Review: The Wrong Victim by Allison Brennan

Review: The Wrong Victim by Allison BrennanThe Wrong Victim (Quinn & Costa, #3) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #3
Pages: 464
Published by Mira Books on April 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A bomb explodes on a sunset charter cruise out of Friday Harbor at the height of tourist season and kills everyone on board. Now this fishing and boating community is in shock and asking who would commit such a heinous crime—the largest act of mass murder in the history of the San Juan Islands.
Forensic profilers know there are two types of domestic terrorists: those who use violence to instill fear for political purposes but stop at murder because it detracts from the cause, and those who crave attention and are willing to maim and murder for their own agenda.
Accused of putting profits before people after leaking fuel that caused a massive fish kill, the West End Charter company may itself have been the target. But as special agent Matt Costa, detective Kara Quinn and the rest of the FBI team begin their investigation, they discover that plenty of people might have wanted someone dead on that yacht. Now they must track down who is responsible and stop them before they strike again.

My Review:

If this book went looking for a subtitle, let me suggest ‘Game of Queens’ as an alternative. Because that’s what this one is, the contention among three women who are used to taking control of whatever sphere in which they find themselves – no matter who or what stands in their way.

And it’s a contest that is only partly resolved when The Wrong Victim wraps up the case of its final – and ultimately correct in the end – victim.

The beginning of this one is literally explosive. A charter yacht explodes in the waters around San Juan Island leaving 9 people dead and a whole lot of unanswered questions. Big questions, like whodunnit, along with why and how. And the biggie – which of the 9 people on the boat was the real target?

San Juan Island is just barely part of the U.S., one of over 400 islands in an archipelago that sits between Bellingham Washington and Victoria, British Columbia. The island has a population of 7,000, most of whom live in the town of Friday Harbor. The small police department knows everyone in town, and everyone knows them. Most issues are property crimes or tourists getting rowdy. They are neither prepared for nor objective enough to deal with a crime of this magnitude.

The FBI sends Mathias Costa and his Mobile Response Team, including LAPD Detective Kara Quinn, seconded to the MRT at the end of the second book in the series, Tell No Lies. Not that that was the first time Costa and Quinn met – that would be the case of the ‘Triple Killer’ in The Third to Die (which I have yet to read and really, really WANT to. I didn’t need to in order to have gotten into Tell No Lies, but that was great and so is this and now I want to very much indeed.)

Kara isn’t sure exactly where she fits in Costa’s team. Being a cop is her core identity, and the mess in LA that has forced her to leave her city to outrun the people – and contracts – that are after her. Her tenuous situation has made her question a lot about herself and how well she’s doing her job. Along with what happens next depending on how everything works out.

In Tell No Lies, the one thing that Kara was sure about was that Matt Costa trusted her judgment and was in her corner, that he respected her skills and opinions as an experienced cop and undercover detective. But all of that confidence is shaken with the return of FBI profiler Catherine Jones, who has profiled Kara and believes that she is a loose cannon who is insubordinate, takes unnecessary risks, makes snap judgments and is sure to endanger both the case and the team.

Catherine and Matt are old and dear friends, he’s even the godfather of her daughter. Kara and Matt, at least in their off-duty hours, have become friends with benefits, although Matt wants more. The conflict between the two women, who are both important to his life but in totally different ways, is messing with his head and his heart, making him a less than effective leader of a team that must produce results and solve the explosion before anyone else gets killed.

Which leads back to the question of who the real target among the 9 victims was. There are plenty of possibilities. With environmentalists making trouble for the charter company, the bomb might not have been meant for anyone in particular, but to make trouble for the ship’s owners.

Too many victims, too many possible motives, and too many ways for Kara and Catherine to butt heads. But as much as Catherine believes that Kara’s lack of formal education makes her less capable and her skills less trustworthy, it’s Kara’s instinct for people’s behavior, rather than Catherine’s careful analysis, that ultimately leads to whodunnit.

And it’s Catherine’s lack of trust in Kara that nearly gets both of them killed.

