Series: Tracers

Stone Cold Heart by Laura Griffin

Stone Cold Heart by Laura GriffinStone Cold Heart by Laura Griffin
Series: Tracers #13
Published by Pocket Books on 26th March 2019
Pages: 384
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When local rock climbers stumble upon abandoned human bones in a remote Texas gorge, Sara Lockhart is the first to get the call. She has a reputation as one of the nation’s top forensic anthropologists, and police detective Nolan Hess knows she is just the expert he needs to help unravel this case. Although evidence is scarce, Nolan suspects the bones belong to a teenage climber who vanished last summer.

But as Sara unearths strange clues, she finds chilling similarities to a case from her past—a case that now threatens to rock Nolan’s community. While Sara digs deep for answers, the stakes rise higher as another young woman disappears without a trace. Investigators work against the clock as Sara races to discover the truth, even if her harrowing search brings her face to face with a stone-cold killer.

Laura Griffin returns with a classic ‘Bones’-episode thriller, when a series of missing persons start to bring an unlikely connection to a serial killer lurking in the midst of them.

For readers who like a suspense-heavy, romance-that-skims-the-surface read, ‘Stone Cold Heart’ delivers superbly. Nolan Hess and Sara Lockhart hold their own individually as protagonists; both are competent in their own fields, established in their own circles.

But as the case progressed and these circles overlapped, it did feel as though Griffin did the small, budding romance a bit of a disservice. I was hoping for a more developed working relationship between Sara and Nolan beyond intense glances, not-so-secret shared smiles and an impulsive kiss or two which were then put aside in favour of work. I did get that they liked each other despite Sara’s half-in, half-out stance—along with the tingly feels that came across more like an infatuation than anything more—though the sudden, almost obligatory slide into sex surprised me given how muted their dancing around each other had been. Still, they were ultimately not too convincing as a pair and the uncertain ending (for the romance at least) didn’t cement their status as one that could go the distance.

From canvassing to questioning to the science behind the bones, the action surged through after the halfway mark and that got me excited, even when forensic anthropologists trying to play trained cops was what tipped the hand. The plot’s admittedly yet another iteration of a whodunnit mystery—for this reason, some of the Tracers books aren’t that much differentiated from each other—but Griffin’s way with words, getting the devil snared in the small details and the setup of the suspense nonetheless made ‘Stone Cold Heart’ an engrossing read as the case came together.


Touch of Red by Laura Griffin

Touch of Red by Laura GriffinTouch of Red by Laura Griffin
Series: Tracers #12
Published by Pocket Books on October 31st 2017
Pages: 368
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When crime scene investigator Brooke Porter arrives at the home of a murdered woman, the only thing more shocking than the carnage is the evidence that someone escaped the scene. But where is this witness now? A thorough search of the area yields more questions than answers, and before Brooke even packs up her evidence kit, she’s made it her goal to find the witness and get them out of harm’s way.

Homicide detective Sean Byrne has seen his share of bloody crime scenes, but this one is particularly disturbing, especially because Brooke Porter is smack in the middle of it. Sean has had his eye on the sexy CSI for months, and he’s determined to help her with her current case—even if it means putting his attraction on hold so he and Brooke can track down a murderer. But as the investigation—and their relationship—heats up, Sean realizes that keeping his work and his personal life separate is more complicated than he ever imagined; especially when the killer sets his sights on Brooke.

Laura Griffin’s ‘Tracers’ series is such a unique one, or at least, the premise of her stories mirrors the TV series ‘Bones’ so much that it’s hard not to like the way the action unfolds. Griffin’s masterful writing, her deft handling of characters and the intricate details of forensic anthropology and crime investigation don’t hurt either, though it always takes me by surprise that secondary characters who pop up early on in the series (that I’ve long forgotten about) actually do get their own stories much later on.

That said, some of her books have admittedly been a hit or miss for me, and few are true standouts because the plots are tried-and-tested formulas that have worked well, though sometimes quite forgettably so after the ride is over. Like many of Griffin’s other books in the series, ‘Touch of Red’ starts with a murder by the way of a hapless victim brutally murdered in a way that gets everyone reeling, with clues pointing every which way until several keys are unearthed to the point where the whole story makes sense.

In this case, I was more absorbed by the clues and the investigation as detail after chilling detail unfolded than I was by Brooke/Sean’s developing relationship, not because they didn’t have chemistry, but because that perhaps, had to do with the fact that Griffin’s Delphi employee/Cop pairings started to look interchangeable after a while.

Nevertheless, what makes ’Touch of Red’ enjoyable is that Griffin hardly ever writes just a whodunnit book. It’s part-police procedural, part-thriller and romantic suspense where the romance develops by way of the investigation, though it never really is quite the focus of the book. The delicate balance is handled well though, and that mix will probably satisfy both romance-seeking and crime-loving readers.


