#BookReview: Village in the Dark by Iris Yamashita

#BookReview: Village in the Dark by Iris YamashitaVillage in the Dark (Cara Kennedy, #2) by Iris Yamashita
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Cara Kennedy #2
Pages: 288
Published by Berkley on February 13, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Detective Cara Kennedy thought she’d lost her husband and son in an accident, but harrowing evidence has emerged that points to murder--and she will stop at nothing to find the truth in this riveting mystery from the author of City Under One Roof.
On a frigid February day, Anchorage Detective Cara Kennedy stands by the graves of her husband and son, watching as their caskets are raised from the earth. It feels sacrilegious, but she has no choice. Aaron and Dylan disappeared on a hike a year ago, their bones eventually found and buried. But shocking clues have emerged that foul play was involved, potentially connecting them to a string of other deaths and disappearances.  Somehow tied to the mystery is Mia Upash, who grew up in an isolated village called Unity, a community of women and children in hiding from abusive men. Mia never imagined the trouble she would find herself in when she left home to live in Man’s World. Although she remains haunted by the tragedy of what happened to the man and the boy in the woods, she has her own reasons for keeping quiet. Aided by police officer Joe Barkowski and other residents of Point Mettier, Cara’s investigation will lead them on a dangerous path that puts their lives and the lives of everyone around them in mortal jeopardy.

My Review:

Just as once-and-future Anchorage PD Detective Cara Kennedy wrapped up the murder cases at Point Mettier in City Under One Roof, a monkey wrench was thrown into the case nearest and dearest to her heart. Cara has been, honestly not surprisingly, unwilling to let the case of her husband’s and her son’s deaths go, to the point where the Anchorage PD’s psych evaluation put her out on disability.

Not a good place for a detective with nothing to do but dwell on the ‘might have beens’ to be. Particularly not when a picture of her late husband, her dead son, and herself, taken just before the ill-fated trip that left her a widow, was found on the cell phone of one of the gang members responsible for the deaths in Point Mettier in that first adventure.

Making Cara in this second mystery the equivalent of a dog with a very large bone to chew on. A bone that is made just that much bigger when she has her family’s bodies exhumed and discovers that, whoever they are, and whatever the Anchorage PD told her, the bodies she buried under her husband’s and son’s names were not, in fact, the bodies of her husband and son.

Although it certainly looks like one of those bodies was the victim of murder. Adding yet more questions to the pile of unanswered ones that she already has. And not just questions about who the now unidentified bodies were, and who are the other missing, presumed dead people in that gang member’s cell phone photo roll.

Because if the two bodies she buried weren’t her own loved ones, then where the hell are her husband and her son? Are they dead by some other misadventure lost in some other remote part of the Alaskan Bush? Or are they alive and in hiding?

Or worse, does her husband have something to do with the long list of missing and presumed dead faces in that photo roll? Cara can’t rest until she finds out the truth – whether it sets her free or gets her killed. Or both, not necessarily in that order.

Escape Rating B: Part of what made City Under One Roof work so well was the claustrophobic nature of its setting. Whittier, like the city modeled after it in the story, really is a city under one roof. That a significant chunk of that first story takes place while Point Mettier is literally cut off from the rest of the world – as really does happen in Whittier – gives the story a kind of ‘locked room’ vibe, complete with time running out as the tunnel will eventually open and the bottled up suspects will have the opportunity to escape.

The story in Village in the Dark spreads itself out in both time and space, as the action shifts from Point Mettier to Mia’s temporary refuge outside Willow to Anchorage and back again. It’s also a bigger story, in that it begins with Cara’s seemingly never-ending quest to find out what really happened – or who really happened – to her husband and son but loops in one of Point Mettier’s more colorful residents, that woman’s search for the events that led to her own son’s death, and then seemingly tacks on one mysterious young woman attempting to hide in plain sight.

It’s a bigger story but it’s a whole lot less tight and taut in the way that City Under One Roof was, and that mysteries are at their best. In other words, I got lost a bit whenever we switched to young Mia’s point of view because she started out WAY out there compared to the central axis of the story. Not that she didn’t finally move to the center of things, but it certainly took a while.

In the end, it’s a story about drugs and money. About corruption and temptation and dirty deeds done dirt cheap in the service of people who will never pay the price for the deeds done in their name – even if that name is a false one hidden behind multiple go-betweens.

But the further the story spread out, the less it hung together until the rapid-fire denouement. And then it was, quite literally, gangbusters.

At the end, the story that brought Cara into this series has been resolved. Whether it will be the jumping off point for more, and less personal and more procedural investigations, is a mystery yet to be solved.

One final note, the subtext in this entry in the series is the ease with which the police dismiss missing persons cases and crimes against women, particularly, in the Alaskan setting, indigenous women. The same horrifying subtext also underlaid the suspense in last year’s The Way of the Bear by Anne Hillerman. Coincidentally, or perhaps a commentary on the pervasiveness of the issue, the book I am currently listening to, Glory Be by Danielle Arceneaux, has an entirely too similar tragedy at its heart, yet again exploring and decrying the ease with which police discount and dismiss crimes against black women in that book’s Louisiana setting.

The pervasiveness of this all too real problem is considerably more chilling than the suspense in ANY mystery.

Grade A #BookReview: The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan

Grade A #BookReview: The Missing Witness by Allison BrennanThe Missing Witness (Quinn & Costa, #5) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #5
Pages: 416
Published by Mira on January 23, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

When a key witness goes missing, Quinn and Costa must find her before a killer silences her for good…
Detective Kara Quinn is back in Los Angeles to testify against a notorious human trafficker, finally moving past the case that upended her life. But when the accused is shot by a masked man in broad daylight, the chaotic scene of the crime turns up few reliable bystanders. And one witness—a whistleblower who might be the key to everything—has disappeared.
After the prosecuting DDA is stabbed to death, it’s clear that anyone who knows too much about the investigation is in danger, and tracking down the witness becomes a matter of life or death. With government corruption running rampant and someone on the inside trying to pin anything they can on Kara, she trusts nobody except FBI special agent Matt Costa and a handful of allies.
But when explosive secrets begin to surface within the LAPD and FBI, Kara questions everything she thought she knew about the case, her colleagues and the life she left behind months ago.
Now Quinn and Costa must race to find the missing witness and get to the bottom of the avalanche of conspiracies that has rocked LA to its core…before it's too late.

My Review:

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” or so Sir Walter Scott claimed – even if the quote is generally and erroneously attributed to Shakespeare. It does rather sound like one of his, after all.

