Somebody Killed His Editor

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Christopher Holmes is an award winning, NYT best selling author multiple times over. At least he was. Now, his long-running cozy mystery series is not so popular, and Holmes’ editor has chosen not to renew his contract.

Trying to revitalize his career, Holmes’s agent has pushed him into revamping his image from that of a stodgy recluse into that of a trendy urbanite. The agent has also pressured Holmes into attending a writer’s conference at a secluded lodge upstate. There, she has arranged for a meeting with the editor to reopen contract negotiations for a new series with a more popular bent.

The only problem with this approach is that Holmes does not care to be a trendy urbanite and he doesn’t want to deal with beginner-level seminars. And he most certainly doesn’t want to write a new series that revolves around nosy cupcake bakers, smart-alecky female PI’s, bounty hunters or demons. However, Holmes doesn’t want his writing career to be over at the age of 40 nor does he want to be penniless, so he agrees to both suggestions.

He should have stayed home!

First, Holmes blows a tire during a driving rainstorm only a few miles from the lodge. Then, the wooden bridge he is crossing by foot collapses beneath him. Soon after, he discovers the barefoot body of a pajama-clad female next to the road. And when he reaches the lodge and reports his grisly find, the victim turns out to be a mystery writer who only recently savaged Holmes in a highly publicized critique.

With the bridge out and the high winds and rain, the police cannot get to the lodge. That means all the conference attendees are stuck on the premises with the body – and probably the murderer. But the body and its murderer are now the least of Holmes’ immediate worries because he is also stuck at the lodge with J. X. Moriarity. Moriarity is an ex-cop turned highly successful thriller writer. He is also a man with whom Holmes had a 3-night affair a decade ago. And that affair ended very badly.

And to add the proverbial insult to injury, Holmes’ editor turns their meeting into a public humiliation in front of all the conference attendees, including Moriarity. Holmes then mouths off a sarcastic remark about poison and drinks when the editor mockingly toasts the demise of Holmes’ career.

Sure enough, the next morning, Holmes finds his editor dead. When Holmes’ ear stud is found under the man’s cheek, the conference attendees demand that he be locked away until the police can arrive. And Moriarity does the honors.

Moriarity is probably the only person at the lodge, other than Holmes’ agent, who believes that Holmes is being framed. But Moriarity has an agenda of his own regarding Holmes. Even though it has been a decade, he has never completely resolved the aborted affair in either his own mind or in his heart. So for a majority of the book, we are wading through 10 years of misunderstandings and the resulting personal and professional acrimony between the two men. As a result, Josh Lanyon provides us with a read that is far more emotional than it is sexual.

Even though the story is told from Holmes’ POV, Lanyon portrays Moriarity as the most injured party in the failed affair all those years ago. And maybe he was, but the tack Lanyon takes with Moriarity made me grind my teeth, over and over, scene after scene. Moriarity doesn’t ask for any explanation as to why things ended the way they did. What he does is use sex as a psychological weapon and then blindsides Holmes with vicious, cruel and demeaning verbal assaults.

I have no use in real life, or in novels, for people who “shoot first and ask questions later.” It was not long into these set-ups where Moriarity claims to be helping Holmes and then proceeds to crush him to rubble that the only words I wanted Josh Lanyon to put in Holmes’ mouth were “Get the H—l away from me and don’t come back.”

However, Lanyon had other plans for Moriarity before the murderer’s identity could be revealed. A little pain, a lot of fear, and a healthy dose of comeuppance did much to level the emotional playing field between the two men. In the end, I still was not a fan of Moriarity, but there are two more books currently in the series. Perhaps, he will redeem himself.

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Santa’s Little Heist

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Cute Christmas holiday romance. Reasonably complicated murder case. Unbelievable premise on which to base both.

First, the romance. Chief Inspector Darcy Carrington and Inspector Ethan Hunter are pulling a 72-hour shift that begins on Christmas Day. They do not normally partner together, but they are the only homicide detectives in their precinct without a spouse or children with which to spend the holidays. So Carrington has volunteered for the duty and has assigned Hunter to assist.

