Tag: Law Enforcement

Cold Blooded by Toni Anderson

Cold Blooded by Toni AndersonCold Blooded by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice
Published by Toni Anderson on June 12th 2018
Pages: 311
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three-half-stars

Searching for the truth…

Disgraced investigative journalist Pip West is devastated when she discovers her best friend’s body face-down in a tranquil lake. When cops and federal agents determine that her friend overdosed then drowned, Pip knows they’re mistaken and intends to prove it.

Special Agent Hunt Kincaid doesn’t trust journalists and has no patience for Pip’s delusions, especially since her meddling could reveal why the FBI is interested in her friend’s last days. The dead scientist worked at the cutting edge of vaccine research and might have a connection to a new, weaponized, vaccine-resistant anthrax strain that just hit the black market.

…just turned deadly.

Pip is thrown off her game by grief and her unexpected attraction to the handsome federal agent. Hunt battles the same unwelcome pull, determined to resist the heat that threatens to consume them both. But the more Pip digs, the closer she gets to both the sexy FBI agent, and to a bioweapons terrorist who’s more than capable of cold-bloodedly sacrificing anyone who gets in his way.

Toni Anderson’s poised writing is always finely balanced between intricate details, action and intriguing development—well, this is no different. But it’s good to see ‘Cold-Blooded’ starting afresh (either that, or I really can’t seem to remember these protagonists popping up anywhere else) with an entirely new pairing without the strong links to the rest of the characters in Anderson’s previous books as it reads like a proper standalone.

The uneasy relationship between journalists and law enforcement is the crux of Pip’s and Hunt’s initial conflict here and like oil and water, they don’t mix. Both Pip and Hunt get off on the wrong foot and their incompatible goals, along with the secrets kept—not to mention the cloud of grief and mourning that surrounds Pip from the start—pretty much define first half of their bumpy ride together.

Pip and Hunt as a pairing however, does feel like an optional ‘add-on’ in some ways, put together because of their own different inroads into the same investigation with mere hints of attraction and tension that stretch past the halfway mark. That this happens over the course of an intense few days, so much so that it causes Hunt to reevaluate his no-commitment stance after good sex, does make their instalove/connection more implausible and unconvincing (this much is admitted by the characters themselves).

Bottomline is, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was always some kind of wall separating them—Hunt’s indirect way of using Pip to further his investigation, Pip’s grief and her own uncertainty about Hunt as a law enforcement officer and what he represents, the implicit but telling lack of trust on both sides even towards the end of the story—and this barrier didn’t feel as though it’d been overcome by the end of the story, given how they’d only gotten to know each other incidentally (and in bits and pieces) while working the case.

Minus the romance however, Anderson’s storytelling nonetheless, is compelling. Weaving the elements of what appear to be shady circumstances of related homicides and drug use as both Pip and Hunt dig unrelentingly deeper into this tangled web…well, this is Anderson in her element. These are the bits I’ve always enjoyed about Anderson’s writing, even if I thought the romantic relationship between Pip/Hunt could have been left out and ‘Cold Blooded’ would have come out as tighter, more focused story.

But my being less sceptical about the romance doesn’t make ‘Cold Blooded’ a bad book. Far from it, in fact, despite the small conflict I had buying into Pip and Hunt together. I definitely enjoyed this more as a mystery/suspense novel rather than one classified as romantic suspense, but perhaps the base line that matters here is that Toni Anderson writes well enough for me to stayed glued to the pages.

three-half-stars

Down Deep by Kimberly Kincaid

Down Deep by Kimberly KincaidDown Deep by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Station Seventeen #4
Published by Kimberly Kincaid Romance on June 18th 2018
Pages: 343
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four-stars

Ian Gamble has a past he’d rather forget—which is exactly what he’s doing at The Crooked Angel Bar and Grill when the place catches fire. Between his active duty in the Marines and his experience as a firefighter, his instincts get him and hot, headstrong bar manager, Kennedy Matthews, to safety. But those same instincts kick into high gear when the fire is ruled an arson, and he discovers Kennedy’s got secrets of her own.

