Category: Mystery/Crime

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

The Conspiracy by Kat Martin

The Conspiracy by Kat MartinThe Conspiracy by Kat Martin
Series: Maximum Security #1
Published by HQN on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Harper Winston’s brother has disappeared. Pursuing his dream of sailing the Caribbean, Michael hasn’t responded to texts or emails in days. When even the Coast Guard can’t find him, Harper is forced to take desperate measures. Which means going to Chase Garrett, once her brother’s best friend, now the only man she can trust…or so she hopes.

As the successful owner of Maximum Security, Chase has learned to trust his gut. He knows Harper’s father is mixed up in a deadly business, and suspects there’s more to Michael’s disappearance than meets the eye. Getting involved again with the Winstons goes against everything he stands for, yet old loyalties die hard. As the case draws him closer to Harper and deeper into the Winstons’ snarled crime family, he is forced to put everything on the line to keep Harper safe…and both of them alive.

I thought ‘The Conspiracy’ started off quite well, with the plot quickly and decisively set up: Harper Winston’s brother has gone missing and her desperation to get him back leads her to his former best friend (and the man she’d always wanted) though they haven’t been in contact for years. That this has ties to their powerful father who has shady dealings—who might have something to do with her brother’s disappearance—upped the ante from the start.

After an exciting start however, it was towards the middle that my interest started to flag. The insertions of multiple POVs, long descriptions of place, secondary characters, their personal histories and scattered pieces of the overall puzzle, simply detracted from the momentum of the main story. I skimmed, then read on when the story got back on track (rinse and repeat)—this pretty much described the entire experience throughout the book.

The initial attraction between Harper and Chase consisted mostly of individual internal monologues revolving around their lust for each other and their indecision about making a move. Still, there’s action, some twists involved and a case of major pushing away…which also happens only to a certain extent because neither Harper nor Chase can stop wanting sex with each other.

I’m not entirely sure how to put a finger on this, but reading ’The Conspiracy’ feels curiously akin to reading an older style of romance (outfitted with contemporary themes of RS and the technology of the day) with a more erotic hook, with Kat Martin’s characterisation steeping her protagonists in more ‘traditional’ roles that historical (?) romantic fiction tends to perpetuate.

In this case, Harper cried a lot, turned pale a fair bit, gasped each time as she stared at Chase’s body, was somehow naive as hell at the heart of it yet magically transformed into someone who knew how to be part of a military op. On the other hand, Chase’s eyes burned with hunger constantly as though he was on the verge of ravishing her, got hard with the slightest thought of her and pretty much played the macho man throughout. That he used their sexual attraction to get back into her good graces felt like manipulation: did Chase have to really do stupid things while knowing it would cause Harper some pain, then bend over backwards to make it up? That it had to take something so monumental for him to turnaround to decide that he wanted her permanently when he’d initially wanted a clean break with her?

Most probably it’s Kat Martin’s style that doesn’t gel with me personally. I simply thought ‘The Conspiracy’ could have been so much more (a leaner, meaner read that could have left me reeling the good way, essentially) but fell far short of my own expectations.

This isn’t a book for me clearly; from style to characters, there were quite a few things that I couldn’t really get on board with, though I can imagine that this would be a typical offering for the RS crowd from a staple RS author.

two-stars

Clint by Debra Webb

Clint by Debra WebbClint by Debra Webb
Published by Pink House Press on November 16th 2018
Pages: 297
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four-stars

ALL SHE WANTS IS JUSTICE...

Who killed Emily Wallace's best friend ten years ago? Emily is certain it was Clint Austin, the town bad boy. As the key witness, Emily ensured Clint was convicted and sentenced for the crime. When he is released on parole, Emily is determined that he never forget what he has done.

HE WILL HAVE HIS REVENGE...

Clint Austin served ten years for a crime he did not commit. No one or nothing is going to stand in his way of finding the truth and clearing his name--not even the naive young girl he once loved from afar.

When the fire between them blazes out of control, will either one survive? Or will the real killer strike again?

The toxicity of small towns—where everyone it seems, is guilty of one thing or another—and the massive cover-up is the focus of ‘Clint’, as Debra Webb unravels the poison that people have been living with the past decade, since the murder of Heather Baker.