Carrington is a beautiful woman and Hunter is well aware of that fact. But he is just as, if not more, appreciative of the fact that she is an intelligent, insightful and capable detective. Unknown to Hunter, Carrington is just as impressed with his skills. When the 72-hour shift becomes a 7-day marathon due to an outbreak of food poisoning amongst the other detectives, their constant togetherness eventually brings their personal lives into the mix.

But this romance is not a case of lust fueled by opportunity. It is a tale of two people who see each other as beautiful inside as well as out – professionally and personally.

Next, the murder. On Christmas morning, the body of a middle-aged man is found lying in a non-public hallway of the local mall, battered beyond recognition. Although his wallet is beside him, all his identification has been removed, even his wedding ring and his watch. His fingerprints are not in the system and the detectives have only two clues – an anonymous 999 call telling where to find the victim and scads of surveillance video from the mall’s many cameras.

For Hunter and Carrington, their first break in the case is a missing person’s report filed that afternoon that matches the victim. And what seems to be a brutal crime of passion takes on a new twist when the dead man is identified as the manager of Dylan’s Diamonds, a high-end jewelry store in the mall. And that store has been robbed overnight.

Now, the poor premise on which both the romance and the murder investigation depend. At the very beginning of the story, we are told that Hunter and Carrington are the only homicide detectives scheduled to work that 72-hour period beginning Christmas Day. This is predicated on the “fact” that for an untold number of years, that precinct has had virtually no murders between Christmas Day and New Year’s.

No murders? None? No unattended deaths at all? Oh. Come. On.

This is London, not some village of a hundred people out in the boonies. And it is Christmas, a time that seems to produce the most suicides and the most violent domestic disturbances of all regardless of geographical region. Any reader who takes the books of Deborah Crombie, Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes for a ride on a regular basis knows that this premise requires a suspension of disbelief that is beyond the pale.

But the killer for this book (no pun intended) is the poor editing. First, we have co-authors and perhaps the left hand did not read what the right hand had already written. For instance, we are first told that Hunter started out as a beat patrolman. Then, later on, we are told he started out as a crime scene photographer. Only one of these scenarios can be the truth; they are not compatible assignments. So the question is whether one author wrote the first scenario and the other didn’t read that part before continuing with the next section.

But the editing errors go way beyond incompatible facts related to backstory. We also have typographical errors – and there are a lot of them. Some of these errors involve changes of tense and of possession within a single sentence. There are also sentences with missing words and sentences with words that shouldn’t be there. Some sentences contain phrases and clauses that just make no sense when referenced back to the subject of the sentence. And these confusing sentences cannot be chalked up to the differences between British and American speech. These situations would be just plain poor sentence construction in any language or culture.

And this leads me to my major disappointment. P.D. Lake, as previously mentioned, has a co-writer for this book, a person who is a well-published author in her own right, an author whom I have read many times. And this co-author is also a professional editor and proofreader! Perhaps this book just slipped through the cracks in an attempt to get it published in time for readers intent on Christmas-themed entries. No matter – left-hand or right-hand, a professional editor should not have let that happen.

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Top Secret Twenty-One

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Either Janet Evanovich has been listening, at least in part, to her readers or, for this entry, she used an unnamed co-writer who has been listening. For the first time in nine Stephanie Plum novels, I found myself laughing spontaneously every few pages. The usual inane vaudevillian scenarios are absent from the plot line. Lula and Grandma Mazur are real, believable people rather than slapstick caricatures. And Stephanie is not portrayed as a bumbling, insecure, inept idiot.

The writing is crisp, with a cadence unlike any Evanovich book I’ve ever read. The sentences are short and declarative. The fragments of sentences are clear and clean. And a staccato style gives maturity to the volume itself and to Stephanie, in particular. Evanovich may have prepared the story’s outline, but it truly feels like someone else did the writing.