The only thing that matters more to Kennedy than her bar is her brother. When she finds out he’s in over his head with a dangerous arsonist, she’ll do anything to keep him safe—even if it means teaming up with Gamble, who’s too sharp-eyed and hard-bodied for his own good. With every step, their attraction flares hotter and the risks grow more dangerous. Can Gamble and Kennedy face their fears—and their secrets—to catch a terrifying enemy? Or will they go down in flames?

To say that ‘Down Deep’ has got ‘lasting power’ makes it rather cringeworthy without the other kinds of innuendos that will probably come up here given the genre that I’m reviewing. Yet I’ve put book down and taken it up numerous times not because of boredom (but because of other things calling) and never once did I feel that it was difficult to get back into the flow of the story.

It’s easy and exciting enough to follow, the rather slow burn and build-up aside. But then, Kimberly Kincaid’s ‘Station Seventeen’ series has not really disappointed me from its inception, through the pairings of first responders with the law-enforcement people that have become par for the course.

Kincaid effortlessly weaves the community of the firefighters into the suspense and action in Station Seventeen—each book builds subtly and slowly on an arc about arson but they work just as well as a standalone—and while it isn’t an unusual take on firefighting romances, it’s Kincaid’s vivid and engaging writing that always makes her stories stand out. Both Ian and Kennedy were good protagonists to follow as well; I loved the latter’s fierce protectiveness of her wayward brother above all, her tenacious hold on never giving up on him, along with the take-no-shit attitude with Gamble when he tries to ghost her away.

I did however, struggle with Kennedy/Ian’s connection going beyond lust and need in the heat of the moment, finely-tuned as it was because of the circumstances that pushed them together. I got that they cared about each other, liked each other even, but the transition to love felt tenuous nonetheless, more so when their brand of love seemed to be defined as a heart-to-heart talk combined with stratospheric sex. The rushed conclusion (that was strangely more telling than showing) and the rather odd fade-to-black climax scene threw me off as well, along with some strings that seemed to be left hanging by the end of the story.

So while not everything worked out for me like clockwork, ‘Down Deep’ was still a pretty good take on the kind of suspense that revolves around arson and firefighting—there’re just too few of these around—and I’m infinitely grateful that Kincaid fills this gap with this series.

four-stars

Bloodtree River by Sarah Barrie

Bloodtree River by Sarah BarrieBloodtree River by Sarah Barrie
Published by HQ Fiction on 23rd April 2018
Pages: 352
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three-half-stars

From the author of the bestselling Hunters Ridge series comes this stand-alone twisty rural suspense, this time set against the dark backdrop of Tasmanian mountains. Indiana O'Meara is no stranger to the forces of evil.

Her own past is full of violence. Now a policewoman, Indy is always fighting to redeem herself and defeat the dark. So when girls begin to go missing at a remote cattle station in Tasmania, she is quick to agree to go undercover to investigate chief suspect, the owner of Calico Mountain Lodge, Logan Atherton, even though last time she went undercover it came to a bloody end. But her early encounter with Logan Atherton reveals a man full of contradictions. His deep empathy for horses and those he cares for is obvious but he is also taciturn to the point of rudeness, and there is a strange atmosphere at the lodge. It doesn't add up. As Indy begins to dig deeper into the secrets at the Lodge, she finds herself embroiled in a murderous web more complex and terrifying than she could ever have imagined...

Sarah Barrie writes a rather slow but steadily-building mystery of disappearing girls in a remote part of Tasmania and an undercover stint that goes badly awry. Still, it’s a spin-off book for Indy O’Meara, tough cop and determined woman—who’d initially turned up in Barrie’s Hunters Ridge series—in the wilds of Tassie to work under a man who’s the suspect in this case…well, who could resist?

‘Bloodtree River’ however, has a plot that requires you to actively (or make the effort at least) stay engaged in the story nonetheless. Written mostly from Indy’s perspective, I was conscious of her status as an outlier but by extension, felt like a reader who was merely tangentially observing the action happening through an outlier’s eyes.

