Tag: mystery-crime

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

Mount Mercy by Helena Newbury

Mount Mercy by Helena NewburyMount Mercy by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 30th November 2018
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Doctor Dominic Corrigan. He’s tattooed, cocky and gorgeous, with bullet scars from working in war zones. I’m a geeky surgeon who hides away in the quiet of her operating theater. We couldn’t be more different but from the second we meet, he pursues me...and when I look into those blue eyes, I’m lost. But I know his reputation and I’m determined not to be his next one-night stand. Then disaster strikes our small town...and the two of us become our patients’ only hope.

Suddenly, I’m thrown into the chaos of an ER stretched to breaking point. We need to work together but the closer we get, the harder it is to resist. We’re one look, one touch away from tearing each other’s clothes off. I start to see the pain he hides behind that cocky exterior. What happened to this man, and can I help him break free of his past? And our problems are only just beginning. A criminal gang means to take advantage of the chaos...and the hospital, and everyone I care about, are right in their sights.

‘Mount Mercy’ was something I picked up because the blurb—the promise of romantic suspense in some isolated mountain town—sounded like my sort of thing. Unfortunately, the suspense alone was the only factor that had me powering through when I was tempted to call time on the characters early on.

Corrigan and Amy didn’t stray far from stereotypical protagonists in romantic fiction. Bring in the typical tortured male protagonist who’s lost something/someone and is now actively losing himself in reckless behaviour and a shy, almost-wimpy heroine (whose relationships are few and far between) determined to fix him while he kept saying he needed to keep away from her?

That same old story gets grating.

In addition, their tendency to imagine each other in bed at inappropriate times easily characterised every encounter they had when their paths crossed. In fact, the instant lust—that never really let up—hit me full in the face at their first meeting, where I was treated to a rather cringe-worthy scene of body parts hardening and getting wet in the middle of an life-threatening emergency.

Really? All I could think of as a result, was about the near-flat-lining patient as they argued over him with their mouths while their nether bits made happy, squishy noises.

In fact, Corrigan’s supposed-silver-tinged Irish accent (an oft-repeated word that Newbury likes to use) and a few slight touches from him had Amy stuttering like a dumbstruck teenager so easily, which soon enough translated abruptly into a sexual boldness and freedom that she thought he’d brought out of her.

And all of this came from nothing but surface interactions and hooded looks?

That this instant lust soon after, jumped madly to ‘love’ when they barely knew each other apart from some hot and heavy looks, unresolved sexual tension and some medical emergencies had me gritting my teeth.

To be fair, aside from the over-the-top porny bits that made this book read more like erotica than high-octane suspense, there was a sort of decent plot in there…buried as it was under all the talk and thoughts of sex, which really seemed like the dominant theme of the story. I would have enjoyed this much more had the emotional aspects of Corrigan/Amy’s relationship been dwelled upon, instead of their mutual fixation on each other’s bits.

In all however, this was a disappointment, though it seems Newbury’s style is now entrenched in this pattern from the few books I’ve read of hers.

two-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

Mission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Rescue by Anna HackettMission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52 #2
Published by Anna Hackett on October 7, 2018
Pages: 159
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two-stars

When archeologist January’s plane is shot down over the Guatemalan jungle, she knows she’s being hunted for the invaluable Mayan artifacts she’s carrying. Only one man and his team can save her…the covert, black ops Team 52, and the distrusting former CIA operative who drives her crazy…

Dr. January James has a motto: live life to the fullest. A terrible incident in her past, where she lost both her mother and her innocence, taught her that. Now she spends her days on archeological digs doing the work she loves. When her team uncovers a pair of dangerous artifacts in an overgrown temple, she knows they need to be secured and safeguarded. But someone else knows about the artifacts…and will kill to get them.
Working for the CIA, Seth Lynch learned the hard way that people lie and will always stab you in the back. He has the scars to prove it. He lives for his work with Team 52—ensuring pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. When he learns that the feisty, independent archeologist who works his last nerve has died in a plane crash, he makes it his mission to discover who the hell is responsible.

Deep in the jungle, Seth rescues a very-much alive January and it is up to him to keep both her and the artifacts safe. Hunted from every side, their attraction is explosive and fiery, but with January’s life on the line, Seth must fight his own demons in order to rescue the woman he can no longer resist.

‘Mission: Her Rescue’ is the second instalment of Anna Hackett’s Team 52 series, which, as a spin-off of Hackett’s Treasure Hunter series, gives more credence to theories of advanced ancient civilisations with hints of the paranormal appearing within the story. Seth Lynch is paired with January Jones here, which is apparently an enemies-to-lovers trope, though the enemies part is one that happens off-page (and retold by other characters), so the slide into lust is quick and more baffling.

Of all the Hackett’s books I’ve gone through however, I’m afraid ‘Mission: Her Rescue” resonated the least with me for a variety of reasons: a heroine who was petulantly stubborn for the sake of being argumentative and difficult (leading to some TSTL moments as well), for the same clichéd push-pull in the pairing, for a hate-to-love trope between 2 leads whose chemistry felt just non-existent, more so when it turned into instant love after a good tumble in bed, for the same type of enemies they face.

I’ll be the first to honestly admit that this isn’t a series I’ve been particularly enthusiastic about, given the rinse-and-repeat themes that appear here, along with the same-ish issues that plague the protagonists for not trusting each other as well as the same kind of baddies that populate each book (essentially, there are too many shades of the Treasure Hunter series here).

