Category: Mystery/Crime

Cold & Deadly by Toni Anderson

Cold & Deadly by Toni AndersonCold & Deadly by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice: Crossfire #1
Published by Toni Anderson on 12th February 2019
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Hostage Negotiators can talk themselves out of anything—except falling in love.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dominic Sheridan is an accomplished expert in the Crisis Negotiation Unit. Practiced, professional, used to dealing with high-stake situations under tense conditions, Dominic is a master at manipulating people. Everyone, that is, but the headstrong rookie agent bent on destroying her fledgling career.

As a child, Ava Kanas put her life on the line when the mob executed her father. Now someone has killed her mentor, the man who inspired her to become an FBI agent—and she’s the only one who recognizes it was anything but a tragic accident.

When another agent is murdered and Dominic nearly dies, it becomes obvious a serial killer is targeting the FBI. Together Dominic and Ava search for clues in the investigation, all the while fighting a forbidden attraction that will complicate everything, especially when the predator sets their sights on Ava.

The marvellous Toni Anderson scores again. ‘Cold & Deadly’ is the latest incarnation or rather, the first of the spin-off books of her FBI agents series, and with it comes the same fantastic, faultless type of writing that reminds me why I love romantic suspense so much.

SSA Dominic Sheridan and rookie agent Ava Kanas find themselves embroiled what apparently looked like a simple case of a retired agent committing suicide, where soon it becomes clear that  someone is targeting the FBI agents themselves as Dominic soon finds himself in the crosshairs of an investigation that blows up beyond his imagination.

From the onset, it becomes clear that the case is a winding, gritty and absorbing one, so vividly painted—even with the sub-plot/diversion that was equally hair-raising—with the bleak but brutal shadow of violent deaths and the warped minds of serial killers. There’s no doubt at all that Anderson can write and does it superbly (I think I can’t say this enough about the quality of her prose), as her protagonists and secondary characters are so cohesively put together that any prerequisite knowledge of her previous books isn’t needed to get lost in this tale of grand revenge, edgy paranoia, spellbinding action sequences and unintended (or forbidden?) attraction.

Yet my only gripe, strangely, is about the romance, which I found sidelined amidst the rocking suspense. Dominic and Ava, pushed together incidentally, and their growing attraction is predictable though not without the amount of cold water each pours on the future of this so-called relationship. There’re so many reasons why this pairing wouldn’t work—Anderson herself provides these reasons in the protagonists’ individual musings—and I was left ironically convinced that ‘Cold & Deadly’ would still have been a brilliant (or perhaps, even superb?) read if the romance hadn’t been even included at all.

The shining light here however, was probably Ava Kanas herself. My perspective on her went from dour to admiring to uncertain, but what remained consistent was that Anderson had drawn up a pretty complex, passionate and multi-faceted protagonist who felt like a contradictory piece of work on so many levels, yet owned a big heart that made it impossible not to feel for her when push came to shove. Dominic Sheridan in contrast, felt like he was left a little paler in the shade: more remote, more like the poor rich boy who shunned commitment, who made a name for himself independently in law enforcement in spite of his rich family’s connections, suddenly questioning what he can commit to.

If length tends to become and issue of contention for several authors that I do like, ‘Cold & Deadly’, at around 400 pages, made me grateful that Anderson took her time to weave everything together with intricate detail. Surfacing from this a few days later, I’m just happy to say that I had a bloody good time.

four-stars

Keep Her Safe by K.A. Tucker

Keep Her Safe by K.A. TuckerKeep Her Safe by K.A. Tucker
Published by Atria Books on 23rd January 2018
Pages: 436
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three-half-stars

Noah Marshall has known a privileged and comfortable life thanks to his mother, the highly decorated chief of the Austin Police Department. But all that changes the night she reveals a skeleton that's been rattling in her closet for years, and succumbs to the guilt of destroying an innocent family's life. Reeling with grief, Noah is forced to carry the burden of this shocking secret.