However, regardless of the book’s provenance, some things have not changed. As usual, Stephanie’s car gets destroyed. As usual, Stephanie’s apartment gets bombed and burned. As usual, Ranger’s Porsche is decimated. As usual, the word “Babe” comes out of Ranger’s mouth every third sentence he speaks. And – as usual – nothing changes in the love triangle.

As far as the storyline goes, three subplots are woven together like a braid. First, Jimmy Poletti has missed a court date on a human trafficking charge and Stephanie must bring him back in. Secondly, someone is trying to kill Randy Briggs, a character who has been in several previous series entries. Briggs just so happens to be Poletti’s accountant and he runs to Stephanie for help. Thirdly, Poletti’s weekly backroom poker buddies are coming up missing or dead with an alarming frequency and Stephanie seems to be finding the bodies at the same alarming frequency.

And someone wants Ranger dead. In fact, this person wants Ranger dead so badly that he attempts to infuse the Rangeman facilities with a radiation-based aerosol poison. He does not succeed in infecting Ranger but there is collateral damage.

The different plots blend, separate and re-converge several times throughout the book as Stephanie, Morelli and Ranger find themselves up to their proverbial eyeballs in sharp knives, shoulder-launched rockets and tell-tale hearts. Frankly, this 21st entry in the series comes off more like a cozy than anything else. Some elements are a bit comedic, but nothing is really outlandish or begging for a suspension of disbelief. And there is definitely not a lot of whining, graphic sex, gory corpses or emotional baggage displayed.

Even though there seems to be some noticeable improvement with this entry, I will still continue to get Evanovich books through my library system. Simply put, Evanovich will have to demonstrate considerable advancement in character growth, book-to-book chronology and the romantic element before I will ever put my reading dollars directly into her coffers again.

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Origin In Death

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In the prologue of this 21st entry in Robb’s In Death series, we witness an unnamed doctor administer a lethal injection to a five-year old girl. Watching, in silence, is the doctor’s teenage son. As we listen to the final thoughts of the child, we realize that she is being terminated, not to ease the final ravages of a fatal disease, but because she has failed some crucial test. She is simply not good enough, not close enough to perfection for the man she calls “father.”

By the end of the first chapter, a Nobel Prize-winning reconstructive surgeon, with an extremely lucrative sideline in cosmetic surgery, is dead. Wilfred B. Icove, Sr. is found in his office, stabbed in the aorta with a scalpel. The killer appears to be a beautiful woman who entered the office 30 minutes before TOD and left 5 minutes after. The name in the appointment book is an alias, easily debunked, and she has made no effort to avoid being seen, face or body, on the security discs. Clearly calm and focused in every security shot, from the moment she enters the building to the time she exits, the killer appears to have executed a perfect professional hit.

Eve Dallas and Peabody are already at Icove’s Center investigating another death when Icove’s body is discovered. They are there to question a well-known celebrity who has just undergone reconstructive surgery by Icove’s son. Attacked by her ex-lover, the celebrity had been beaten to a pulp and facially mutilated, but she didn’t go down without a fight and the ex-lover is now dead. Suitably convinced that the killing was in self-defense, Eve and Peabody are on their way out of the Center when Icove Senior’s body is discovered.

As she studies the crime scene and views the security discs, Eve recognizes a personal element behind the professional aspects of the hit. Her suspicions are validated when a routine search of Icove Senior’s home turns up a set of 50-plus treatment summaries, pass-worded and encoded, pertaining to females no older than their early twenties. These summaries contain no names, only identifying numbers, as if the patients are part of some clinical trial. But the treatments go far beyond reconstruction or cosmetic enhancements into far-reaching tests of intelligence, physical ability and psychological bearing. As Eve reads these summaries, she finds that each ends with one of two phrases: “placement successful” or “terminated.”