Escape Rating A+: I made a terrible mistake with this book. I started reading it when I went to bed, and absolutely could not put it down until I finished at 3:30 in the morning. I cursed my alarm when it woke me in the morning, but it was SO worth it. I needed a book to suck me into its pages, and The Wrong Victim did a fantastic job of taking me to the San Juan Islands and spinning me all around this compelling story.

This book, and this series, seem to sit at the crossroads between mystery, thriller and romantic suspense. Although again, there’s more suspense than romance – and that’s probably a good thing. The relationship between Quinn and Costa is not really healthy for either of them or their careers – a fact that profiler Catherine weaponizes during this entry in the series. They can’t be openly together as long as Kara is part of Matt’s team, no matter how temporary that might be. And yet they can’t manage to stay away from each other no matter how much of a mess it might make in the long term. I expect the horns of this particular dilemma are going to be sharp and pointy for much of the series. We’ll see.

But what makes this story so compelling is the combination of the sheer number of possible motives and the determined way that the team works through them. Out of the 9 people on the boat, there’s a wealthy man whose much younger wife left the boat just before it left the dock, a retired FBI agent still investigating a cold case he can’t let go of, a man dating one of the owners of the charter company, a slimy businessman and his equally slimy wife and four tech geniuses. All that’s needed is a partridge in a pear tree to make a very bad song.

And it could have been none of them. It could be a strike against the charter company. It could even have been an accident, the result of negligence, or even pilot error, but those possibilities get nixed very early on. As does terrorism.

So it’s murder. The FBI team are outsiders that no one trusts, but the local P.D. are much too close to every single possible suspect to be remotely objective.

For this reader, it was the investigation that fascinated. Not just looking into each of the victims, but also the town, the environmentalists, the charter company, and then the intricate work of fitting all the puzzle pieces together.

Also that the story breaks one of the unwritten rules of mystery, in that this is a rare occasion where there is more than one perpetrator, and more than one set of linkages to the crimes committed.

The team hasn’t quite gelled yet, although the process is ongoing. The way that the team is working – and occasionally not – reminded me a lot of Andrea Kane’s Forensic Instincts series, which gets involved in the same types of crimes and had the same feel of being competence porn conducted as a high-wire act.

So in addition to throwing that first book in the Quinn & Costa series, The Third to Die, onto the upper and more accessible reaches of the towering TBR pile, I need to go pick up where I left off with Forensic Instincts. So many books, so little time.

In spite of just how tall that towering TBR pile is, I’ll be looking for the next Quinn & Costa book whenever it appears – hopefully this time next year if not sooner.

Review: The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan

Review: The Sorority Murder by Allison BrennanThe Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 448
Published by Mira Books on December 28, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"The 10 Best New Mystery and Thriller Books of December are Giving Us Literal Chills"--E! Online
"10 Books to Cozy Up With This December"--PopSugar
A popular sorority girl. An unsolved murder. A campus podcast with chilling repercussions.
Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found after two weeks, but the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the medical examiner's, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.
Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle. He just isn't sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace's last hours. Then he encourages listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer Regan Merritt, a former US marshal, to come on and share her expertise.
New tips come in that convince Lucas and Regan they are onto something. Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace's secret life, a much darker picture than Lucas imagined--and one that implicates other sorority sisters. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own secret. The pressure is on to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast--before the killer silences him forever.
"Fans of Jeff Abbott and Karin Slaughter will find this crime novel hard to put down." --
Publishers Weekly
on The Third to Die
"Downright spectacular... [A] riveting page turner as prescient as it is purposeful." --Providence Journal on Tell No Lies

My Review:

In order for a book to be a mystery, it has to include a dead body and a detective – or so I was once told.

The Sorority Murder begins as a cold case, with a dead body three years in the grave, and one determined college student raking up the mystery as part of his capstone project for his degree in criminal justice.

By the end, there are two detectives and a whole slew of dead bodies – pun most certainly intended.

For young Lucas Vega, the case is not about the same victim as the podcast. That’s his secret. He’s attempting to get closure on one young woman’s mysterious disappearance by focusing on another’s equally mysterious death.

Not because he has any inkling that the more recent death is linked to the earlier disappearance. Just that they knew each other. And that someone might know something about what happened to both of them.