Gracie Richards wasn't born in a trailer park, but after fourteen years of learning how to survive in The Hollow, it's all she knows anymore. At least here people don't care that her dad was a corrupt Austin cop, murdered in a drug deal gone wrong. Here, she and her mother are just another family struggling to survive...until a man who clearly doesn't belong shows up on her doorstep.

Despite their differences, Noah and Gracie are searching for answers to the same questions, and together, they set out to uncover the truth about the Austin Police Department's dark and messy past. But the scandal that emerges is bigger than they bargained for, and goes far higher up than they ever imagined.

With an apparent suicide that sparks off a civilian-run investigation, K.A Tucker plunges us straight into a fascinating case of deep rot in a police department, the layers of cover-ups and complicity at all levels. That much, ‘Keep Her Safe’ is a solid thriller/suspense as Noah Marshall and Grace Richards try to untangle threads that many have tried to sever in a 14-year-old mystery. Tucker pours out theories, doubts upon doubts, throws in several signposts and red-herrings while piling on the emotion—all of which did keep me engaged until the end. Well, mostly.

At 400 pages, ‘Keep Her Safe’ ran the risk of being bloated, along with the slow burn of a romance that thankfully, didn’t exactly detract from the plot. Told in several POVs, straddling different timelines, this was drawn out much more than I thought it would, as it soon became clear (halfway into it at least) who the major, dirty players were.

That much I liked, as cynical as the plot is, about a broken justice system where evasion and conspiracy (and deliberately not doing the right thing) seem the reigning themes of this procedural.

Character-wise however…oh lord, how I loathed Grace—a hormonal teenager masquerading as an adult.

Petulant and petty, with an uncontrollable temper, with a bull-headed tendency to rush into everything—and blaming everyone else for everything not going right—Grace’s large chip on her shoulder was so blindingly big that it was impossible to like her at all. It always felt that she was the self-righteous one, while Noah always fumbled in his missteps and had the uphill climb to appease her ‘world-owes-me-big’ attitude. I get it—she’s had a hard life. But behaving at every turn like the world owes her everything for that while trampling everyone and anyone because of her circumstances? Didn’t get too much sympathy from me here.

Noah’s restraint in contrast, was a cool balm of relief, though I got annoyed and tired with the number of times he had to keep her flaring temper and her inability to even sit and think rationally. That he had to keep placating her made him like a caretaker of an unruly child instead of a romantic interest.

That said, K.A Tucker isn’t quite an author on my regular feed, though I’m guessing she should be. While I couldn’t (or rather, didn’t) buy into the romance at all, ‘Keep Her Safe’ is more than a decent read even though I took days to finish it.

three-half-stars

Deadly Obsession by April Hunt

Deadly Obsession by April HuntDeadly Obsession by April Hunt
Series: Steele Ops, #1
Published by Forever on 30th April 2019
Pages: 416
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three-half-stars

Someone is watching their every move.

After a lifetime spent in and out of hospitals, Zoey Wright is tired of playing it safe. She's ready to take charge of her own life and get out of her comfort zone, starting with a new job as a CSI agent. But when her childhood crush Knox Steele gets pulled onto her case, Zoey needs to put her feelings for him aside or more women will die at the hands of the serial killer preying on her hometown.

Former Army Ranger Knox Steele is back in Washington to help his brothers open an elite private security firm. He never expected to stumble onto a crime scene, or see his best friend's little sister working it. Zoey is all grown up now, and the attraction between them is electric, despite his best efforts to resist it. But all that changes for Knox when he realizes the victims have one thing in common . . . and Zoey might be next.

There’s always a special excitement I have when there’s the new start of a series particularly in the sub-genres of romance that I look for. April Hunt’s new Steele Ops series was one I plunged into because, well, new year, new series, new start.

Sort of.