While running Icove Senior’s financials, Roarke discovers a primary interest in an exclusive, up-scale boarding school for girls. Adding this information to the treatment summaries, Eve suspects that Icove Senior had a sideline to his surgery practice – a designer human trafficking operation. When Icove Junior stonewalls her investigation into this area, Eve is forced to seek additional search warrants. But due to the deceased’s reputation, social standing and Nobel Prize, the DA is reluctant to brook public wrath and is slow to issue the warrants.

By the time Eve can get the warrants approved and served, Icove Junior has been dead for an hour, stabbed in the aorta with a scalpel. The phrase “like father, like son” now has three interpretations: both were doctors in the same specialty, both were murdered in identical fashion and it seems the son was not only aware of his father’s little hobby but was an active participant in it.

At this point, Robb gives the story line a hard left twist. In her investigation of the human trafficking angle, Eve discovers that Icove’s partner in the school is also his partner in a world-famous research lab and is a celebrated Nobel Prize winner in his own right. A renowned geneticist, the partner won his Prize for genome re-sequencing to prevent birth defects.

Connecting the dots, Eve realizes that reconstructive surgery added to cosmetic enhancements added to genome re-sequencing added to private exclusive schooling equals designer babies plus designer adults. Unfortunately, Eve misses one dot in the genome picture. And she doesn’t discover that dot, or its ramifications, until she is faced with the very real evidence that one person can be conclusively proven to be in two different places at the same time – face, fingerprints and DNA all identical.

For the first time, Robb puts Eve in the position of deciding which victim to stand for – the one who is murdered or the one who felt that murder was their only choice. Robb has Eve face the shades of gray that always seem to surface around questions of social, medical and moral issues that clash with current legal boundaries. And even though she has Eve facing these issues in the year 2059, Robb is clearly referencing these issues back to the concepts brought out by Darwin, Hitler and the KKK more than a century in the past. But the worst part, as you read, is that the plan hatched by the doctors is logically and chillingly realistic and legally attainable – in our present.

However rough the morality of the storyline, Robb still intersperses the tension and the psychological trauma with humor. The verbal interactions between Eve and Peabody are snappy and first-rate. And since the story begins about a week before Thanksgiving, the whole concept of family and friends is taken to a new level when Roarke invites his newly found Irish relatives to New York for the holiday. Eve’s reactions to the children who descend upon her the day before Thanksgiving are absolutely hilarious.

There are also the usual scenes with Mavis, Trina and Dr. Louise. But time is passing and Eve is maturing, which make these interludes actually more entertaining. What is not usual in this entry is that Dr. Mira makes a series of professional mistakes when she allows personal opinions to affect her profile. It is almost jaw-dropping to watch Mira come apart professionally to the point that Eve has to throw her out of a crime scene.

Roarke’s role in the investigation is more intermittent than usual, at least until the critical scenes at the end. But his actions are no less important in this entry as Robb puts his focus on the blood relatives who were completely unknown to him only a few months ago. And his verbal interactions with Eve are priceless.

Robb uses this entry to explore age-old legal and moral dilemmas associated with the origin and creation of life and family. However, she also uses those concepts to advance the discussions that Eve and Roarke have in each novel concerning choice, responsibility and nature vs. nurture. For Eve, the shades of gray between the law and justice are becoming more chromatically distinct with every case. And the nightmares are changing.

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Dead Water

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For once, our main protagonist does not discover the body in this third entry of the Loon Lake series. However, he is just around the bend in the creek when he hears the screams of the woman who has discovered the body. As a part-time deputy for the Loon Lake police department, Paul Osborne secures the scene then rows his kayak back to phone it in.

The situation he relates to Lew Ferris is a grisly one: a young woman is half-nude and tangled upside down in a hedge, having apparently been tossed off an old railroad trestle into the creek. A small bullet hole is in the back of her head, but her face has been blown away as a result of the bullet’s exit. Then there are the bite marks on her shoulders, four sets of marks by four distinctly different sets of teeth. Paul also notices that the way her blood has pooled in her body is counter to the position of her body, indicating that she has been killed elsewhere and dumped here.

