Review: Don’t Open the Door by Allison Brennan

Review: Don’t Open the Door by Allison BrennanDon't Open the Door (Regan Merritt, #2) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Regan Merritt #2
Pages: 384
Published by Mira on January 24, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

“Downright spectacular. A riveting page turner as prescient as it is purposeful.” —Providence Journal on Tell No Lies
A child is shot while playing video games at home. His mother will stop at nothing to find out who did it—and why.
After their ten-year-old son, Chase, was senselessly murdered, Regan's life unraveled. Her corporate lawyer husband, Grant, blamed the death on Regan’s work as a US marshal. Unable to reconcile their grief, they divorced, and Regan quit her job and moved away.
Now she's back after a voice mail from her former boss Tommy said he had important news to share about Chase’s killing. Regan is stunned to learn Tommy is dead too. When she reaches out to Grant, his panicked reaction raises her suspicions. Then a lawyer with ties to her ex also turns up murdered, and the police make Grant their top suspect.
Unsure of his guilt or innocence, Regan risks everything to find Grant before the police do so she can finally get the answers to all that has haunted her since losing Chase. But the truth is not even close to what she imagines—and now she fears she has no one to trust.

My Review:

Former U.S. Marshall Regan Merritt seems to have turned “making lazy and/or corrupt investigators look bad” as her new life’s work. It’s a pity that the cases that bring her skills to bear on her former colleagues come from being much too close to a victim that someone has paid to have whisked under a rug.

Like her 10-year-old son Chase. And now her dead former partner, still a U.S. Marshall, who was looking into her son’s murder. A little too closely for someone else’s comfort.

When we first met Regan Merritt in The Sorority Murder it was a way of easing the reader into the recent tragedies of her life, just as she was easing herself out of the blackest depths of her grief after her little boy’s murder and her subsequent divorce. (Although, honestly, there are PLENTY of reasons why Regan Merritt’s marriage to Grant Warwick was over long before the death of their son – and every single one of them is on display in Don’t Open the Door. OMG the man is a douche. And for once I’m not digressing much at all. Although…my reading group has a metaphorical vat of acid we throw especially asshole-ish characters into on a regular basis. This jerk belongs in that vat!)

We got to know Regan over a case that didn’t have anything to do with her son’s death or the way that the F.B.I. closed it, in her mind very prematurely and with a TON of questions still unanswered. The same thing happened with The Sorority Murder – but as a private citizen Regan is able to turn over rocks and tilt at seeming windmills that finally result in seeing justice done.

So when Regan’s friend and mentor Tommy Granger is murdered after unofficially reopening the case of little Chase Merritt’s murder, Regan is certain – very nearly dead certain, in fact – that Tommy’s death is related to Chase’s, and that she’s not going to let the same damned F.B.I. agents take the easy way out yet again. She’ll just have to retrace Tommy’s steps and rerun his entire search to discover just which rock he turned over and exactly who and what crawled out from under it.

Even if – or perhaps a bit of especially because – it might turn out that her ex-husband is in this mess up to his neck. That perhaps when he blamed Regan’s job for their son’s killing that he already had a sneaking suspicion that it was really all about his own.

Escape Rating A: I read Don’t Open the Door in a single evening for the very same reason I got caught up in The Sorority Murder. I loved following Regan Merritt in her methodical but still compelling investigation. She’s careful, she’s even cautious to a certain extent, but she goes where the evidence takes her – even if she’s not supposed to be the one collecting it and even if it hurts.

I also empathized with the way that she painstakingly processes situations and presents solutions with logic and without much emotion interjected. And I found most people’s – read that as men’s – reactions to that all too realistic. Especially her ex-husband, who always wants everything to be all about him and expects her to have asked for his inclusion at every turn – even in situations where she has all the expertise and he has none. This is just the icing on the shit cake of reasons why their marriage failed.

The other thing that makes Regan such a terrific investigator is that while she trusts her gut instincts, she also verifies those instincts with solid technique. Trust, but verify applies in all sorts of situations, including situations where the person you need to trust is yourself.

The case Regan is attempting to piece together from scattered fragments keeps the reader’s attention – and not just because Regan’s whole heart is in it. It’s clear that Tommy died because he uncovered someone’s dirty secrets. More to the point, he was on the trail of exposing the kind of dirty secrets that are worth killing a U.S. Marshall over – which means they are very dirty, very costly, or more likely both.

Regan’s ex is a high-powered corporate attorney. It is WAY more likely that he saw or heard something that made somebody very important very nervous than that their son’s killer acted alone out of revenge. Somebody paid someone to make a problem go away and that’s not anything of what the F.B.I. decided to believe in order to close a messy case.

Unless someone at the local office is in on it too. Which just means more money and an even messier trail to follow.

So this case starts out personal for Regan, and only gets more so as it goes along. But what keeps us reading is her dogged determination to look out for herself and keep looking for the truth – no matter how many people try to get in her way – or try to get her out of theirs.

In the end, this was a compelling mystery thriller that also had a huge, heaping helping of closure embedded within it. Regan gets her answers – even if they’re not always the answers she wants. She doesn’t get over her son’s death – because one just can’t. (She’s already way past over her divorce.) But she’s turned a HUGE corner, and is looking forward and not just back. It feels like her story is done. I would love to see her in another mystery, because I enjoy the character. But if that never happens, her journey does feel like it has come to an appropriate conclusion and I’m happy with that ending for her.

My first introduction to this author was through Tell No Lies, the second book in her Quinn & Costa series. While we may, or may not, see Regan Merritt again, I’m really looking forward to the next Quinn & Costa thriller, Seven Girls Gone, coming this April.

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
Series: Regan Merritt #1
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.