Combining the brother’s-best-friend trope with a typical serial-killer storyline, ‘Deadly Obsession’ is very much an establishing book that sets the context for the series. And thus far, I did like the cocooned bonds and the closeness between the characters and Hunt’s decision to write a somewhat different heroine—whose illness gave her cause to rise above her circumstances again and again—is quite remarkable.

There were no surprises here, where characters or plot were concerned at least: Zoey being in the line of fire, Knox’s non-committal stance towards the will-they-won’t-they relationship, his denseness that needed a huge awakening in the form of mortal danger to Zoey to dissipate, the ‘sex-only’ agreement that you just know will fail. They’re well-worn tropes really, but April Hunt’s engaging writing carried the story and I did, by and large, have a good and easy time making my way through the suspense—even guessed who the perp was well in advance.

There’s much talk about seizing life by the horns especially when faced with one’s mortality nonetheless: Zoey did come across as desperate and overcompensating for having missed out on so much at times, just as Knox’s indecisive mixed signals grated along with the reminders about how he didn’t stick with women at all.

By and large though, I did have an easy time reading this and did find the story quite engaging despite the well-trodden issues in romance that authors do like to take up. Hunt’s writing has a certain kind of clarity here that I can appreciate and there’s enough development of the secondary characters whose coming stories (no doubt) I would like to follow up on.

three-half-stars

Protecting Piper by Cynthia Eden

Protecting Piper by Cynthia EdenProtecting Piper by Cynthia Eden
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on 29th January 2019
Pages: 178
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two-stars

She was off limits.

Eric Wilde has always known that Piper Lane isn’t for him. She is his younger brother’s best friend…and probably more. But that hasn’t stopped Eric from wanting her. For longing for the one woman that he can’t have. Sure, he’s rich, successful—he’s built a security empire, and he’s got the world at his feet. Only he doesn’t have her.

He is the one man she needs the most.

Free-spirited Piper Lane has always considered Eric to be the enemy. He’s seemed to resent her, and the guy just flat-out makes her nervous. Every time she’s around him, she winds up doing something horribly embarrassing. But, this time…everything has changed. This time, he’s the one man she needs the most.

Something is stalking Piper.

A stranger has broken into Piper’s home twice, and she feels like someone is following her. Watching her every move. She needs a professional to help her—so enter Eric Wilde. He promises her protection, he promises to put his best investigators on her case, and he even moves her into his house. Suddenly, the guy who has always been the villain in her life…he’s now playing the role of hero.

Everything will change as the danger mounts.

And maybe Eric isn’t so bad, after all. The more time that Piper spends with him, the more she realizes that her feelings for Eric are far more complicated that she ever imagined. Desire explodes between them even as the danger deepens around her. Someone in the dark is targeting Piper, and he is determined that if he can’t possess her…then he will destroy her.

‘Protecting Piper’ was one I was eager to read, seeing how it was not tied to any of the long-running Cynthia Eden series at all and that it does have the best friend’s brother’s trope (and the sort of liking each other from afar) in it.

Apart from the very quick suspense setup that Piper Lane had a stalker, the first half however, was off-putting.

And that was mostly in part due to Eric Wilde who acted the epitome of the bully who couldn’t use his words to pursue the girl, who bulldozed and snarled his way through every man who came near to Piper when he didn’t throughout all the years he’d known her.

That Eden played up the double standard here —having Eric question the number of lovers Piper had while he screwed around with tons of others—was rather infuriating, along with the juvenile behaviour Eric displayed of tormenting her because he supposed loved her from afar, while not manning up to do anything about it until she was in danger. Having Piper going inexplicably from teenage crush to dislike to all-in love made the inconsistencies in the characters’ emotional development even starker.