Before Paul and Lew, the Chief of Police, can finish examining the crime scene and get a CSI team in place, a second body is reported. Again, the victim is a young woman. Again, there is the bullet to the back of the head, the blown-out face, the four bite marks and the inconsistent blood pooling. Apparently, Loon Lake has a serial killer in current residence.

Even without complete facial structures, tentative identification of the bodies comes quickly. The first woman Paul identifies by her dental structure as a former patient of his, Sandy Herre. The second body is identified, based on her clothing, by the owner of a B&B near where the body was found. Ashley Olson has been a guest at that B&B for several days, coming in from Kansas City. Sandy had been a struggling entrepreneur, just getting her accounting service started. Ashley had been an established entrepreneur, owning a highly successful marketing firm and worth millions at her death.

Then a third body shows up, but this one is alive and undamaged, at least not physically. Sixteen-year-old Nick (no last name provided) has just found out that his mother is really his aunt. He has learned that his biological mother, a prominent figure who escaped Loon Lake in her teenage years, does not want him in her life until after she has secured her next husband. And he has just been told that Ray Pradt is his father and that he has to live with Ray for the summer. Coincidentally, Ray Pradt didn’t know any of this either.

The final body shows up in the form of Gina Palmer, an investigative reporter from Kansas City and Ashley’s best friend. Like Nick, Gina is also alive and kicking and has been expecting something like this to happen to Ashley for several months. It is her intimate knowledge of Ashley’s background and recent circumstances that enables Paul and Lew to focus the direction of their investigation into both deaths, even though the victims are seemingly unrelated personally or professionally.

And while we’re talking about Gina, you will want to pay attention to her personality, particularly in the scenes where she first encounters Paul and Lew. You might want to pay even closer attention to the way in which she describes her job and the concealed weapon she carries. Because, later in the book, you will witness one of the most realistic transformations I have ever seen an author craft, when Gina’s ego and bravado come face to face with another person holding a gun, a person who not only craves the hunt but who lives for the kill.

Unfortunately, the author telegraphs the identity of the killer before Paul and Lew have even finished their examination of the second murder scene. Any experienced mystery reader, whether their favorite genre is cozy, hardboiled, romantic suspense or detective-based, will be able to spot the tell. It is subtle and not the result of the killer exposing himself or herself through an internal monologue. Since the book is told from Paul’s POV, we only know what Paul sees, hears and thinks. And something he observes provides the reader with the identity. Paul is just too inexperienced as an investigator to understand what he has seen.

Therefore, the reader spends 90% of the book watching and waiting while the team puts the clues together and navigates the red herrings thrown in their path. They are good red herrings, too, so the read goes quickly.

After having read the first three books in the Loon Lake series now, I can say one thing about this author’s style. Victoria Houston really knows how to craft an exciting, tension-filled denouement. You know the main characters survive because there are seven more books currently in the series, but you are certainly on the proverbial pins and needles wondering how they will be able to do it without the author succumbing to an illogical save. But, in the end, she manages the scene realistically and in keeping with the personalities and skills of the characters involved.

My only real complaint with this book (the early knowledge of the killer’s identity could be deliberate on the author’s part) is that Victoria Houston seemed to forget her own biography of Ray Pradt. For two books previously, he has been 6 feet 6 inches tall and about 36 years old. In this book, however, she repeatedly – and I do mean repeatedly – reports his height as one inch shorter and he has lost about three years in age.

It’s bad enough that the author doesn’t remember her own characters or doesn’t refresh her memory by re-reading her previous novel before writing the next. But, quite frankly, her editor and her beta readers should have caught the discrepancies immediately. If they are that obvious to the casual reader, they should practically jump out at a professional. And, by the way, Houston has reinvented the wheel with Lew Ferris also, as the physical description of Lew has significantly changed since the first novel.