Finally getting parole after a decade in prison, Clint Austin’s release stirs up Pine Bluff’s anger and ruffles more than a few feathers and brings all the dirty secrets to light that most people need to see buried. Rough-hewn, cynically bitter but determined to clear his name, Clint bulldozes his way through a hometown hell-bent on getting him back in jail where they think he belongs,

I couldn’t figure out how the pieces added up somehow: there are affairs, rumours of cheating, ruthless ambitions, a corrupt police force, sideways glances that hide so many things, and dialogues that bring you to the brink of some kind of breakthrough but don’t reveal much more. A bunch of red-herrings in the multiple POVs that Webb provides certainly contributes to the confusion and the continual guessing.

That it involves a bunch of adults (still living in the same town) trying to cover their high-school depravities however, makes this feel more petty than the usual high-octane and high-level crime stories because of the subject matter and circumstances.

Nonetheless, I’ve always liked Webb’s writing and ‘Clint’ is yet another reminder why I do. Gritty, emotion-laden and full of suspense, Webb spins a web (pun intended?) of mystery that’s easy to get caught up in from the first chapter onwards, with a vivid picture of the wrongly accused man who’d wasted 10 years of his life. The complicated relationship between Clint and his unlikely enemy-turned-accomplice Emily Wallace was as intriguing—and almost forbiddingly hot—as it was unexpected, and I grew to admire Emily’s steely core as the story progressed.

I did wish however, for a conclusion that didn’t skip the HEA that Clint/Emily had ‘off-stage’ so to speak; their alliance throughout the book lasted a mere week and in that short time, I felt like I’d missed out on their enemies-to-lovers tale which did deserve a little more drawn-out attention than what was given in any case. The gripe aside, ‘Clint’—as a re-release of the story formerly known as ’Traceless’ all those years ago—is like re-discovering an old friend: it’s a reminder of the older but solid and classic romantic suspense titles (when RS was at its peak) of which I couldn’t get enough.

four-stars

Desperate Play by Barbara Freethy

Desperate Play by Barbara FreethyDesperate Play by Barbara Freethy
Series: Off The Grid: FBI Trilogy, #3
Published by Fog City Publishing, LLC - Hyde Street Press on 13th June 2018
Pages: 359
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three-stars

Special Agent Wyatt Tanner has always worked undercover. He thrives in the dark of the night. He survives by turning himself into someone else. But living so long in the shadows can make a man forget who he really is. When people start dying, when he finds blood on his own hands, he questions the choices he has made, the people he is with.

Can he find his way back to the light? Can he trust the beautiful woman who needs his help? Or does she also have a secret life?

He'll have to make one desperate play to find out…

Barbara Freethy is not an author I usually turn to for my usual Romantic Suspense fix, but the blurb of this book sounded interesting enough. At least, well enough because it rubs all my kinks about undercover and double identities the right way.

Freethy has up a great opening that catches Wyatt Tanner smack dab in the middle of an undercover op, or at least in the middle of a nefarious start of one, where he infiltrates a possible case of industrial espionage at Nova Star for the FBI. That much sets the tone for ‘Desperate Play’, where he gets tangled more and more in the affairs of Astrophysicist and employee of Nova Star Avery Caldwell who’s found herself an unwitting player in a murder investigation.

Freethy’s red herrings—in the form of random suggestions, insinuations and some supposed clues—that throw suspicion on every character do keep the good ol’ whodunnit mystery rolling and kept me guessing because the big picture couldn’t be put together. The only downside is that it didn’t make the secondary characters likeable at all, while putting only the protagonists above questioning.

Still, ‘Desperate Play’ ended up an unexpectedly slow read for me somehow, with a writing style—sentences, dialogue, etc—that felt a little…amateurish(?) at times…this is however, a personal preference about style coming into play here.

From a steady trot in the first quarter, I also thought that the pacing faltered towards the middle as I went through pages of Avery being a naive pushover where her dead, flaky friend was concerned (the questions she asks as well seem to show that), with Wyatt’s rather adept juggling of his undercover identity becoming the only thing that kept me going.

