instincts are so good, I wondered, then why didn’t I see this coming?”

Thanks to her natural talent as profiler, Cassie Hobbes has earned a spot in a secret FBI program that prepares gifted teens to enter the service. The Naturals are only supposed to work on cold cases, but they find themselves pulled into an active case yet again when a copycat killer starts mimicking murders committed by Dean’s psychopathic father. There’s a good chance the killer has been in contact with Daniel Redding, but there’s only one person Daniel will talk to. Just when Cassie thought she was making progress at getting Dean to let her in, revisiting his father’s murders causes him to push her away once more. At the same time, the Naturals program comes under scrutiny from above, when Director Sterling sends his daughter, Agent Veronica Sterling, to fill the space left by Agent Locke’s departure.

Jennifer Lynne Barnes again uses the device of new kills mimicking a cold case to pull the Naturals into the fray, getting around the prohibition on working active cases. This time, it is Dean’s past that is excavated as we learn about his father’s possessive behaviour, and his efforts to turn Dean into his protégé. The novel is a lot like a serial procedural drama, in that you could easily pick up the series from Killer Instinct, without reading The Naturals, but it is always better to know the backstory. And since there’s no avoiding mentioning whodunit in book one, it’s probably best not to read out of order. Even though the characters have special talents and insights, the mystery is fast-paced and suspenseful. Barnes conforms to the conventions of the genre, while also keeping you guessing. Interspersed with Cassie’s narrations are the eerie second-person “YOU” sections that take the reader inside the mind of the killer, offering tantalizing clues.

The hook of the Naturals series lies in combining the teenage sleuth with crime drama, and seeing what happens next. The Naturals program consists of damaged kids with secrets and hang ups and the group dynamic is complicated, both by their romantic entanglements and their ability to read one another. Cassie remains torn between Michael and Dean, while Lia is still running interference between them. Cassie and Lia’s relationship could use some development that goes beyond Lia’s sisterly protectiveness of Dean and jealous behaviour regarding Michael. Sloane is a bit of an outsider in all of this, as usual. But despite the conflicts, the group is further bonded together by their mutual dislike of Agent Sterling, and their desire to keep Dean from being hurt by being in contact with his father once again.

The title and cover for Naturals #3 are still under wraps, but Barnes has revealed that book three—due out November 2015—will be set in Las Vegas, and delve into the backgrounds of two more of the Naturals. Since Las Vegas is Sloane’s hometown, hopefully her backstory is due to be revealed. As much as I love Sloane’s social awkwardness and preoccupation with statistics, I wanted to see more from her character. We did get a flash, when her feelings were hurt because Cassie left her out of a plan. Hopefully, with Naturals #3 set in Sloane’s hometown, her backstory will finally round out an already interesting character. If you enjoyed book one, Killer Instinct delivers more of the same.

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Check out Book One:

Cover image for The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn BarnesThe Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Naturals

Cover image for The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnesby Jennifer Lynn Barnes

ISBN 978-1-4231-6823-2

I stopped talking about the killer—and started talking to him. ‘You want them to see you. You want to stand over them. And as they lie there dying, or maybe even after they’re dead, you can’t help but touch them. You straighten their clothes. You lay their arms out to the side.’ I stared at the picture of the girl he’d attacked from behind and something else struck me about it. ‘You think they’re beautiful, but girls like that, women like that, they never see you.’ I paused. ‘So you make them see you.’

Seventeen-year-old Cassie Hobbes has lived with her Nonna and her father’s extended family since her mother, Lorelai, a stage psychic and fraudster, was presumably murdered in her dressing room when Cassie was twelve, though her body was never found. But Cassie has never fit in with her father’s family, so when Special Agent Tanner Briggs offers her the opportunity to join a unique FBI training program for young people with special talents, Cassie can’t pass it up, even though it ostensibly has nothing to do with her mother’s cold case, and even though Michael, one of the members of the program, warns her away. Cassie is a natural profiler, adept at reading people and intuiting their motivations. Standoffish Dean is a profiler like her, while inscrutable Michael reads emotions, capricious Lia detects lies, and ingenious Sloane crunches numbers better than a computer. Technically, the Naturals aren’t allowed in the field, and can only work on assigned cold cases, but when Cassie’s presence in the program brings her to the attention of a serial killer, they will have to find a way to get in on the case in order to save their newest member.

Fans of TV procedural crime shows from CSI to Criminal Minds will be intrigued by Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ new YA series, which throws teen drama into the middle of a crime scene. In addition to learning how to solve murders, Cassie must figure out how to navigate the unusual group dynamics amongst the Naturals, as everyone seems to be talented but damaged. As the newcomer, she never knows when she might step on a landmine, and of course, she finds herself caught romantically between Michael and Dean. This story stands alone reasonably well, but Lorelai’s disappearance is not definitively resolved, and nor does Cassie choose between her suitors. Hopefully in future books, we will get to know the characters better, and discover personalities that go beyond their natural abilities and snippets of their tragic pasts, as well as getting answers to these open questions. I especially want more for Sloane and Lia, who didn’t have much of a role to play in the conclusion of the book.

Between chapters, we hear from the killer in a creepy second-person narration that mimics the style in which Cassie is taught to get inside the heads of killers when she profiles. This also keeps the reader involved in the murder mystery when Cassie’s chapters, especially early in the story, are focused more on her integration into the program rather than on the case itself. When the mystery does come to a head, the action is fast-paced and exciting.

As other reviewers have noted, a few aspects of this novel stretch credulity, requiring a significant dose of willing suspension of disbelief. You have to accept the existence of both Naturals and the program that trains them, while no explanation is given for how the Naturals are identified. Some readers have complained that their abilities are also unexplained, but in my opinion there is no hint of the paranormal to require an explanation. The Naturals are gifted, but not infallible, and their abilities need to be honed in order to be useful. I had more trouble accepting that the FBI did not know about the killer’s background, once that person’s identity was revealed, than accepting the gifts of the Naturals, or the existence of their training program. These flaws aside, The Naturals was an exciting read, and I look forward to further books in the series.