BIDP: Save Your Breath

For the next round of “Books I Didn’t Pick”, I read Save Your Breath by Melinda Leigh. This is the most recent in Leigh’s Dane series, which revolves around the eponymous attorney, her fiancé, PI Lance Kruger, and his assistant, Lincoln Sharp.

I haven’t read any thriller novels since I was in high school, and I’ve never really liked mystery books. I didn’t think that Save Your Breath would be something that was fun for me to read. But I’m trying to read outside my usual genres, and assured myself that, however bad this got, at least I wasn’t reading another romance novel.

I opened the first page, and finished the entire book in about a two weeks.

I get pegged as a fast reader, but that’s not entirely the truth. I don’t read faster than the average person, I just read a lot. It still can take me several weeks or or a couple months to finish a book. Which is why finishing Save Your Breath within two weeks was a bit of an accomplishment for me, and shows how compelling I found the book.

Though there is one thing I need to point out: when I read Save Your Breath, I was midway through two children’s literature courses. Throughout the semester I would read at least 60 children’s and middle grade books, and it was just so refreshing to read a book intended for an adult audience. Busy as I was with school and work, it would have been easy to let Save Your Breath fall by the wayside. Even so, I kept coming back to it, day after long day.

The writing technique was fine. I know that’s a boring way to put it, but that’s about all I can say. The prose wasn’t anything spectacular, but it wasn’t bad, either. Every sentence said just what it needed to, and got out of the way for the next one. It got the job done – no more, no less.

Though Save Your Breath is part of a series, it worked as a standalone novel. Whenever a main character from the series appeared, they reader got a little bit of background about them. That way, I could understand who everyone was, their role, and their relationship with the other main characters.

I’ve seen this used in other book series, like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, or The Dresden Files. It makes it easy for readers to pick up the newest book without having to know everything that happened in the ones before it. I imagine this could be annoying for readers who have been following the series for a long time, but it was helpful for me.

The downside of novel series where a new reader can jump in at any point is that changes to the status quo often come very slowly. Going back to Janet Evanovich for a moment, the 27th Stephanie Plum novel (not counting side-stories) was released in November 2020. In it, Stephanie Plum is still torn between the same two love interests she’s had since the first book, which came out over twenty years ago.

Not to throw shade on Evanovich or the Stephanie Plum series, of course! I’ve read some of the books and enjoyed them, but this is the only comparable example I have at the moment. Like I said, I don’t read the thriller/mystery genre much.

From Save Your Breath, at least, I did get a feeling that big changes for the characters do happen more frequently. At the beginning, for example, Morgan and Lance are engaged, which is not how they started the series.

I didn’t feel like I got to know the characters very well, especially Lincoln. Morgan, Lance and Lincoln are all intelligent, tenacious people with different skill sets. They care about each other and are protective of the people they love. Looking back on the book now, it’s hard for me to pick out individual character traits beyond that. Morgan is a mother, and Lance is a good step-father to her kids, but I can’t think of any distinct characteristics of them beyond that.

I think the characters would have come across more strongly if I had read the previous books in the series. Save Your Breath also deals with a crime that’s personal to the characters: Lincoln’s girlfriend, Olivia, has been kidnapped. Lincoln is justifiably concerned, and working around the clock to do anything he can to find her. The other characters note that he’s so worried that he’s not acting like himself. This makes sense, but because I haven’t read the other books in the series, I don’t know what he’s really like as a person. So, pros and cons of jumping into a serial series!

Like I said before, I’m not a big fan of mysteries. Even so, I was pretty drawn in by the set-up. True crime writer Olivia Cruz has an ethical dilemma about what information she should put in the book she’s working on. She calls Lincoln to ask him for advice during lunch the next day, and is kidnapped from her home. Morgan, Lance, and Lincoln must learn who took her, why, and most important, how they can bring her home safely.

The more they uncover, the more the mystery deepens. Murder, suicide, and a homegrown militia all come into play. Each moving part offers another clue to the story. If nothing else, this book got me to understand the appeal of mysteries novels better. I liked trying to put the clues together, and I was really interested to see how they all tied together.

This next paragraph is a little spoiler-y, so skip it if you plan on reading this book later.

Unfortunately, the clues did not all tie together. I liked the rouges’ gallery of suspects involved in Olivia’s disappearance, and I was especially intrigued about the para-military survivalist organization that one of them ran. And what was the ethical dilemma that Olivia wasn’t sure if she should put in her book? It was a question that I thought the entire plot hinged on. But it turned out that very little of those details actually mattered. The true culprit and motive for Olivia’s kidnapping had very little to do with those questions. Another reader might have appreciated the subversion of expectations, but it left me feeling disappointed and disgruntled. A lot of interesting plot points had been built up, only to ultimately fall flat. The otherwise exciting events of the book became filler in the wake of the novel’s conclusion.

Despite the above complaints, I liked Save Your Breath for the most part. It was easy to read, and I’d be open to trying out another thriller novel when I need something a bit less dense than what I normally pick out for myself. Maybe during my next semester at school, it’ll be a nice breath of fresh air….

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