The Missing Witness, both the person and the case she’s caught in the middle of, is all about those practices of deception, and the need for the FBI’s Mobile Response Team to get to the heart of those deceptions. Bloodily if necessary.

Because the case in this fifth book in the series, after The Third to Die, Tell No Lies, The Wrong Victim and last year’s Seven Girls Gone, takes LAPD Detective Kara Quinn’s temporary membership in the MRT all the way back to where it began, to the case that made LA much too hot a place for her to remain, putting her on an unwelcome vacation and pushing her straight into the path of the FBI – and into the arms of the MRT’s Special Agent in Charge, Matt Costa.

Kara has been dragged back to LA, possibly because the human trafficking case that sent her out of town is finally being brought to trial. Or, more likely because the villain of the piece wants her back in town so he can send his goons out to eliminate her – just as he’s done with all the other witnesses to his many, many crimes.

Not that both of those things aren’t true – they’re just not anything remotely like the whole entire story or any of its moduses and/or operandis.

This is a case that has always been about deception. Including covering up the fact that the case is much bigger on the inside than appears on the outside. But also because Kara’s participation at the beginning, misplaced guilt in the middle and exile at the end are all about, not the deceptions that all the perpetrators have perpetrated in order to keep the dirty deeds on the down-low. The biggest deceptions in this case are the lies that the cops who were supposed to be on Kara’s side, on her team, the people that she trusted to bring her back home to her city and her job, have been lying to her all along.

And that’s one betrayal that she has utterly no capacity to forgive.

Escape Rating A: The case in The Missing Witness was solid and compelling and confounding, all at the same time. Because it’s wrapped around something so huge, so monstrous, and so easy to hide and obfuscate, that it’s nearly impossible to see the whole of it at once.

When Kara Quinn opened this case and this can of worms not quite a year ago, it was about sweatshops and human trafficking and scum who are so rich and so well connected it seems like they can even buy forgiveness from the FBI

But Kara tipped over a huge, gigantic rock, and the things that crawled out from underneath it have tentacles reaching from the Mayor’s Office to the County Board of Supervisors to the LAPD and the LA Office of the FBI – and that’s just for starters.

So Kara left town so that the case against one human trafficker could get pulled together without her body ending up in the middle of it. But that’s not the case her friends and mentors at the LAPD are investigating. They’re investigating the much bigger monsters that crawled out from under that rock – and they’re keeping Kara out of town for her own good – or so they believe.

Their cause is righteous, but their methods are not. To the point where the left hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing – or who the left hand is killing along the way.

At its heart, this is a case about political corruption, greed and graft, and the way all those things have intersected within the morass that has been called the Homeless Industrial Complex.

But white collar corruption and fraud cases are huge and complicated. There are so many moving parts that it’s difficult to get people to understand what’s at stake and who has been staked. So an awful lot of bad has happened but it’s been hard to even get the public’s attention OR to get a District Attorney to prosecute.

Murder cases, on the other hand, are easy to reduce to the soundbite of a gunshot.

What makes this story so compelling, is the way that Kara’s pursuit of the original murder and trafficker is used as a vehicle to get us inside, to get us to care about the larger but much more amorphous corruption case that has been hiding in plain sight all along.

And the way that even though a measure of justice gets served, we still feel the depths of the betrayals Kara suffers, that the people she once believed had her back have been lying to her all along in their belief that she wouldn’t have been willing to serve the same justice they were.

Which leads to the epic conclusion of The Missing Witness, a conclusion that is certainly the ending of the story arc of the first five books in this thrilling, suspenseful series, but hopefully will lead to much more to come. Because I’ve loved this whole series and I absolutely do not want it to end!

#BookReview: Random in Death by J.D. Robb

#BookReview: Random in Death by J.D. RobbRandom in Death (In Death, #58) by J.D. Robb
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: futuristic, mystery, romantic suspense, suspense, thriller
Series: In Death #58
Pages: 368
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 23, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

In the new crime thriller from #1 New York Times-bestselling J.D. Robb, a small and easily concealed weapon wreaks havoc, and the killer is just a face in the crowd.
Jenna’s parents had finally given in, and there she was, at a New York club with her best friends, watching the legendary band Avenue A, carrying her demo in hopes of slipping it to the guitarist, Jake Kincade. Then, from the stage, Jake catches her eye, and smiles. It’s the best night of her life.It’s the last night of her life.
Minutes later, Jake’s in the alley getting some fresh air, and the girl from the dance floor comes stumbling out, sick and confused and deathly pale. He tries to help, but it’s no use. He doesn’t know that someone in the crowd has jabbed her with a needle—and when his girlfriend Nadine arrives, she knows the only thing left to do for the girl is call her friend, Lieutenant Eve Dallas.
After everyone on the scene is interviewed, lab results show a toxic mix of substances in the victim’s body—and for an extra touch of viciousness, the needle was teeming with infectious agents. Dallas searches for a pattern: Had any boys been harassing Jenna? Was she engaging in risky behavior or caught up in something shady? But there are no obvious clues why this levelheaded sixteen-year-old, passionate about her music, would be targeted.
And that worries Dallas. Because if Jenna wasn’t targeted, if she was just the random, unlucky victim of a madman consumed by hatred, there are likely more deaths to come.

My Review:

The case in Random in Death turns out to be, well, just a bit random. Even more random than I thought it would turn out to be. Which I’ll get back in a bit.

A young woman is having the night of her life. Her favorite band is onstage, performing a free concert just for the under-21 non-drinking crowd at the place where the band got their start. Jenna Harbrough a musician herself, and a dedicated one, and she’s hoping for the opportunity to give her demo disk to the band’s lead singer.

Because if he hears it, she knows she’ll get her shot at the bright lights, just like the members of Avenue A did twenty years ago.

It’s not hyperbole, or youthful wishing thinking. She’s got everything it takes to make it to the top. Except time.

Jenna is killed that night by someone who cares nothing for her, her dreams, her life – or honestly even her death. All that matters to him is that she is just the kind of girl who would never give him the time of day – just like everyone else in his life.

So he cuts her down and plans to do it again and again until someone finally sees him for who and what he really is. For ALL the possible meanings of that. He believes that when he’s finished he’ll get what he deserves.

And he will. Eve Dallas, the entire Homicide Unit of the NYPSD, and all of the people she has gathered around herself, are going to make damn sure of it.

Escape Rating B: Learning how all my ‘book friends’ were doing in this latest entry in the In Death series (after last fall’s Payback in Death) was the perfect read for me at the end of this week. This series is a comfort read for me, and my brain was pretty much TOAST. Burnt toast, at that.