Eden’s rather simple whodunnit novella would have been more enjoyable I think, had there not been her trademark overuse of ex-lovers always circling the pond and muddying the waters between the protagonists. ‘Protecting Piper’ became a less-than-stellar read as a result, where the romance was reduced to sudden realisations that they’d been idiots all along while ex-lovers rigorously defended as meaningless.

two-stars

Silent Evidence by Rachel Grant

Silent Evidence by Rachel GrantSilent Evidence by Rachel Grant
Series: Evidence,
Published by Janus Publishing on 28th December 2018
Pages: 436
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four-stars


The man of her fantasies is finally hers. Sort of…

Two things haunt forensic anthropologist Hazel MacLeod: the bones of victims of genocide she examines for her work, and former SEAL Sean Logan’s rejection. But within days of moving to her cousin’s estate to take a much needed break, she finds herself faced with both.

First, she’s called in to examine a mass grave in Virginia, then, her politician cousin receives a threatening letter and insists Hazel needs around the clock protection—from none other than Sean Logan. To make matters worse, because the threat to her is classified, Hazel and Sean must pretend to be lovers to hide that he’s her bodyguard.

Sean has spent years trying to avoid his boss’s sexy cousin, but now he’s guarding her twenty-four/seven and even bringing her as his date to a romantic destination wedding. As the heat between them intensifies, Sean can’t lose sight of the danger that brought them together. But when bullets start flying, new questions arise. Are the senator’s political rivals really behind the threat, or is someone trying to silence Hazel from speaking for the dead?

The unfulfilled, unrequited type stories are what I tend to go after and ‘Silent Evidence’—touted by Rachel Grant as such—was one that I immediately pounced on when it came. Then again, reading Grant’s works is always an enthralling, absorbing experience.

‘Silent Evidence’ isn’t exactly a standalone to begin with. Characters from Grant’s previous books do play a substantial part in here—with the many references to the events of previous books providing much-needed context for how well we can understand what’s really going on—this far into the series where Grant’s speculative ‘world-building’ so to speak, is sufficiently developed to entangle everyone else apart from her protagonists in the building mystery and suspense.

The romance itself however, is fairly straightforward: Hazel MacLeod has always wanted Sean Logan, whose rebuffs have not only put her on edge and eager to avoid him, but that circumstances have somehow conspired to put them back in each other’s orbits when it becomes clear that there are odds and ends that don’t add up—with more than a touch of danger that sweeps in.

Like all Grant books, her plot and characters are layered and complex, with a hard, detailed look into fascinating fields such forensic anthropology, political manoeuvrings and a thread of racial tension woven through it all. But it did take a while to get to the meat of the story and the conspiracy as Sean and Hazel did their will-they-won’t-they dance in a fake boyfriend/bodyguard ruse that felt somewhat amateurish for this high-octane story. If Hazel suffered from all the pining, Sean’s own indecision got rather aggravating until a near-fatal accident took it all out of him and got him to buckle down for the ride.

The big reveal and the unravelling of the conspiracy did seem kind of a let down after the elaborate setup however, when it all peaked and then wrapped in the last 15 or so pages of the long, long read where telling took over showing. Left with the niggling feeling that I’d been taken for a huge, circular joyride with political and human-experimentation inserts from time to time, I finished ‘Silent Evidence’ semi-content that Sean/Hazel rode off into their HEA but wondered if the story could have been shorter and tighter.

four-stars

Ryan by Debra Webb

Ryan by Debra WebbRyan by Debra Webb
Series: Dark and Dangerous Romantic Suspense #2
Published by Pink House Press on 5th February 2008
Pages: 275
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SHE WILL NEVER BE A VICTIM AGAIN...
Special Agent Vivian Grace needs to find the truth before the next victim dies. Her own past as a kidnapping victim of a serial killer still haunts her. She will do whatever it takes to make sure she is never a victim again and she will do all within her power to save others... even if it means working with a burned out ex-agent who could get them both killed.