At Close Range by Laura Griffin

At Close Range by Laura GriffinAt Close Range by Laura Griffin
Series: Tracers, #11
Published by Pocket Books on January 31st 2017
Pages: 368
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When a lakeside tryst ends in a double murder, police detective Daniele Harper arrives on the scene determined to get answers. Clues are everywhere, but nothing adds up. Dani turns to the Delphi Center crime lab for help, but soon regrets it when her secret attraction to their chief firearms examiner threatens to distract her from the most important case of her career.
As a ballistics expert and former Navy SEAL, Scott Black knows firearms, and he knows he can help Dani unravel her case. Scott has managed to hide his interest in his best friend’s younger sister for years, but when her investigation brings them together, the sparks between them quickly get out of control. Scott resolves to keep his hands off Dani and his eyes on the goal—identifying a killer. But when that killer zeroes in on Dani, all bets are off. There isn’t a line Scott won’t cross to convince Dani to trust him so that he can help her take down a ruthless murderer who has her in his sights.

The Tracers series has been either a hit or miss for me and while I don’t think any has quite reached the heights of ‘Scorched’ or ‘Beyond Limits’, ‘At Close Range’ comes quite close. The heart-pounding action is the book’s main draw, as is the strong focus on a likeable, strong female protagonist with admirable strength and fortitude, with a side of the romance that unfortunately paled in comparison to the layered but intelligent case Laura Griffin has built in this story.

Yet the story takes on the ‘friends to lovers’ trope as well, but that too, did bring about its own pitfalls…as well as my own biases to the surface when it comes to this very difficult trope. Despite having known each other for ages and wanting each other, I was disappointed to learn that Scott Black was no better than a player who committed to nothing but his work (“going through women like chewing gum” as the unflattering description would have it), or that he thought PTSD was sufficient excuse that Dani was better off without him.

But because the romance is somewhat spare—there’s tension but not too much focus on emotional depth and development on Scott’s side at least—, I could only question just how much he felt for Dani apart from physical need or why he decided to start pursuing her after he stayed distant for so long. Where then, had this change of heart come from, unless it had been the unexpected sex that suddenly convinced him that she was worth his time? In fact, I thought he had been quite the idiot with her, interfering with the case when he wasn’t supposed to and then wanting something with her on his own closed-off terms. I often felt that Dani actually deserved someone better than Scott, who didn’t even seem to have emotionally caught up with her even with the rather unconvincing declaration of love at the end when nothing in the story demonstrated anything more than his protective instincts for his best friend’s sister.

Consequently, I thought Griffin’s book could actually function well enough on its own without the romance built into it—that thoughtfully-plotted is the story (though some bits did seem far-fetched) with its sharply-drawn supporting characters that support it. But this side-rant is clearly my own objections to the way the pairing had been done. I was otherwise mesmerised by the technical details as I was with the science as I thought of Bones every time someone from the Delphi starts squinting. The story had everything else going for it: the excellent twists, turns and revelations were thrilling, as was the unusual setup that had the ball rolling from the very first page…which didn’t stop until O’Dark thirty.


Deep Dark by Laura Griffin

Deep Dark by Laura GriffinDeep Dark (Tracers, #10) by Laura Griffin
Series: Tracers #10
Published by Pocket Books on May 24th 2016
Pages: 368
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The moment detective Reed Novak steps onto the crime scene, he knows the case is going to rock his world. A beautiful young woman murdered at home. No sign of forced entry. No motive. She’s obviously not the killer’s first victim, and Reed’s instincts tell him she won’t be his last. Reed’s first clue comes via a mysterious text that links to a dating profile, but even more intriguing than the clue is the person who sent it.
As a white-hat hacker in the Delphi Center’s cyber investigation unit, Laney Knox sneaks into some of the deepest, darkest corners of the Internet looking for predators. Laney would prefer to stay away from Austin PD’s most recent murder case, but she can’t ignore the chilling similarities between that crime and her own brutal attack years ago. Laney offers to help the sexy lead detective, but he wants more from her than just a promising tip—Reed wants her trust. Laney resists, but as their relationship deepens she’s tempted to reveal the closely guarded secrets that could make her a key witness…or the killer’s next victim.

I’m frankly at a loss when it comes to rating this book.

Laura Griffin writes fantastically detailed police procedurals and much of the developing drama in ’Deep Dark’ reads like a gorgeous and thrilling novelisation of a ‘Bones’ and/or a ‘Castle’ episode. But if I appreciated the complexity of the crime and the unfolding mystery of the whodunnit, I was less than impressed with the female protagonist, who’d slipped from tenacious and dedicated into the stupid and petulant categories too quickly for my liking.

The pairing in question here is a much older divorced detective and a young, headstrong upstart, the former of whom I simply felt sorry for because of the frustration and the road blocks he encounters by way of the latter. The problem was that for most of the book, their relationship was on unequal footing, built on deception – mostly on Laney’s part – and resolved in a way that makes a mockery of trust and moral integrity in it.