But this is a rare case where the timing was perfect for falling into the familiarity of it all, but the book I fell into wasn’t. Perfect, that is.

The books in this series usually contain two elements, one being the case that Dallas and Company have to solve, and the other being what’s going on with everyone in their constantly expanding found fam.

This particular entry in the series was great – as always – on the found fam side of the equation, but the case, not so much.

Because the villain really was exactly what the kids who knew him claimed he was. He was a dooser. What’s a dooser, you’re asking? As did Dallas, Roarke and every other adult who became part of finding this dooser.

Dooser is one of those on the nose portmanteau words, in this case a combination of ‘dick’ and ‘loser’. Because he so very much embodies that combination. Which is what ultimately catches him up and brings him down.

And it kind of blunts the impact of his crime spree, because he’s just so very ‘lame’, to use vernacular that is closer to our time than theirs.

Because his victims were not exactly as random as we’d like them to be, at least not to anyone other than him. The case would have been more riveting if he’d been a bit more competent at it. Not that I actually want serial killers to be more competent, but once Dallas had one thread to pull his whole house of cards came down very, very fast.

The leading cause of death among women is men – and this is such a prime, chilling example of that. Particularly at the beginning, when it seemed like he was deliberately cutting down young women who are focused on their future careers and NOT looking for so-called traditional roles..

He wasn’t just killing them – he was killing their promise and their future and their possibilities and it seemed deliberate. Except that’s not what this villain cared about at all. Because he’s just a dooser incel who’s gone apeshit because he’s certain that he is absolutely entitled to the sex they’re not putting out for him – but are for everyone else. Hell, just for the fact that they’re not even noticing he exists.

So for all of his meticulous planning and serious science smarts, he was, in the end, just a loser. So it’s no surprise at all that Dallas put him in a cage. It didn’t even seem like it was all that hard to catch him, because he made so many mistakes from his very first murder. His crime spree was terrible, and the clock ticking was very loud, but he was such a loser that the mystery of the thing faded relatively quickly.

But it was still a whole lot of fun to see the progress being made on the house that Mavis and Leonardo are building to share with Peabody and McNab, that Jenkinson is rapidly filling the shoes that his promotion to Detective Sergeant entitles him to, and that there’s every bit as much romance – if not a little bit more – in Dallas’ and Roarke’s marriage.

And especially that Galahad is still very much, large, in charge, and all CAT. Just the way he should be.

The next book in the In Death series is Passions in Death, coming in September. I can’t wait to see what case and/or crisis Dallas and Company have to face next!

Grade A #BookReview: Holmes, Marple & Poe by James Patterson and Brian Sitts

Grade A #BookReview: Holmes, Marple & Poe by James Patterson and Brian SittsHolmes, Marple & Poe: The Greatest Crime-Solving Team of the Twenty-First Century by James Patterson, Brian Sitts
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 352
on January 8, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Crime! Murder! Who are you going to call?
In New York City, three intriguing, smart, and stylish private investigators open Holmes, Marple & Poe Investigations. Who are these detectives with famous names and mysterious, untraceable pasts?
Brendan Holmes—The Brain: Identifies suspects via deduction and logic.
Margaret Marple—The Eyes: Possesses powers of observation too often underestimated.
Auguste Poe—The Muscle: Chases down every lead no matter how dangerous or dark.
The agency’s daring methodology and headline-making solves attract the attention of NYPD Detective Helene Grey. Her solo investigation into her three unknowable competitors rivals the best mysteries of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Edgar Allan Poe.

My Review:

Names to conjure with, aren’t they? Which is very much the point, when Brendan Holmes, Margaret Marple and Auguste Poe open their private investigation business in a formerly rundown bakery that no one else was willing to buy.

The bakery was, once upon a time in 1954, the scene of a grisly murder. A cold case that is right up Margaret Marple’s alley – whoever she might REALLY be.

It’s also the first link in a nearly endless chain of cases that doesn’t look like it’s even started yet – and doesn’t seem to have any end in sight.

As much as THIS Holmes, Marple and Poe resemble their originators – in both Holmes’ and Poe’s cases to their detriment – we know it’s mostly an act. Or a reconstruction. Or possibly three experienced operators taking on identities so blatantly false but so meticulously created that no one can find the seams where they were stitched together.

The NYPD certainly tries, and they seem to be far from alone in their attempts.

But whoever, and whatever, these fascinating detectives were once upon a time, in the here and now they’re the best chance that the city has of closing the toughest of cases, from a fake kidnapping to an impossible art theft to a real – and really old – body dump site under the subway. And everything in between and all the way up to the mayor’s office.

Along with the murder of a young, forgotten girl on the floor of a bakery.

Escape Rating A: To say I had misgivings going into this one would be an understatement. James Patterson is a publishing juggernaut, so at one point I felt sort of obligated to try one of his books just to see what all the fuss was about – because there certainly is lots of fuss. The book was 1st to Die, the first book in his Women’s Murder Club series, and I could not get into it and had not been tempted back.

Until now. Because I can’t resist a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, no matter how tangential, and got grabbed by the title of this book and couldn’t talk myself out of it.

I’m very glad that I didn’t, because Holmes, Marple & Poe is a terrifically fun read, whether you are there for the hints of the mystery giants they named themselves for, or are just there to help figure out whodunnit.

What made this so much fun was that it exists on two tracks. On the one hand, there’s the mystery wrapped around the identities of the people hiding behind those famous names. We don’t even get hints, merely a few unsubstantiated rumors, but we do get the fun of watching several investigations chase their own tails trying to figure it out.

(Also the fun of figuring out how those names are meant to reinforce the resemblance. C. Auguste Dupin was the detective in what is arguably the first detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, written by Edgar Allan Poe. Margaret Rutherford was one of the earliest and most famous actresses to play the oft-portrayed Miss Jane Marple on the silver screen. I’m still puzzling about who Brendan was in relation to either Sherlock Holmes or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but I just know I’m going to facepalm when I figure it out.)

On the other, and much more prominent hand in this story, we get to watch three investigators who are all mostly and more or less at the top of their respective games follow the trails of several bizarre crimes to a grand conclusion that ties all the cases up, not each in their own neat bow, but in one gigantic neat bow – with a couple of smaller bows hanging off the side.

The way that one clue led to another – even in cases that did not seem like they had anything to contribute to the whole of the thing – gave me vibes of one of my favorite mystery series, J.D. Robb’s In Death series. I even see the nucleus of the ‘Scooby Gang’ forming, including a demon cat and a gigantic hound named (of course) Baskerville.