Still, it was easy to get swept along once I had the names and the context of the Athertons’s screwed up family business straightened out in my head—this much was imperative to understanding and getting caught up in the drama. There were twists and turns that got exponentially more interesting—more suspension of disbelief required though—in the last quarter of the story, though I did find the romantic bits less than convincing because of the circumstances that dictated the slow burn and the eventual rift between Indy and Logan. Indy’s undercover duties did prove to be a barrier—one that didn’t at least allow for Indy to be honest with Logan and the push-pull that resulted because of this—though having her walk the tight rope between being a cop and an employee under Logan was a balance that Sarah Barrie did sort of handle quite well. It was deception for a legitimate reason, so to speak, with the complications arising only when attraction and emotions started to get involved.

Simply put, Logan/Indy was a pairing that didn’t quite get off the ground sufficiently for me, lost as it was in the flurry of the drama and the web of lies spun in Calico Mountain Lodge, to the point where ‘Bloodtree River’ would have functioned equally well without the romance. It was a pretty decent read nonetheless, with a large enough story arc and an established base that can be stretched over a few books—which I hope Barrie does.

three-half-stars

Imperial Stout by Layla Reyne

Imperial Stout by Layla ReyneImperial Stout by Layla Reyne
Series: Trouble Brewing #1
Published by Carina Press on 23rd July 2018
Pages: 268
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two-stars

It’s a good thing assistant US attorney Dominic Price co-owns a brewery. He could use a cold one. Nic’s star witness has just been kidnapped, his joint operation with the FBI is in jeopardy, his father’s shady past is catching up with him and the hot new special agent in San Francisco is the kind of distraction best handled with a stiff drink.

Kidnap and rescue expert Cameron Byrne has his own ideas about how to handle Nic, but his skills are currently needed elsewhere. The by-the-book FBI agent goes deep undercover as a member of an infamous heist crew in order to save Nic’s witness, break up the crew and close the case before anyone else gets hurt. Nic in particular.

Things heat up when Cam falls for Nic, and the witness falls for Cam. As the crew’s suspicions grow, Cam must decide how far he’s willing to go—and how far into his own dark past he’s willing to dive—to get everyone out alive.

‘Imperial Stout’ is me stepping out of my comfort zone when it comes to M/M fiction, though Layla Reyne isn’t a new author to me. Written in a fairly different style from what I’m used to, and not having read Reyne’s ‘Agents Irish and Whiskey’ series, this is me coming in as a newbie. So with a very busy first chapter that included not only an action scene but a load of history between the protagonists which sort of involved also a best friend’s partner and ex-flame, I was a little lost, though duly warned about the kind of romance this path would take.

Still, I found it hard to engage with this one with the convoluted way the plot was initially presented, not like the way I was engaged in Reyne’s ‘Changing Lanes’ series, with my attention constantly pulled between the intrigue, the brewery, the huge number of characters mentioned or dropping in and the romance that was supposedly building. The pairing—between a US Attorney and a kidnap and rescue specialist with the FBI—, while intriguing, seemed to fade behind the never-ceasing activity that kept going on and I never quite lost the feeling of trying to play catch up having walked straight into a tv-series mid-season just as the action was heating up.

‘Imperial Stout’ is safe to say, probably more a book for Reyne’s stalwart followers of her previous series who want to continue into this spin-off in this particular world of whiskey, agents and lawyers. That said, while I still do like Reyne’s writing, I’m going to take a pass on this book and the series. I did try to get into Nic/Cam as much as possible, skimming the pages just to see how things finally fell into place for them, but ultimately, I just didn’t feel as though I made any headway into them at all. And without the base appeal of the main pairing in this romance, I couldn’t quite see the point going on.

two-stars

Nothing to Lose by Christy Reece

Nothing to Lose by Christy ReeceNothing To Lose by Christy Reece
Series: Grey Justice, #1
Published by Christy Reece on 28th March 2014
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Choices Are Easy When You Have Nothing Left To Lose

Kennedy O’Connell had all the happiness she’d ever dreamed—until someone stole it away. Now on the run for her life, she has a choice to make—disappear forever or make those responsible pay. Her choice is easy.

Two men want to help her, each with their own agenda.

Detective Nick Gallagher is accustomed to pursuing killers within the law. Targeted for death, his life turned inside out, Nick vows to bring down those responsible, no matter the cost. But the beautiful and innocent Kennedy O’Connell brings out every protective instinct. Putting aside his own need for vengeance, he’ll do whatever is necessary to keep her safe and help her achieve her goals.