For former U.S. Marshal Regan Merritt, the case begins as a way of figuring out what to do with herself in the wake of the death of her 11-year-old son. A boy who was killed not for himself, but as a way to punish Regan for helping to put a criminal behind bars. In the aftermath of such a profound personal loss, she couldn’t focus on a job where a lack of focus could easily get someone else killed. That her husband blamed their son’s death on her, and divorced her as fast as humanly possible in the wake of the tragedy, doesn’t register nearly as high on her scale of loss. But lost she is.

She’s back in Flagstaff, living with her father, the retired county sheriff, because she’s hit emotional bottom and has nowhere else she needs to be or wants to go. She’s in a holding pattern when her former mentor at Northern Arizona University puts her in touch with Lucas Vega.

Her experience and his enthusiasm turn out to be a motivating combination for both of them. Because he’s learned just enough about the inconsistencies in the investigation of Candace Swain’s death to intrigue Regan, and she’s more than enough of a professional investigator to get him started asking questions that should have been asked – and just plain weren’t.

But the problem with reopening the proverbial can of worms is that you can never get the worms back in the same size can.

Someone went to a great deal of trouble to make sure that the investigation of Candace Swain’s death went cold and stayed that way. Someone has a lifestyle they want to protect – at all costs. They don’t want anyone to stir this hornet’s nest. But Lucas’ podcast series has that nest well stirred.

Now that the case is no longer cold, someone has to make sure that all the investigative trails lead to dead ends. Threatening to turn Lucas Vega’s capstone into an early grave.

Escape Rating B+: What I loved about The Sorority Murder was the way that the story delved deeply into the painstaking process of the investigation. The case is cold, mistakes were made, and no one wants to dig this mess back up and expose those mistakes to the light of day.

But Lucas can’t let go, for reasons that neither we nor Regan discover until very late in the investigation. His motives are complex but not in the least sinister, and the case he really wants to reopen turns out to be more relevant than even he imagined when he began.

This isn’t a case of miscarriage of justice – rather it’s a case where justice wasn’t done at all. There’s a mystery. At first, the mystery is where Candace Swain spent the week before her death, because she wasn’t held prisoner, she wasn’t ill, she wasn’t on drugs, she wasn’t seen – and she wasn’t found where she was killed.

Something doesn’t add up. The police blamed her death on a missing homeless alcoholic – but they haven’t found him, either.

What’s strange is that Candace’s friends and most especially her sorority sisters, with whom she was reported to be very close, don’t seem to want the case reopened. They don’t have closure and seem to be adamantly opposed to getting it. All of them. Collectively.

In spite of the roadblocks put in his path, Lucas knows he has too much to let go of. Someone must have seen Candace during that week she was missing but not yet dead. Once people start remembering the little details that no one ever asked about, a picture starts to form.

The biggest part of this story, and the most fascinating one for this reader, was the dogged pursuit of the whole of that picture. Even as one person who provides a bit of a clue after another ends up dead either just before or just after their piece is revealed.

I loved the fits and starts of the investigation. Watching them uncover the puzzle pieces bit by bit kept me glued to the book almost right up to the end. The whole picture, once it was uncovered, still took me by surprise.

I have to say that the reveal of the killer felt a bit flat – or the killer was so far over the top that I didn’t quite buy it. Or that we got to see inside the killer’s head at that point and I just didn’t want to be anywhere near there.

So I was at the edge of my seat with this story until the very end. I loved following the investigation even though I found the actual perpetrator to be off in “bwahaha” land a bit. I still felt utterly compelled to reach that end.

I picked this up because I loved the author’s Tell No Lies last year and hoped for more of the same. While this wasn’t quite that, it was still, most definitely a riveting and suspenseful read.

Review: Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan

Review: Tell No Lies by Allison BrennanTell No Lies (Quinn & Costa Thriller, #2) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #2
Pages: 432
Published by Mira on March 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Something mysterious is killing the wildlife in the mountains just south of Tucson. When a college intern turned activist sets out to collect her own evidence, she, too, ends up dead. Local law enforcement is slow to get involved. That’s when the mobile FBI unit goes undercover to infiltrate the town and its copper refinery in search of possible leads.
Quinn and Costa find themselves scouring the desolate landscape, which keeps revealing clues to something much darker—greed, child trafficking and more death. As the body count adds up, it’s clear they have stumbled onto much more than they bargained for. Now they must figure out who is at the heart of this mayhem and stop them before more innocent lives are lost.