In other words, the particular string of cases they follow is riveting, and I enjoyed the vibe of the ‘gang’ coming together so much that I would love to see more of it all. If Holmes, Marple & Poe turned out to be the first book in a series I’d be utterly thrilled and absolutely there for it.

Review: Fall by Tracy Clark

Review: Fall by Tracy ClarkFall (Detective Harriet Foster #2) by Tracy Clark
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Detective Harriet Foster #2
Pages: 347
Published by Thomas & Mercer on December 5, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

In the second book in the Detective Harriet Foster thriller series, author Tracy Clark weaves a twisted journey into the underbelly of Chicago as Harriet and her team work to unmask a serial killer stalking the city’s aldermen.
The Chicago PD is on high alert when two city aldermen are found dead: one by apparent suicide, one brutally stabbed in his office, and both with thirty dimes left on their bodies—a betrayer’s payment. With no other clues, the question is, Who else has a debt to pay?
Detective Harriet Foster is on the case before the killer can strike again. But even with the help of her partner, Detective Vera Li, and the rest of their team, Harriet has little to go on and a lot at risk. There’s no telling who the killer’s next target is or how many will come next.
To stop another murder, Harriet and her officers will have to examine what the victims had going on behind the scenes to determine who could be tangled up in this web of betrayal…and who could be out for revenge

My Review:

When we first catch back up with Detective Harriet Foster, she’s in the midst of a doomed attempt to get closure for the unclosable. She’s attending the sentencing hearing of the young man who murdered her son. As much as everyone in her family wants her to – not so much put it behind her because that’s impossible – start living in the present and the future she has rather than the past she can’t change and can’t return to.

But when we first met Harri back in Hide, she was also still grieving the suicide of her police partner Glynnis Thompson. While closure for that loss may still be elusive, Harri does get at least a reason for that seemingly unreasonable act. A reason that is clearly going to dog her footsteps for months if not years to come.

What makes this second entry in the series so compelling is its deep dive into the seemingly baked in ways and means that the sausage of Chicago city government gets made. And seemingly always has been.

That a former alderman, convicted of corruption, gets out of prison after serving her time may be newsworthy as it happens – just as her trial and conviction three years before was – but it isn’t at all unusual. It’s just part of the way that ‘business’ in the City of Chicago has always been done.

Howsomever, that the aldermen who should have gone to prison with her – but whose names seem to have been barely whispered during the course of the investigation – start dropping like flies the minute she gets out is not only newsworthy, it’s juicy news at that. The kind of news that he newsies are all over like a bad rash.

Because that former alderman, Marin Shaw, should be the prime suspect for the killings. And in some people’s minds, she is. But not to Detective Foster and her current partner Vera Li. Because down in the dirt of Chicago politics and power, there are simply too many motives for killing an alderman or two, or even three.

Especially when one of the victims is the kingpin of a whole network of dirty City dealing not done remotely dirt cheap.

To the two experienced cops, it looks like a frame that someone is trying to make former alderman Marin Shaw fit into. But it doesn’t, quite, because the motives are as elusive as the killer has been, and they’ve been looking in the wrong direction all along. As they were intended to.

Escape Rating A++: I finished this at 3 in the morning because I simply could not put it down. I mean, I tried, but I just couldn’t let this one go until the end. An ending like black coffee, tasty but bitter, with a solid kick at the finish.

In other words, there are plenty of reasons why this book has ended up on so many “Best of the Year” lists – and quite possibly will mine as well. It is even better than the first book in the series, Hide, and provides an even more in-depth look at a damaged person doing her best in a broken system to make each day count for others – even if she can’t make them count for herself.

Detective Harriet Foster is compelling in her brokenness. I want to say that she’s strong in the broken places, but she’s not there yet. She’s putting one foot forward, one day at a time, and giving what of herself she feels she has left to her job of saving somebody else’s son because she couldn’t save her own.

She isn’t ready to put her own life together, but she’s reaching for the point where she can at least put her work life back together, when someone tries to pull that rug out from under her. The questions that get raised about her partner’s death do not get resolved in this entry in the series, leading to a fascinating ending of a cliffhanger that isn’t a cliffhanger. This case is resolved, Harri’s problems are just beginning.

At the heart of this one, however, is the mystery. And not so much for the mystery itself, as much as I enjoyed getting caught up in the clues and in Harri and Li’s investigation. But it’s what she’s investigating that adds the compulsive factor. Because that investigation creates a portrait of Chicago politics that manages to read both as the corruption the way that popular imagination has painted it AND as the way that the city’s newspapers cover it, all at the same time. And that feels entirely too true to life.

What gave the case a very nice twist at the end was that, as much fun as the dive into the political muck was to read, the motive for the murders wasn’t part of that muck. Not that it wasn’t mucky and murky in its own right, but it wasn’t the usual muck when it comes to Chicago politics which made for a more satisfying resolution – at least for this reader.

Anytime that a story keeps me up until 3 in the morning, I want more than I have. Not more of this particular book, because it was the right story at the right length at the right time, but more like this or more of these characters or both. Definitely both.

If you have that same impulse after you finish Hide and Fall (and do read both because the series just keeps getting awesomer as it goes), if Detective Harriet Foster, with her damage and her dangerous investigations into the broken places and people of Chicago grab your attention, you might also want to check out Inspector Anjelica Henley and the dark and dirty parts of her London, because the two are very much sisters under the skin with their respective city’s grit under their nails. The first book in the Henley series by Nadine Matheson is The Jigsaw Man.

As I’ve already read the Henley series, I’ll have to look for something else to tide me over until the next book in one or the other appears. (That’s The Kill List for Anjelica Henley in September and Echo for Harriet Foster next December. Tracy Clark has another Chicago-set mystery series, the Cass Raines series, that begins with Broken Places. I always enjoy a trip to Chicago, so I’ll be giving that a look while I wait for Harriet Foster’s next investigation.

Review: Payback in Death by J.D. Robb

Review: Payback in Death by J.D. RobbPayback in Death (In Death, #57) by J.D. Robb
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: futuristic, mystery, romantic suspense, suspense, thriller
Series: In Death #57
Pages: 368
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 5, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

A retired colleague's suspicious death puts Lt. Eve Dallas on the case in Payback in Death, the electrifying new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author J.D. Robb.
Lt. Eve Dallas is just home from a long overdue vacation when she responds to a call of an unattended death. The victim is Martin Greenleaf, retired Internal Affairs Captain. At first glance, the scene appears to be suicide, but the closer Eve examines the body, the more suspicious she becomes.
An unlocked open window, a loving wife and family, a too-perfect suicide note—Eve's gut says it's a homicide. After all, Greenleaf put a lot of dirty cops away during his forty-seven years in Internal Affairs. It could very well be payback—and she will not rest until the case is closed.