Billionaire philanthropist Grey Justice has a mission, too. Dubbed the ‘White Knight’ of those in need of a champion, few people are aware of his dark side. Having seen and experienced injustice—Grey knows its bitter taste. Gaining justice for those who have been wronged is a small price to pay for a man’s humanity.

With the help of a surprising accomplice, the three embark on a dangerous game of cat and mouse. The stage is set, the players are ready…the game is on. But someone is playing with another set of rules and survivors are not an option.

Mea culpa, I wish I had gotten to this sooner, having mistakenly thought this was a legal romance that I typically drag my feet into. But Christy Reece’s ‘Nothing to Lose’ surprised me when I began and couldn’t stop. The concept here is somewhat similar to Reece’s LCR series—victim advocacy, to put it in very, very broad terms—, only that it’s funded by a billionaire who wears many hats, carries a messiah complex and tries to remain shrouded in mystery as he goes along picking out people to help. But Grey Justice, the shadowy figure who pulls the strings of many puppets, is thankfully one of the good guys, or so we think, and his job is to help a detective and a woman who has lost everything to get to their goals, because it serves his own hidden agenda.

By and large, ’Nothing to Lose’ unravels a sweeping plot with enough hooks and tendrils to stretch over a series of books and written into this is a quasi-forbidden-type romance which I was pleasantly surprised with. Kennedy and Nick—the best friend of her murdered husband—are a solid-enough pairing that I could get invested in, despite the speed bumps along the way in a journey that stretches nearly 2 years.

Admittedly I do have a few, somewhat minor issues with Reece’s writing that typically prevent me from jumping straight into a book of hers. There’s the tendency to head-hop being one as we get deeper into the storytelling that confuses me (Reece holds a single POV at the start before this control slips from time to time), the almost-magical happening of things because money is no issue, the villains getting so laughingly evil/infantile they might as well be cut out of cardboard and the shades of grey that tend to divide themselves neatly into black and white as I read on.

As I said, subtle changes that bother me a mite bit, though it’s nitpicking on my part. The story’s well-written, with a heroine who shows remarkable strength after all that she’s lost, and a hero who is only slightly prone to stupid fits when it comes to overprotectiveness and jealousy. The (anti?)climax feels a little over the top in a popcorn-throwing movie, requiring a larger amount than usual of suspension of disbelief, though there’s always the sense that there’s too much unfinished business—a good enough hook to keep coming back—even as Kennedy/Nick rush off into their sunset.

four-stars

Stripped by Tara Wyatt

Stripped by Tara WyattStripped by Tara Wyatt
Series: Blue HEAT, #1
Published by Avon Impulse on 15th May 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Detective Sawyer Matthews isn’t just having a bad day—he’s having the worst day. His hunt for the criminal who killed his team member has stalled and now… he’s got to play nice with his new, totally unwanted partner. It’s not that she isn’t qualified, or that he doesn’t like her—it’s because he knows what she looks like naked. So very, very naked.

Brooke Simmons finally landed her dream job working for H.E.A.T, an elite undercover detective squad, and she’s not giving up simply because she had a one-night-stand with her sullen—but undeniably sexy—new partner. They’ll just have to keep it professional. Easier said than done, considering their first case requires Sawyer to infiltrate a drug cartel operating out of a male strip show. Watching him do his best Magic Mike impression every night isn’t just hot—it’s torture.

Sawyer doesn’t need any distractions, yet his attraction to Brooke is explosive and he can’t resist going for round two. Or three. Or four. But as their investigation progresses and danger mounts, they’ll have to put their jobs, hearts, and lives on the line to fight… for each other, for survival, and for justice.

Tara Wyatt’s newest law enforcement series sounded like the kind of romantic suspense I wanted to dig my heels into and ‘Stripped’—in more ways than one—is the introduction to a trio of detectives seeking to avenge the death of their friend, while finding their HEA along the way.

It’s not quite a workplace romance gone wrong, but Brooke and Sawyer went at it in reverse—from a one-night stand to the mortifying discovery that they actually work together—with Brooke as a replacement for Sawyer’s fallen best friend. As they got very hot and extremely heavy in the opening scenes for what was meant to be a one-nighter, I felt a tad bit cheated out of the usual play of tension that I normally like before they actually fall into bed, then felt equally off-centre as both Brooke and Sawyer did as I didn’t know where the direction of ‘Stripped’ was going.