But, on a good note, before the novel is over, Houston actually steps up the romance between Paul and Lew. The advance wouldn’t even rate a 0.5 on the Richter Scale, but it is touching and telling nevertheless. And it also sets the hook for the next book.

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Dead Creek

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I just love it when the main protagonist of a novel discovers the body in the first chapter. There is nothing like getting right down to business. In fact, Paul Osborne actually finds four bodies, all stuffed in a large wire shipping crate anchored below the surface of a creek.

Chief of Police Lew Ferris is halfway across the country testifying in a case while taking a bit of vacation and the coroner is ill. So it falls upon Paul, Lew’s deputy, Roger, and the former chief, John Sloan, to begin the investigation. Upon initial examination, Paul believes that he is working with the bodies of three men and a woman. Having been both a practicing and a forensic dentist for over 30 years, he is an expert in cranial construction. Therefore, he is more than a little surprised to find that the one with the female skull is actually a male, albeit a male that is missing the testes and missing them naturally, not by surgery.

With this setup, Victoria Houston walks us into the living nightmare of four siblings poisoned from the moment of conception by industrial chemicals dumped into their family’s water supply. Loon Lake had been the site of a paper mill for many years, long before environmental laws made it illegal to dump effluent into the creeks these plants were invariably built beside. Part of the land surrounding this defunct mill was eventually sold to a couple that wanted to live in the backwoods, off the grid.

The wife suffered multiple miscarriages before having a daughter and then a set of triplets, two boys and a girl. The parents knew from the physical appearance of the children that something was desperately wrong. And they knew that the natural aging process couldn’t account for how they physically felt either. When the triplets were only five months old, a neighbor made a welfare check on the family a few days after the father told him about the “evil angels” that were their children. Finding the children alive but the parents dead by suicide, the neighbor placed the triplets with the local convent and adopted the older girl himself.

Although the children were removed from the backwoods to a more urban area with medical facilities, nothing could reverse the damage. The paper mill had dumped a chemical that was, in reality, a synthetic superestrogen. By absorbing the chemical through their drinking water and through the flesh of the fish they caught in the same waters, that chemical had caused a genetic mutation in the children at the cellular level.

The bottom line was that the children actually suffered from two irreversible effects. First, they had the correct gender chromosomes but only a partially correct reproductive system. Secondly, the males under-produced testosterone, never achieving puberty and developing a feminine bone structure. And the females overproduced it, entering puberty early and developing a hirsute, masculine frame.

Fortunately, regardless of how badly their bodies had betrayed them, each child was of above average intelligence. Each child grew up to be an expert in their respective chosen professions and, with one exception, are quite well off financially. Three of the children were adopted by local families and have been able to maintain a relationship into adulthood. And now, one of the four siblings, the one Paul Osborne thought was a woman, is dead in that submerged cage.

Victoria Houston has crafted quite a convoluted mystery in this second entry of her Loon Lake series. In addition to our main three, Paul, Lew and Ray, there are a slew of characters to keep straight. And because of the multiple adoptions, there are multiple name changes to keep track of. But Houston puts the clues out there for the reader, chapter by chapter. However, the full scope of the treachery and psychosis involved here does not crystalize until almost 80% of the story is complete. So don’t be surprised if you change your mind as to the identity of the murderer several times after this point.

And, for a cozy, that remaining 20% of the book is terrifying. Unfortunately, the resolution of the crisis borders on a deus ex machina. However, Houston has structured the character of Ray Pradt in such a manner that you can almost believe it could happen that way – almost.

Speaking of Ray Pradt, Houston gives us a great deal more insight into his character and his background in this novel. We also learn considerably more about Paul, his marriage to his now-deceased wife, and his growing feelings for Lew. What we don’t get is any real insight into Lew. After two novels we know what she looks like, we know how she functions as a cop, we know about her expertise as a fisherman, and we suspect we know how she feels about Paul. But we have almost no backstory for her at all; her past is almost a cipher.