My Review:

The case in Payback in Death is a fascinating one that could just as easily work in a contemporary police procedural as it does in their near-future world, because cases about ‘who watches the watchers’ are always relevant, and raise interesting questions about just how much of that watching is necessary and who watches the watchers who watch.

There’s a rabbit hole there that this story doesn’t have to go down, because retired NYPSD Internal Affairs captain Martin Greenleaf honored his badge and his service during a career spent on that often thankless watch.

Now he’s dead, and it’s Dallas’ job to stand for him. Because whoever killed him did a really poor job of faking his suicide. The man was murdered in his own home, and left for his wife to find. But fate intervened in the person of a detective that Greenleaf mentored. A detective who may have struck out once and badly with Dallas, but who knows she’ll bring her best to the case of the man who stood in for his father.

Which, in the end, is what this case turns out to be about. Father-figures, and the devastation they leave in their wake when they go down. Whether that happens in the line of duty – as it did for Martin Greenleaf in spite of his retirement – or whether it happens because someone like Greenleaf discovers that a man who should have at least been a hero to his family, was someone that those watchers not only watched, but ultimately discovered had feet of clay up to the knees.

Escape Rating B: At this point, I’m here to see how all my ‘book friends’ are doing after whatever happened in the previous book in the series (which in this case was Encore in Death). I just plain enjoy spending time with Dallas and Roarke’s ever-growing ‘family’ and am always happy to catch up with the gang. It doesn’t matter whether the particular case is all that interesting, and it doesn’t matter what kind of case it is. I just like these folks a lot and want to be sure they’re all still okay.

That being said, at 57 books and counting, the In Death series breaks down into three kinds of stories. First are the cases that are just cases – like the case in Payback in Death. It’s appropriately puzzling, the motives are twisted and the clues are deeply buried at first and convoluted to the end, and it’s an important case that requires that Dallas and company bring their “A” game to get it solved, but in the end it’s still just a case that gives the NYPSD a chance to prove they are the best at what they do – which they are.

The second kind of story are the ones where someone is threatening one or more members of Dallas and Roarke’s extended family. Those get messy. Always interesting, often revelatory about their pasts as well as their present, but those cases stick much closer to home and get more emotional, no matter how many of NYPSD’s finest get involved by the end.

And then there’s the third kind of story, which can dig itself into either of the above. The stories that are trips to the angst factory because they bring back the specters of either Roarke’s or Dallas’ horrifyingly terrible, thoroughly abusive childhoods. Those stories are always hard because I’ve come to care about all the characters a great deal and I hate seeing them suffer again in their present over the crap in their pasts.

This was a case that turned out to be just a case – no matter how much the perpetrator tried to make it more than that. And failed.

But it was still riveting and held my interest from the first page to the last because the story was every bit as relevant today as it is in Dallas’ time. Cops are human – and all of Dallas’ crew are certainly that, from Peabody’s pink coats to Reinecke’s eye-watering ties to Dallas’ own inability to make sense out of cliches and figures of speech – because they mostly don’t if you dissect the words.

Someone does need to watch the watchers, to police the police, to make sure that flawed human beings, because we are all flawed human beings including the police, don’t take the ability to use force and even deadly force to the point where it becomes perceived as the right to do so – because it isn’t.

Part of what made this work for me was the way that it went into the amount of painstaking work that was required to dig through everything that Greenleaf had been part of in a long career to see where the motives might be, no matter how deeply buried they were.

And that the investigation displayed yet again the reasons that Dallas and her squad are the best at what they do.

The part that cast a bit of a pall over the riveting case was that the ‘B’ plot of the story, the sidebar case of the now (former) detective who went off the rails and took a swing at Dallas, didn’t feel like it got either explained or resolved – or at least not to this reader’s satisfaction.

Which did not stop me from reading Payback in Death in a single sitting, as I often do with each, always much anticipated, entry in this series. Obviously, I’ll be back in Dallas’ early 2060s New York City for book 58(!), Random in Death, coming in January, 2024. I’m already full of anticipation!

Review: Cursed at Dawn by Heather Graham

Review: Cursed at Dawn by Heather GrahamCursed at Dawn: A Novel (The Blackbird Trilogy, 3) by Heather Graham
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal, suspense, thriller
Series: Blackbird Trilogy #3
Pages: 304
Published by Mira on August 22, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Dracula lives—and he’s hunting for his bride.
Vampires may not walk among us, but FBI agents Della Hamilton and Mason Carter know real monsters exist. They’ve witnessed firsthand the worst humankind has to offer. They’re still catching their breaths after the apprehension of two such monstrous killers when they’re met with horrific news. Stephan Dante, the self-proclaimed king of the vampires, has escaped from prison, followed only by a trail of blood.
All too familiar with Dante’s cruelty, Della and Mason know the clock is ticking. But as Dante claims more victims, a chilling message arrives. The vampire killer seeks his eternal bride—Della herself. Playing into Dante’s desires might be the only way to stop the carnage once and for all, assuming they can outwit him. Della is confident the agents have the upper hand, but Mason knows every gamble runs the risk of not paying off, and this time, the consequences could be deadly.

My Review:

The story of the Blackbird Trilogy, Whispers at Dusk, Secrets in the Dark and this final book in the trilogy, Cursed at Dawn, is the story of one very long, dark night for the members of Blackbird – at least in the metaphorical sense because the action in this paranormal romantic suspense series takes place over more than one night – and on more than one continent.

When the series began in Whispers at Dusk, the original members of Blackbird, Special Agents Della Hamilton and Mason Carter were tasked with tracking down a serial killer calling himself the ‘King of the Vampires’ who led them on a not-so-merry chase from the bayous of Louisiana to Castle Bran in Transylvania and all points in between until he was brought to justice.

Or so they believed. Although maybe it was more like hoped even then.

The second book in the series, Secrets in the Dark, takes place while Stephen Dante was awaiting trial in a secure U.S. facility. Blackbird, now a fully international team, traveled to London to track down one of Dante’s apprentices, a man who decided that since he couldn’t beat the so-called ‘King of the Vampires’ using the ‘King’s’ own tricks of the trade he’d be better off appropriating a much older title from a much scarier killer, and took to calling himself the ‘King of the Rippers’ as he stalked Whitechapel and decorated the same streets with a fresh coating of blood and gore.