My own expectations of a high-octane, non-stop police drama weren’t quite fulfilled; instead we had Sawyer and Brooke sniping post-hookup (and basically being jerks to each other) that got annoying at times instead of the heavy and heated glances that typically build. Then it got weirdly comical when Sawyer went undercover as a male stripper, kicking off a raunchiness that rivalled a porno given the amount of sexy times in it when I wanted to read more about hard-core police work.

There were overly-used clichéd phrases written in that made me cringe as well, and some unwelcome development of secondary characters whose future stories I know I might not be looking forward to read. In all, there was certainly action that kept me going (of the actual road-rash-giving kind) and I did, for most of it, liked Brooke’s no-nonsense character save for the last, somewhat out-of-character TSTL move on her part.

But there were lulls in the pacing that made the whole story move along in a jerky fashion and I did at times, feel somewhat untethered to the plot that just didn’t build or move when I thought it would, in a direction I thought it would. That said, ‘Stripped’ is far from a bad read, only that I wished I enjoyed it more.

three-stars

Smiling Irish by Katy Regnery

Smiling Irish by Katy RegnerySmiling Irish by Katy Regnery
Series: The Summerhaven Trio, #2
Published by Katharine Gilliam Regnery on April 1st 2018
Pages: 281
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two-stars

Tierney Haven and Burr O’Leary come from completely different worlds…

…but there’s a reason they say “opposites attract.”

Bookish Tierney Haven has always preferred places to people, and she especially loves the peace and quiet of Moonstone Manor, an estate museum located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where she is head docent, chief historian and live-in caretaker. The very last thing she expects to find on the doorstep at midnight is bruised and bloodied stranger, Burr O’Leary, in desperate need of her help.

Against her better judgement and at the risk of her brothers’ wrath, Tierney offers Burr sanctuary at Moonstone Manor, and nurses him back to health, surprised to discover that the dashing, enigmatic stranger loves the history and peace of Moonstone as much as she. But Burr has a dark history, and those who hurt him will stop at nothing to eliminate him...placing Tierney in grave danger until he is well enough to find them first.

Katy Regnery’s books have always been odd reads for me. There, I admitted it. Having been introduced to her works via her retelling of fairy tales, I soon cottoned on to the fact that her writing isn’t quite a contemporary one, but one that seems to have a more distinct historical/fantasy style that doesn’t sit too well at times. Call it sensitivity to context maybe, but that has thrown me off a fair bit.

‘Smiling Irish’ is one of those times.

The rather odd first meeting of Tierney and Burr aside, there was something rather anachronistic and ‘traditional’ about parts of this story that felt out of place with the contemporary setting—the vocabulary, Tierney behaving like the stammering, blushing virgin she was, her weird, almost petulant outbursts of ‘sass’ (?) and weeping with the long internal monologues that somehow reinforced this—to the extent that I half expected most of the characters to dress in flowing gowns or rough linen. Not that I have a problem with virginity at all, but I’ve yet to read enough kick-arse types who really make a big, big show out of it. Mostly however, I think virgin heroines – Tierney being the perfect example of this – are too often portrayed as the damsel in distress, shackled either by their sexual inexperience or by some other fears that are somehow inexplicably linked to an intact hymen.

Regnery made a big deal of the Irish heritage here and much of the behaviour of the characters was attributed to ‘Irishness’ supposedly, which made me think that the rest of the population wouldn’t act like this because they weren’t ‘Irish’. The use of Irish (Gaelic) as well, became a point of contention for me when after a while, it felt as though Regnery inserted the language along with its translation needlessly, almost as if to show that research had been done on it and it had to appear in the writing no matter what the circumstance.

The long and short it is, ‘Smiling Irish’ wasn’t a good fit for me for a weird number of reasons, context and style perhaps, playing the biggest parts in my inability to enjoy the story. It isn’t to say that Regnery doesn’t appeal at all—I’m pretty sure this is my own quirk rearing its head here but I’m probably better off sticking to her fairytale retellings.

two-stars