My Review:

There’s a reason why so many jokes about how good a friend one is or has begin with something about moving, burying or just hiding bodies. As in the dead body or body of the enemies that you’ve killed. It’s usually a joke.

It’s also deadly serious in this mystery thriller, as the case begins with dead bodies. Bird bodies, killed by toxic runoff from an illegal waste dump. Probably waste from the local copper refining operation.

But those poor birds’ bodies lead to the human corpse of a young conservationist who was frustrated with her boss’ unwillingness to investigate the cause of those birds’ death. Her freelance, solo investigation results in her own body at one of the sites she hoped might lead her to the culprit.

And it kind of does, just not in any way that she expected – or lived to see.

Tell No Lies is a story that definitely puts the suspense in romantic suspense, as the murder of Emma Perez sets in motion a chain of events that seriously stretches the long rubberbanding arm of coincidence, only for it to snap back and burn all the people got stuck in its path.

This is also a story about blood being thicker than water. Not just in the usual way that people will do anything for family but also in the way that people will end up in the middle of stupid shit for family. So both thick meaning close but also thick meaning dense – as in dealing with family makes people act like they are not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer – whether they normally are or not.

So this story begins with a murder. It middles as the FBI using the murder to do an investigation into illegal toxic waste dumping by a respected local company. It’s only as the bodies start piling up that the FBI puts the pieces together into a puzzle that is on a whole other level of awful from what they initially suspected.

While one of their own is caught in the trap.

Escape Rating A-: As far as genre goes, Tell No Lies is a bit hard to pin down – kind of like the problem they have figuring out the size and shape of the case that brings this FBI mobile response team to tiny Patagonia, Arizona.

Just as the story begins with illegal toxic dumping, quickly jumps to murder, then spreads tentacles into fraud, kidnapping, human trafficking, gun running, drug smuggling and back around to murder again, this book begins as a mystery, loops in suspense and thriller, and tacks on romantic suspense for spice (so to speak) not to mention a few more bodies.

What makes the story so compelling is those tentacles. The FBI, in the person of Agent Matt Costa and his undercover team, come to Patagonia with the intent of using the murder to find the illegal toxic waste dumping. At the beginning, they kind of think they know, if not whodunnit, at least who is involved in doing it.

But, just like every twist and turn in this case, they’re sort of right and also sort of wrong at the same time. Because the things they think are connected are not. But they also are. And that confusion leads to them getting in their own way, over and over again.

Which is what makes the story so damn fascinating. It’s one step forward, two steps back, three steps sideways in an ever-widening pattern. There’s an old saying that goes, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

That’s what happens in this case. The FBI thinks they know a lot of things that just aren’t so. They think it’s all about the toxic dumping. The team has undercover agents in place to watch the people they believe are involved. They think their informant is acting on the side of the angels.

There are plenty of hints that make the reader aware that there is more going on than initially meets the eye. But the way that it explodes and the reasons for it confound everyone – including the reader. Or at least this one. Even though who was involved did eventually get clear enough, the why was not what anyone was expecting. At all.

Which is what made this an edge of the seat read from beginning to end.

One final note. This is the second book in a series that looks like its going to continue. I haven’t read the first book, The Third to Die, and didn’t feel like I’d missed much by not having done so. It’s pretty clear that this team is still in the process of jelling and it was easy to get into it. But it’s also clear that the sometimes resolved sexual tension between FBI Agent Matt Costa and LAPD Detective Kara Quinn began in that first story and at the moment in this one is just kind of a mess. I’m not certain that this one needs the romance angle, but that may be because I didn’t see it begin. Also because whatever relationship they sorta/kinda have is seriously awkward and messy at best at this point.

Hopefully their relationship gets, if not some resolution – because I suspect the on again/off again nature of it is going to be part of the suspense for a few books – at least becomes less of a mess in future books in the series. And I definitely want there to be future books in the Quinn & Costa Thriller series, because the mystery/suspense/thriller parts of this case kept me glued to the book from start to finish!