Blackbird caught him as well, and was taking a few days of well-earned R&R when they learned that Stephen Dante had orchestrated his escape from prison and was on the loose yet again, using his tried and true methods of charming or bribing a new network of acolytes and informations, stalking a new brace of beauties he intended to kill, and yet again with Agent Della Hamilton in his sights with an eye to making her his final victim.

Only this time he’s come to Edinburgh, Scotland, a city full to the brim with history, mystery and magic, abounding in ghost stories and banshee myths, with a twisty layers of buried geography that Dante knows like the back of his hand.

But so do the ghosts of Scots long ago, haunting the city from all the way back to the time of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, who are more than willing to help the living fight one more righteous battle against evil.

Dante believes he is all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful, but the ghosts level the playing field for Blackbird with powers that he can neither imagine nor counter. Even as they help to bring his reign of terror to a crashing end.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve enjoyed the entire Blackbird Trilogy, and certainly have been caught up in each entry as soon as I started it, but I liked this one just a tick better because we spent next to no time in Stephen Dante’s head, nor that of any of his proteges. His is not the point-of-view I want to experience. I want to see the case through the investigators’ eyes to watch as the solution fits and starts and eventually falls into place. I don’t need to see the bodies drop to be caught up in the drama and terror, I just need to know they’ve fallen – which we certainly do in this story.

Although it probably helped a bit that there are few actual deaths in this entry in the series. Dante and particularly his minions, keep snatching people but he’s made too many mistakes, he’s let the Blackbird team, especially Della Hamilton, get to know him a bit too well, and this time around they manage to get there in time to save people considerably more of the time.

Which makes this one more about the psychological terror that they know he’s going to strike again – and has and does – than the actual horror of quite so many of his staged tableaux of pale, cold, bloodless, ‘sleeping’ beauties.

(But speaking of what has come before, although the Blackbird Trilogy is an offshoot of the Krewe of Hunters series, you don’t have to read that to get into this. There’s just the right amount of catching up infodumping that Cursed at Dawn probably stands alone – but it would be better to start with Whispers at Dusk to see the team come together.)

The Blackbird Trilogy is a combination of paranormal romance and romantic suspense, and it’s a combo that holds a near and dear place in my reading heart. We began with watching Della and Mason find each other, set against the backdrop of the team coming together and following Dante’s trail of blood and death. As the trilogy has continued, it’s been fun to watch more members get swept into the action, as they band together to track an intelligent, organized and elusive – also illusive – killer.

The trilogy is riveting from its bloody beginning to its killer’s crushing end. Justice has been served after a harrowing investigation, and it’s righteous. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Blackbird, and I know I’ll pick up the Krewe of Hunters again whenever I’m looking for more deliciously chilling paranormal romantic suspense.

Review: Blind Fear by Brandon Webb and John David Mann

Review: Blind Fear by Brandon Webb and John David MannBlind Fear (Finn Thrillers, #3) by Brandon Webb, John David Mann
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Finn Thrillers #3
Pages: 398
Published by Bantam on July 11, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Haunted by the death of his best friend and hunted by the FBI for war crimes he didn’t commit, Finn lands on an island paradise that turns into his own personal hell in this gripping follow-up to Steel Fear and Cold Fear —from the New York Times bestselling writing team Webb & Mann . . .
“Webb & Mann have done it again. Blind Fear has it great characters, an amazing plot, and an incredible setting. This novel moves like a hurricane!”—Connor Sullivan, author of Wolf Trap
By day, AWOL Navy SEAL Finn is hiding out on Vieques, a tiny island paradise off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, living in a spare room behind a seafood restaurant owned by a blind local. By night he scours the dark web, hunting for the rogue officer responsible for the crimes he is accused of committing.
But Finn’s world is about to be turned upside down by a new nightmare, when his employer’s two grandchildren go missing. To find them, he’ll have to infiltrate the island’s dangerous criminal underbelly and expose a shadowy crime network known as La Empresa—even if it means exposing himself in the process.
As the children go on their own harrowing odyssey to stay one step ahead of a cop-turned-killer, a hurricane batters the coastline, cutting Puerto Rico off from the rest of the world. Taking his pursuit to the sea, Finn’s skills and endurance will be tested to their limits to rescue the lost children and escape his own pursuers before the clock runs out. No one is to be trusted. And those who are seemingly his friends might be the most dangerous foes he’s faced yet.

My Review:

For a man who really, really, really needs to stay under the radar, Navy SEAL Chief Finn seems to have an unfortunate genius for rising so far over the surface that he can’t help but become a target for – not just everyone who is already out to get him – but also a whole barrel full of rotten apples who didn’t even know he existed.

Who end up wishing they’d never heard of him – if they live long enough to tell the tale. But if they don’t survive, they just get added to the body count that is already trailing behind him, putting an even bigger target on his back.

We first met Finn in Steel Fear aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, in limbo after his Team’s mission in Yemen went terribly, horribly wrong. Finn was supposed to cool his heels aboard the Lincoln while the fix went in to use him as the scapegoat for an operation that was even dirtier than it was deadly. Finn escaped from the trap when the Lincoln finally came to port, but not before discovering that someone aboard was a murderer and a saboteur – and that the traumatic memories of his childhood that he had been suppressing all of his life were finally breaking free – making him an even better patsy for the crimes that were being falsely laid at his feet.

Cold Fear takes Finn to Iceland, battling with nightmares and doubt as those repressed memories assault both his waking and sleeping hours, while he begins his hunt for the people who betrayed him and his Team. But as his first step in that journey is hunting the hunters who have been sent to hunt him – intending to follow them up their chain of command – the resulting murder and mayhem puts a local serial killer in his sights – and him into the sights of the police hunting that killer down.

Blind Fear takes Finn from the cold of Iceland in the winter to the steamy, humid heat of Puerto Rico in hurricane season as a building tropical storm out in the Atlantic plays will they/won’t they about deciding how big to get and where to strike.

Finn has been living on tiny Isla Vieques, off the coast of the ‘Big’ island of Puerto Rico, staying off the grid, helping a blind grandfather operate his fish shack restaurant and playing a combination of ‘big brother’ and ‘protective uncle’ to the old man’s two grandchildren, Pedro and Miranda, when, as seems to happen all too regularly in Finn’s life these days, a perfect storm of events puts him back on the grid as a literal perfect storm – that hurricane – comes barrelling down on the islands.

The two little ones have disappeared. They are not on Vieques – Finn has most definitely and thoroughly checked – and they did not board the ferry to the main island. Finn and the old man know something has happened to them – even if they don’t yet know what.

So Finn takes up the search – and takes it everywhere he can – raising his head very far above the parapet just as his pursuers – both official and unofficial – reach the island.