In fact, I’d be the first to admit that ‘Deep Dark’ hits several hard limits for me, which clearly, is just my personal beef with the sort of flaws written into protagonists that I cannot tolerate, curtailing as a consequence, my overall enjoyment of the whole mystery.

My preference of heroines who put themselves out there both physically and emotionally is clearly showing up here and I found myself unable to put any faith in a relationship that, most of the time, was characterised by lies, use of leverage and sex as distraction, even if we are told the reasons for Laney’s closed-off, untrusting, TSTL behaviour. That she behaved in a manner, time and again, that emphasised her age instead of showing she was beyond it – and the constant, intolerable lying when it was unnecessary – didn’t do her any favours at all, except to highlight her immaturity and deliberate evasiveness even when it was to her detriment, which made this pairing and the glaring age-gap even more disappointing and questionable than I hoped it’d be.

Characterisation-rant aside however, I’m never ready to give up on Laura Griffin’s writing and can only hope that she might return to the bigger military-political conspiracies (such as ‘Scorched and ‘Beyond Limits’) that had me at the word ‘go’.


Shadow Fall by Laura Griffin

Shadow Fall by Laura GriffinShadow Fall (Tracers, #9) by Laura Griffin
Series: Tracers #9
Published by Pocket Books on September 22nd 2015
Pages: 357
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In the ninth romantic suspense novel in the New York Times bestselling Tracers series, author Laura Griffin brings back her elite cadre of forensic experts as they hunt down the most brutal serial killer yet.
Special Agent Tara Rushing arrives at a grisly murder scene and quickly discovers she’s got a serial killer on her hands. The killer is meticulous, making sure to wipe up even the smallest traces of evidence…but the Delphi Center experts are on the case.
The local sheriff has a suspect all picked out—ex-Marine and current security expert Liam Wolfe. Despite all her digging, Tara knows very little about Liam when she shows up at his sprawling Texas compound, which serves as headquarters for Wolfe Securities, and she’s surprised by her intense physical reaction to him.
As she and Liam grow closer, Tara finds herself depending on his skills and expertise to help her track a killer. But when another body turns up, Tara must decide if she can trust the man who’s quickly stealing her heart.

‘Shadow Fall’ is Laura Griffin returning to her Tracers roots dealing with local violent crime, after the brief (but exciting) forays into counter-terrorism themes of the previous ones. Special Agent Tara Rushing is called to the crime scene and finds Liam Wolfe in the centre of her investigation. But Wolfe, as she finds out, is taciturn yet desirably intense, unsettling her further as the body count piles up.

Ms. Griffin’s crime writing is flawless and intricately detailed, even if, like in some previous Tracers books, it seems to sacrifice character growth and relationship development in the process. There were major gaps in the characters that I would definitely liked to have seen filled/explained and was disappointed when they weren’t: Liam’s apparent dalliance with an ex-client even when he has Tara in his sights, the almost-non-relationship between Liam and Mark (whom I loved and had hoped to see more of), the return of the other Tracers but no mention at all about their significant others and how they were getting on. Even Tara’s and Liam’s connection seems tenuous at best even if it’s undeniable strong, forged only by the dark pull of adrenaline-filled attraction; the insta-love declaration at the end incredibly unbelievable given Tara’s deep distrust issues. All I really got out of the end was that Tara and Liam were both good at their jobs, despite the chips on their shoulders and it took a few runarounds before the killer was taken out.

Nonetheless, Shadow Fall is an entertaining read which fell short of the relationship development (which I do believe should be one of the defining characteristics of romantic suspense), especially if you’re in just for the thrilling ride to get to the whodunnit portion.


Beyond Limits by Laura Griffin

Beyond Limits by Laura GriffinBeyond Limits (Tracers, #8) by Laura Griffin
Series: Tracers #8
Published by Pocket Books on January 27th 2015
Pages: 400
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Elizabeth LeBlanc and Derek Vaughn meet again under rather implausible circumstances when Derek finds evidence of a terrorist sleeper cell during an operation in Afghanistan that leads him straight back to Texas and back to Elizabeth. Having spent the better part of a year pining for each other, Elizabeth and Derek have a real chance at making things work between them, even though it seems the obstacles (both perceived and real) are too many to overcome without losses or heavy compromises.

As a reader, I’ve always been uncannily drawn to the chemistry that I find between peripheral characters and while reading Scorched, Elizabeth and Derek drew my attention with their tentative interactions and their chemistry. I’m thrilled that they’ve finally gotten their own story – even as far-fetched as the events seem at times – and and even more intrigued by the angsty scenes between the 2 other side characters of Luke and Hailey that Ms Griffin introduces in this book.

The Tracers series have been a hit and miss for me and in taking a step away from forensic anthropology, Beyond Limits is a solid read, as well as a refreshing change from the previous books – and one which I definitely hope subsequent books could build on.