ALL HE WANTS IS TO FORGET THE PAST...
Ex-special agent Ryan McBride lost everything three years ago when a case went fatally wrong. He has spent every minute since then drinking himself into oblivion to forget. When Vivian Grace knocks on his door demanding his help, he is certain of only one thing--he cannot help her. But someone is using their dark pasts to lure them into a game and neither Ryan nor Vivian can stop the momentum.
The only certainty is that someone is going to die.

Disgraced former-FBI man Ryan McBride is in the worst state of his life since it spiralled down the drain in a case gone wrong 3 years ago, until rookie Vivian Grace stumbles into it with a case she needs to close.

It’s interesting sometimes, to read a writer’s early work to see how much of the writing has changed in the years. And I’ve found Debra Webb’s writing as always, to be faultless and very easy to get lost in. Objectively, it’s an interesting and absorbing story—if ‘Ryan’ is taken as a thriller and not as romantic suspense book—that’s well-written, with just enough development of the police procedural balanced with sufficient character-insights to keep me a happy reader.

But still, I found Ryan to be smarmy and slimy and actually cheered every time Vivian coolly responded to his filthy and inappropriate advances which felt more lecherous and disgusting than seductive. He pushed relentlessly to strip her down emotionally, yet stayed hypocritically enmeshed in his own mantrum of having his life upended while playing head games with anything or anyone associated with the FBI.

On the romantic front however, I didn’t get Ryan/Vivian’s chemistry at all. Sure, they’re flawed, they’re nowhere near the forced rainbow-HEA that we sometimes get from the unrealistic romantic fiction type endings. Yet everything between them felt antagonistic with the splash of attraction as both were ultimately, too caught up in their own self-absorbed lives to really get down to the hard part of the relationship.

I didn’t quite like this as much as I liked the first one in this series, but it’s probably more for those who don’t need things nicely tied up in a bow by the end of it all.

Secrets Never Die by Melinda Leigh

Secrets Never Die by Melinda LeighSecrets Never Die by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #5
Published by Montlake Romance on 19th March 2019
Pages: 361
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four-stars

When a retired sheriff’s deputy is shot to death in his home, his troubled teenage stepson, Evan, becomes the prime suspect. Even more incriminating, the boy disappeared from the scene of the crime.

Desperate to find her son, Evan’s mother begs PI Lance Kruger for help. She knows her son is innocent. Kruger and defense attorney Morgan Dane want to believe that too, but the evidence against the boy is damning. Just as the trail goes cold, another deputy vanishes. His shocking connection to Evan’s stepfather throws the investigation into chaos as Lance and Morgan fear the worst…that Evan is the killer’s new target.

With so many secrets to unravel, will Lance and Morgan find him before it’s too late?

Throw in a police procedural-type story and I know Melinda Leigh can make it shine. Leigh’s Morgan Dane juggernaut—into its fifth book here—keeps rolling on and shows no sign of abating and for good reasons.

Morgan and Lance tackle a case that has gotten law enforcement into a tizzy: the murder of a retired deputy sheriff, his missing stepson and the current inclination of the authorities to blame it on the latter. The setup is admittedly formulaic (and a little anti-climatic as well) but nonetheless absorbing, easy to follow, with protagonists you know you can put your last penny behind.

I loved catching up with Morgan and Lance, whose relationship grows from strength to strength. Past the sexual tension, the getting-together, Morgan/Lance’s solid partnership is never in question. The return of the odd, power couple as a crime-solving duo is always welcome of course, yet I find that I miss the heat between them—something that Leigh now glances over—even though I liked the progression of their relationship. Essentially, much of ‘Secrets Never Die’ deals with the investigation process and the superhuman strength that both Morgan/Lance seem to possess in the few days within which the story takes place, with only a very, very faint whiff of romance even with the introduction of a potential secondary pairing of Sharp and Olivia.

In any case, Leigh’s solid writing gave me a good ol’ crime mystery to solve and if you aren’t bothered by the seeming lack of romance) ‘Secrets Never Die’ is a pretty good all rounder.

four-stars