Which puts Finn in not one but two sets of cross-hairs – a place he finds himself way more often than is comfortable. Finn is sure that the kids must have seen something they shouldn’t have, most likely something involved the drug trade that is rife on the island. Which means that Finn has to rattle those trees to shake down information about people who will kill to keep their secrets, while the US ‘Alphabet’ agencies are hunting him.

So the blind fear of the title? That’s not the old man, as he’s certain the children will be back. Finn is the one who is blindly afraid, not of his American pursuers because that’s become old hat at this point – but of the possibility that he won’t be enough to save two children that he has come to care for from a criminal organization that seems too big to take down.

Just as he wasn’t enough to save his Team from an even more insidious and corrupt organization that might just be even bigger and more entrenched in a place that he can’t reach.

Escape Rating A-: I did get into Blind Fear, but it took me a lot longer than it did with either of the first two books in the series, Steel Fear and Cold Fear. I think that’s because the story begins from the perspective of the two children, and frequently circles back to their circumstances and that didn’t quite work for me. (But that’s a me thing and not necessarily a you thing.)

On the one hand, one of the things I love about the Finn Thrillers is that Finn is hyper-competent. And he didn’t seem quite as competent this time around as he did particularly in Steel Fear. On that other hand, he DOES still manage to find the next clue in his hunt for the traitor who got him into this mess, even if it did seem like he got more lucky than smart this time around.

One of the overarching threads to this series is that this is Finn’s journey, not just his hunt for the traitor, but his search for himself as the mess of his childhood gets exposed piece by frequently ugly piece. The nature of such a journey is that sometimes the runner stumbles along the way, and this felt like a story that dealt with more of that stumbling.

What made this story work was the combination of its realistic portrayal of Puerto Rico, a portrait not remotely tinged by rose-colored glasses or a need to paper over the hard parts to promote the tourism that the island needs to survive. Puerto Rico was every bit as much a character in this story as any of the humans and that was both awesome and eye-opening. And combining that portrait with the progress of Finn’s journey to finding, well, himself even as he pushes himself beyond his own limits one more time.

So I’m still fascinated with Finn and his hunt for the people who betrayed him AND his search for his true self along the way. Based on the ending of Blind Fear, it looks like Finn is going to be taking his fight a whole lot closer to someone who deserves it in his next outing – and I’m definitely looking forward to that!

Review: The Third to Die by Allison Brennan

Review: The Third to Die by Allison BrennanThe Third to Die (Quinn & Costa #1) by Allison Brennan
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #1
Pages: 550
Published by Mira on February 4, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

An edgy female police detective... An ambitious FBI special agent. Together they are at the heart of the ticking-clock investigation for a psychopathic serial killer. The bond they forge in this crucible sets the stage for high-stakes suspense.
Detective Kara Quinn, on leave from the LAPD, is on an early morning jog in her hometown of Liberty Lake when she comes upon the body of a young nurse. The manner of death shows a pattern of highly controlled rage. Meanwhile in DC, FBI special agent Mathias Costa is staffing his newly minted Mobile Response Team. Word reaches Matt that the Liberty Lake murder fits the profile of the compulsive Triple Killer. It will be the first case for the MRT. This time they have a chance to stop this zealous if elusive killer before he strikes again. But only if they can figure out who he is and where he is hiding before he disappears for another three years. The stakes are higher than ever before, because if they fail, one of their own will be next...

My Review:

I fell hard for this compelling mystery/suspense/thriller series a couple of years ago when I got utterly absorbed in the second book in the series, Tell No Lies, without ever having read the first. My absorption and compulsion has not wavered a bit after reading the third book in the series, The Wrong Victim, and even the recent fourth book, Seven Girls Gone, still without having gone back to this first book in the Quinn & Costa series.

My recent vacation presented a golden opportunity to rectify that omission, to go back and read where it all began. And what a beginning it was!

LAPD Detective Kara Quinn is on a forced vacation back in her tiny home town of Liberty Lake, Washington. At least Kara believes it is merely a mandatory vacation, and it’s not like she doesn’t have plenty of leave to burn and an equal amount of job and life related PTSD that she’s totally unwilling to acknowledge – let alone deal with.

That there is crap going on back in LA that will be resolved ‘better’ in her absence – for select and bureaucratic definitions of ‘better’ and questionably ‘better’ for whom – is something that her boss is keeping from her. And he’s probably right to do so.

Which doesn’t make actually taking a vacation any easier for Kara, who would much rather be working than thinking of all the crap that went wrong in her most recent case. No matter how happy she is to spend time with her grandmother who lives outside the tiny town.

Kara doesn’t exactly WANT to discover a dead body on the shores of Liberty Lake. But that doesn’t stop her from seizing the opportunity to assist the FBI’s understaffed and still not fully together Mobile Response Team when it rolls up to investigate the murder.

Because the body that Kara found has all the hallmarks of being the first in the latest round of murders committed by the infamous Triple Killer. An organized serial killer who seems to have made no mistakes so far, to have left no clues and no trace evidence behind, as he carries out his mission. Even though, at least so far – the FBI’s best profiler can’t determine what that mission is.

All that is known is that once every three years, beginning on March 3, the Triple Killer murders three seemingly random victims, three days apart. Then goes dormant for three years, only to start again in a different city, in a different state, leaving the same calling card – three bodies, killed by the single stroke of a double-sided blade from left shoulder to right hip, crossed by three post-mortem cuts across the abdomen, with the body displayed in a ceremonial fashion in a place where it will be discovered eventually but not immediately.

It’s a race against time as FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt Costa and his barely together Mobile Response Team invade tiny Liberty Lake in the desperate hope of finding the Triple Killer before he completes his mission and retreats into the shadows for another three years.

Costa needs all the help he can get. Kara needs a case to keep her mind occupied while she waits to discover what is happening with the case back in LA. And the killer is compelled to complete his self-appointed mission at all costs.

There aren’t going to be any winners in this one, as there have already been too many deaths. Keeping the body count from getting any higher, is going to have to be win enough for Quinn & Costa.

If they can.

Escape Rating A: I’m not at all sure that the blurb for this one even begins to do it justice, but the book was everything I hoped it would be. And I came into it with some damn high hopes!

The Third to Die had every single thing that I loved in the later books in this series, with the added element of putting the team together that can be so much fun when it’s done right – as it is in this first book in the Quinn & Costa series.

(Sometimes the heavy lifting of getting the team in place can really bog down a first series book, but that absolutely was NOT the case here. My perspective may be a bit skewed because I’ve already read the later book so I’ve seen this team together, which leads me to the conclusion that you really can start this series anywhere and buckle up for a seriously compelling ride no matter where you begin.)