The rather unsettled ending is certainly a set-up for Freethy next few books in this series, but I did finish the book feeling a bit more short-changed than usual.

three-stars

Got It Bad by Christi Barth

Got It Bad by Christi BarthGot it Bad by Christi Barth
Series: Bad Boys Gone Good #3
Published by Avon Impulse on 18th September 2018
Pages: 384
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Kellan Maguire's on the run from the mob, living a secret life. The only bright spot is his U.S. Marshal handler. Yeah, he wants to handle her....a lot. And in spite of all the rules it would break, Federal Marshal Delaney Evans secretly fears she’d risk everything for one night with Kellan. Even though Delaney’s career, her entire world, could implode if she admits how important he is to her. And all that is before the biggest complication of all hits...

3 brothers, all in Witness Protection and their ways of coping with new lives foisted on them when they run into trouble with the mob: that’s what Christi Barth’s Bad Boys Gone Good series is built on. Not having read the entire series, ‘Got it Bad’ does take time getting used to, though it’s clear that Kellan Maguire has the hots for the US Marshal in charge of his and his brothers’ case, an attraction which starts just as he is forced into Witsec.

But the story went off the rails for me about a third through. I lost sight of the grander scheme of things in what felt like page-fillers about Kellan’s other activities in a clubhouse, the sudden number of secondary character insertions and pages of dialogue that seemed to go nowhere. Consequently, the slow-going story also felt as though it was pulled in several directions, apart from the secret affair Kellan and Delaney decided to have because they really couldn’t stand the constant pining/burning anymore (there’s a lot of repetitive talk about how their first kiss is making her panties wet), when I really wanted to read how the Maguire brothers finally got free of the mob’s hold on them.

As the youngest brother forced out of law school, Kellan’s first encounter with Delany Evans made me rethink whether the former could even be considered some kind of romantic hero—smarmy, cocky and oozing collegiate testosterone at the very start with a strong NA bent in his character which felt out of place here. Understandably, Kellan’s dissatisfaction and boredom with life prompted some kind of soul-searching but his level of maturity or lack thereof was somehow reinforced when he realised he could make a difference every day apart from law school—which sounded like a slogan for the education industry—or in the way he thought about women guaranteed to put out after a nice date or his constant thoughts of getting Delaney into bed. But these were also peppered with moments where he did feel ‘older’ in a way, more like an equal to Delaney when he had to be.

In short, the contradictory bits of Kellan threw me off and as one who doesn’t normally bother about the age gap between romantic protagonists, the one between Delaney and Kellan still felt marked anyhow, given the different stages they were at their lives, but especially in the way they both approached their careers (with the latter’s one not even started when he’d not even finished school). For the first half, this was what I’d gotten, which made it hard to buy into the pairing given this gap between them.

That said, ‘Got It Bad’ isn’t badly written at all; this is clearly a case of just me not being able to connect with the story and characters and a rating that reflects this admission.

Unspeakable by Elisabeth Naughton

Unspeakable by Elisabeth NaughtonUnspeakable by Elisabeth Naughton
Series: Deadly Secrets #4
Published by Montlake Romance on 20th November 2018
Pages: 304
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four-stars

All his siblings have moved on from their troubling pasts, but Rusty McClane can’t leave his behind. Not even when his freedom is in jeopardy.

Legal investigator Harper Blake can sense a bad boy. She’s drawn to them—like she is to her mysterious and brooding new client. The police believe that Rusty is involved with the case of a missing underage girl. Harper’s job is to find evidence to defend him. But is her sexy suspect a predator…or something else?

If Rusty is guilty of anything, it’s of stirring something primitive in Harper. The closer they get, the harder it is to believe the worst of him.

But in an underworld filled with sex trafficking, kidnapping, and murder, Harper will need to be cautious about whom she trusts. Because Rusty isn’t the only one with secrets.

Elisabeth Naughton’s ‘Deadly Secrets’ is a series that constantly surprises me, and much of that has to do with how Naughton weaves stories built on the unrelated personal histories of each adopted McClane sibling’s varied pasts. ‘Unspeakable’ is an engaging suspense right from the start and one that quite pointedly starts out by shaping Rusty McClane first, as a questionable protagonist and then later, a gruff and compelling shiny knight in armour living a double life and is quite worthy of the romantic-hero-accolade.