Again, as in the first novel, we observe all the action from Paul’s viewpoint. And, again, as in the first novel, we have a high degree of romantic tension with no overt sexual action. However, Paul is a shy man who believes he is too old for Lew. So, for now, friendship and fishing will just have to do. And with this unresolved conflict, Houston sets the hook (no pun intended).

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Fatal Jeopard

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Compared to the other six entries in this series, “Fatal Jeopardy” is just mediocre. It comes off as disjointed in characterization and somewhat sappy even for the romantic suspense genre. Yet, the initial setup shows considerable promise.

Sam Holland and Nick Cappuano have finally found mutual time for a vacation. It is the week before Thanksgiving, Congress is in recess and Sam has scheduled her leave to match her husband’s Senate schedule. Then three events occur within just hours of each other.

On the evening prior to the start of their vacation, Nick is body checked during a men’s league hockey game, injuring the same ribs that took so long to heal months before. After several hours in the emergency room, Sam and Nick return home to find the unconscious and naked body of Sam’s niece, Brooke, dumped on their front porch and wrapped in a bloody sheet.

When neither Sam nor the paramedics can find a source wound for the blood, Sam suspects that another victim is in the wind. But when she soon receives a call from her partner, Cruz, saying that he and Gonzo have been diverted to the scene of a multiple homicide involving teens, Sam suspects the worse. When she arrives on scene, she finds six teens stabbed multiple times in a basement family room. Then, three more bodies are found in an adjacent bedroom and the blood-soaked bed is missing a sheet.

And now a most exciting storyline begins to fall apart, one scene at a time. First, Nick goes ballistic when Sam cancels the out-of-town portion of their vacation to help her niece physically, emotionally and legally. To expect Sam to leave a close family member lying unconscious in a hospital to go spend a few days lying in the sun consuming little drinks decorated with umbrellas is a reaction that is totally out of character for Nick. It appears that the author scripted this scene strictly to force a major crisis in the plot.

Secondly, Sam is allowed to work both cases, the multiple homicides and her niece’s gang-rape, even though it constitutes a conflict of interest as far as chain of custody for criminal proceedings is concerned. The author tries to square this away by saying that the father of one of the dead teens, a prominent D.C. criminal defense attorney, wants the best homicide detective in the city on the case. That’s right – we are expected to believe that a defense attorney wants a detective with a conflict trying to find his son’s murderer, especially a detective that he has publically denounced for years. Even grief cannot make this one ring true.

Then Marie Force rewrites Sam’s character by trying to add an emotional component into Sam that has not been in evidence previously. For the first time, Sam seems unable to cope effectively with fear, especially in circumstances that concern those she loves. Considering that she and Nick have been in much more dire circumstances than this and she has never lost her cop’s instincts, this “change” feels artificial and unrealistic. And in writing such a change, Force turns a perfectly staged murder mystery into a mushy beach read.

Next, Force fails miserably in her attempt to get the reader to feel that Sam is frustrated at every turn because Gonzo is in charge of the homicide investigation, while her conflict relegates her to being just a team member. Quite frankly, Sam actually handles the situation with perfect professional bearing, befitting her position as the homicide division commander. She sets an important example for her team and she actually learns from the experience.

This entry in the series may have come across to me as an over-emotional, contrived, fluffy cozy, but Force does leave a few hooks dangling for future novels. Hints are left about Stahl’s vendetta against Sam and about the upcoming trial of the psycho who brutally raped one of Sam’s team members. And there is definitely groundwork being laid for an upcoming and serious glitch in the adoption of Scotty.

Add in the changes in Nick’s political future and there is considerable fodder for additional novels. I just hope Force can keep the foci of her various series separated in the future. Writing a “Fatal” entry in the same style as one of her “Gansett Island” novels is, in my opinion, not the best course to take with mystery readers. But, just in case, when the next “Fatal” entry is published, I think I’ll hedge my financial bets and either wait for it to come on sale or check it out of the library.

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