One of the things I love about this series is the stellar ‘competence porn’. Costa, his hand-picked team, and ‘volunteer’ Quinn are all top-notch in their fields of expertise, and it shows in the way the case goes from a thin file on an elusive killer to a full profile over the course of a few, short, intense days.

And while that profile is built by the team’s crack profiler still back home in DC, the way the case gets broken so that profile can be built comes primarily from Quinn’s uncanny ability to think very far outside the box. Her investigative instincts combined with her outsider perspective means that she asks questions that no one has ever asked before – because she doesn’t know which questions have and have not been asked and doesn’t really care whose toes she steps on along the way.

Which leads back to that last case in LA, but not yet. (The case comes up in the next three books in the series, and it looks like the issues – or at least some of them – are going to be investigated more thoroughly – if not resolved – in the fifth book in the series, The Missing Witness, which, dammit, I’m going to have to wait until January for.)

What keeps The Third to Die moving at its breakneck pace – in spite of its length – is the ticking clock the team is driven by every single minute. The Triple Killer kills on March 3, March 6, and March 9. Kara Quinn discovers the body on the morning of March 3. The team has to get from Washington DC to Washington state and hit the ground running, with less than 72 hours until the next body drops. They have no leads, no motives, no suspects. And not just one but two local jurisdictions who are less than thrilled with the FBI operating on their turf without so much as a ‘by your leave’.

So it’s political, and it’s desperate, and it’s a race against time every step of the way. And it’s impossible for the reader – or at least this reader – to stop turning pages until it’s done.

Review: Seven Girls Gone by Allison Brennan

Review: Seven Girls Gone by Allison BrennanSeven Girls Gone (Quinn & Costa, #4) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #4
Pages: 443
Published by Mira on April 25, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

For three years, women have been disappearing—and eventually turning up dead in the small bayou town of St. Augustine, Louisiana. Police detective Beau Hebert is the only one who seems to care, but with every witness quickly silenced and a corrupt police department set on keeping the cases unsolved, Beau’s investigation stalls at every turn.
With nobody else to trust, Beau calls in a favor from his friend on the FBI’s Mobile Response Team. While LAPD detective Kara Quinn works undercover to dig into the women’s murders and team leader Matt Costa officially investigates the in-custody death of a witness, Beau might finally have a chance at solving the case.
But in a town where everyone knows everyone, talking gets you killed and secrets stay buried, it’s going to take the entire team working around the clock to unravel the truth. Especially when they discover that the deep-seated corruption and the deadly drug-trafficking ring at the center of it all extends far beyond the small-town borders.

My Review:

To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Something is rotten in the parish of Broussard,” specifically in the town of St. Augustine, in the heart of the Louisiana bayou.

When we first meet St. Augustine detective Beau Hebert, there are already five women dead, one missing and presumed the same, and a man has just committed murder in front of an entire crowd of folks mostly waiting for their turn in a bar that EVERYONE in town knows is a front for the local brothel and illegal drugs distributor.

There’s a lot going on, all of it bad, and looking like it’s going to get worse. Detective Hebert is pretty damn certain that his boss, the chief of police, is in on the whole mess past his wallet and up to his neck, and that there’s a fix in with the District Attorney. Between the two of them, nothing ever gets done and no one ever gets brought up on charges no matter how much evidence Hebert brings in.

Because it all disappears somewhere along the way.

At the end of his rope, feeling like his time is running out one way or another, with no one to turn to, Hebert phones a friend. An old friend from his days in the Navy, who just so happens to be a member of FBI Special Agent in Charge Mathias Costa’s Mobile Response Team.

Hebert thinks all he needs is someone to talk to – because he has too many hostages to fortune in the parish to rock the very rotten boat. But friends don’t leave friends out on a limb all alone, so Costa’s entire team makes their way to the heart of the bayou to dredge up all the muck that’s obscuring what’s at the bottom of the filthy water.

Along with all the alligators lurking among the corrupt powers that be in this tiny town. The thing about gators is that they bite. What those antediluvian descendants of dinosaurs don’t know – at least not yet – is that Costa and his team bite back.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up for two reasons. First and foremost, because I fell straight into the plot and the team dynamics of this bunch when I read the second book in the Quinn & Costa series, Tell No Lies. I couldn’t put that one down, and the same was true of the third book in the series, The Wrong Victim. So I went into this one expecting a compelling thriller – and I mostly got that.

I also love this series for its ‘competence porn’ aspects. I was in the mood for something where the protagonists knew what the hell they were doing and weren’t worrying about the consequences of doing it. I was certain that was something I’d get in this series and I was pretty much all in.

The only thing keeping this from being an A+ like the previous two books is that the question about whether the relationship between Mathias Costa and Kara Quinn is merely friends-with-benefits, all hidden on the down-low because of their working relationship, or whether it’s going to be an actual ‘Relationship’ with a capital ‘R’ got a bit too angsty and had a bit too much of an impact on both of their behaviors during this case.

Which had all the angst it needed without throwing the emotional baggage they are both lugging around about romance into the mix.

The case itself had me on the edge of my seat because of the way the stakes start out high and just keep getting higher. And because even from the opening, it’s obvious to EVERYONE that someone – or several someones – have committed horrible crimes and that someone powerful is doing more terrible things to keep those crimes covered up.

The question that plagues Beau Hebert at the beginning, and Costa’s entire team once they get there, is exactly who to pin what on. Because someone keeps making the evidence disappear – right along with any potential witnesses. But there are so many motives and so many victims that the air is as thick with suspects as it is with humidity.

And there’s a traitor in their midst muddying the already murky waters, as well as a terrible question. As horrible as the situation is, and as frightened as every single person in town seems to be of pretty much everything – and rightfully so, if Costa and his team do manage to clean out the gators is anyone going to be left with the strength and the will and the sheer moxie to prevent the whole damn parish from sinking back down into the mire?

But that’s not Costa’s job. His job is to arrest the perpetrators with enough evidence to make the charges stick all the way to long jail terms – and to protect his team at all costs. Before all is said and done, and for once more is done than said and not the other way around, that cost almost becomes too high to pay.

While the team wraps up this case with a VERY satisfactory bow at the end, it does not read as if the Quinn & Costa series is anywhere near finished – which is an excellent thing! But there is not currently a next book in the series listed, I have hope there will be one. I am hooked on this author, so I’m very happy that the author has an upcoming standalone thriller, North of Nowhere (due out this August) to tide me over while I wait!