And it’s Rusty who shines, along with his demons, his irresistible vigilante persona—Stephen Amell as the Arrow keeps coming to mind—that he hides from everyone. However, I had my reservations about the disgraced ex-cop Harper Blake—her own shady history, her eagerness to work with Rusty and her personal agenda that she keeps from him—because for quite a bit of the story, the self-serving bit of dishonesty just to get her lost career back and her reliance on their sexual chemistry to get things moving kept nagging at me. With a quick-fire conflict-climax-resolution that was offered almost as an aside towards the end, it was admittedly, harder to root for a pairing as solidly as I thought I would after a spectacular beginning.

Danger and intrigue are present throughout which makes the book hard to put down once I dug in. There are brilliants scenes alternating between the gut-churning sex trade and the sultry heat that builds between Rusty and Harper, and coupled with a good number of players (and a series of ‘generational’ coincidences attributed to fate that might be a little hard to swallow) that Naughton juggles quite effortlessly.

So bottom-line here: my own quibbles with the heroine aside, ‘Unspeakable’ is a sufficiently complex, not too convoluted read and by and large, a pretty good addition to the RS genre that I’m always putting my nose in.

four-stars

Hidden by Rebecca Zanetti

Hidden by Rebecca ZanettiHidden by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: , #1
Published by Zebra on 25th September 2018
Pages: 400
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three-stars

Hide. That’s all Pippa can do to escape the terror chasing her. But now that she’s off the grid in a safe house, she finds plenty of interesting things to watch through the window. Like her new neighbor, with his startling green eyes, killer smile, and sexy bad-boy tattoo . . .

Run. Malcolm West is fleeing the hell he unleashed in his last assignment as an undercover cop. A backwoods bungalow sounds like the perfect place to start over. Until he discovers he’s been set up . . .

Fight. Someone’s gone to a lot of trouble to bring them together. No matter how much he resents that, and his own driving needs, Malcolm will have to dig deep and let loose the banished killer inside himself, or Pippa’s fears could come true faster than the flip of a bolt in a lock . . .

When burnt-out, former undercover cop Mal West gets sucked into a strange unit, his first task with them is to investigate his seemingly sweet, innocent but squirrelly neighbour who’s hiding a deadly secret. But Pippa Smith is covering up something as well, and their paths collide in a way that’s unexpected and dangerous.

Told in a few flashbacks, we learn of Mal’s and Pippa’s personal histories that led them to where they are now; both are tortured in their own ways by memories too scarring for them to forget. First as neighbours, then later as lovers, both clearly battle the same crazies, though from different and opposing angles,.

As a grounding book that introduces the rest of the Requisition Force, ‘Hidden’ is a good hook in itself in pulling out the cracked-up, damaged unit that I can’t wait to see more of. Severely defective in their own ways (even the dog’s included in this) though it’s ripe for Zanetti to insert some humour here, there’re sufficient seeds planted here that makes me want each of their stories.

The frustration I have nonetheless, with such undercover stories simply lies with the deception that forms (in this case, on both sides) the foundation of a romantic relationship and becomes the major part of the conflict that you know is just coming because of this very thing that gets stretched longer than it should have.

The pitfall that typically follows is the use of sex that delays communication and disclosure, or some other event/circumstance that deliberately blocks this—which then forms a large part of the romantic pairing’s misunderstanding, with lots of running involved—along with some TSTL behaviour—because there just isn’t enough trust between the both of them to go around. It’s precisely because of this that I find the love/romantic connection between Mal and Pippa difficult to swallow, especially if trust and respect (apart from the scorching sex) are supposed to be foundational for their relationship.

The pace and action do pick up after this though, which eventually made the story a lot more engaging. And even if Mal/Pippa do sort of work out their issues in a rush before the climax happens, I probably would have liked this a lot more if less time had been spent on deceit and the copious amount of sexual tension (and later on, raunchy sex instead of talking) simply taking up the first three-quarters of the plot.

three-stars