Thus far, this mysterious team hasn’t been a stand-out at all despite their purpose and their intriguing ability to slip between the cracks of politics and military agendas. I generally do like Hackett’s wild imagination and what she writes about, so it was a surprising struggle even to finish Seth/Jan’s story even (this slid down into a trite and clichéd-ridden HEA that made me cringe), despite the short length of it, though these are clearly my own nitpicking and personal preferences that have contributed to the book being a disappointment.

two-stars

Undetected by Anna Hackett

Undetected by Anna HackettUndetected by Anna Hackett
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #8
Published by Anna Hackett on September 4th 2018
Pages: 127
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four-stars

Darcy Ward has sold her soul to the devil. Okay, not quite the devil, but she did agree to work with Agent Arrogant and Annoying—aka Special Agent Alastair Burke of the FBI’s Art Crime Team to lay a trap for infamous black-market antiquities ring, Silk Road. Darcy loves shoes, computers, caffeine, and working at her family business, Treasure Hunter Security.

The only thing missing is her dream of a once-in-a-lifetime love, like her parents share, and a man who’ll put her first. She’s not so crazy about Silk Road trying to kill her family and friends, nor is she fond of an order-giving FBI agent and his distracting cologne. Using a trio of cursed diamonds as bait, she’s working hard to set a trap for Silk Road in the Dashwood Museum, but as the black-market thieves escalate their attempts to stop Darcy, she finds herself swept into Alastair’s strong, protective arms.

Alastair Burke is driven by vengeance. He’s dedicated his life to taking down Silk Road and its mysterious leader, the Collector, and now he finally has his chance. He can’t allow anything to distract him—especially not a sassy, smart woman who tests every bit of his control. But as the opening gala of the cursed diamonds exhibit approaches, the thieves target him and Darcy with a series of deadly attacks…and Alastair realizes he’ll do anything to keep her safe.

With the FBI and the former SEALs of Treasure Hunter Security at their backs, Darcy and Alastair are caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, and their fierce attraction. But with lives on the line, Alastair will find himself caught between his desire for revenge and keeping the woman he’s falling for alive.

The simmering tension between Special Agent Arrogant and Annoying (Alastair Burke) and Darcy Ward stretching over the the whole Treasure Hunter Security series, left as the last novella, finally, finally comes to fruition in ‘Undetected’, where it all gets wrapped up in a mere hundred-ish pages. The bad guys go down, in a spectacular, Bruce-Willis-action-movie kind of way (this isn’t to say suspension of disbelief isn’t clearly needed in some scenes), and Darcy and Burke still manage get the hots on after getting bloodied and bruised in the process.

Although definitely not a standalone, ‘Undetected’ works well because of the build-up over the last few books, with the overarching narrative and characters already in place to launch this last instalment off from the get-go. In essence, the story’s loads of fun and full of non-stop action and as anxious as I was to see how Darcy/Burke’s story would play out, I was pretty chuffed with how things went down with them—the push-pull from the both of them coming across as foreplay, the explosive sexy times—though I was pretty outraged at the somewhat rushed ending, but only because I wanted more of them.

four-stars

Innocent Target by Katie Reus

Innocent Target by Katie ReusInnocent Target by Katie Reus
Series: Redemption Harbor #4
Published by KR Press, LLC on 22nd May 2018
Pages: 145
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three-stars

She was a target. A contract that came across his desk by mistake. Axel was simply going to warn her that she was in danger and get out. Then he got a taste of her and fell hard. But they’re from two different worlds. Not only is she innocent, she’s out of his league. He should keep his distance, but he can’t. Not when someone wants her dead. Now he’s driven to protect her, to keep her safe.

What happens when she discovers who he really is?

Hadley moved to Redemption Harbor for vet school and to be closer to her new family. Now that her billionaire father knows about her existence, her life has changed drastically. She just never imagined that she might be targeted because of her family. And she definitely never imagined she would fall for the one man she should never want. A man who kills for a living. A man who’s obsessed with her. A man who will do anything to protect her from the danger lurking in the shadows.

I’ve always liked Katie Reus’s Redemption Harbor series and the fact that they’re standalones are pretty enticing. ‘Innocent Target’ had been on my to-read list for a long time and when I finally settled down for Axel/Hadley’s story, it wasn’t hard to get sucked into the plot, apart from the rather odd beginning that had me stumbling a little. The hit man who falls for his target is another ‘taboo’ trope all on its own and it’s one I’ve always wished to read more of.

The appealing bit about Reus’s couples is pretty much the maturity they show (and that’s quite a consistent and much-appreciated trait in her books), regardless of age and that the conflict that you think is coming to a head from afar is pretty much resolved in a way that’s unexpected but so welcome. That they communicate reasonably is a huge draw for me, along with how much they fight for each other once they decide that they want more of this relationship growing between them. Axel/Hadley is a pairing that falls comfortably within this Reus-writing-matrix, and this much I can say: Reus goes all in with them: no regrets, no turning back, which is as always, a wholly refreshing change when the push-pull vibe in romancelandia seems to be the primary objects in so many books.

I wasn’t entirely comfortably with the instalove however; falling in love over an ‘accidental’ coffee spill pushed the envelope too far for me, along with the frustrating switches in POVs to other characters than just the protagonists which had me skimming in parts. The clichéd protective big brother role felt a little much too, though given Axel’s past, I imagine it’s more justified than in other cases where big brothers are almost expected to be arses…just because.

Still, ‘Innocent Target’ is a solid addition to the series—my rating just reflects my own personal quibbles about it—and I’m already looking to see what Reus will tackle next.

three-stars

Cyclone by Jamie Crouch

Cyclone by Jamie CrouchCyclone by Janie Crouch
Series: Linear Tactical #1
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing on September 25th 2018
Pages: 280
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four-stars

The past haunts her. . .

Doctor Anne Nichols is only back in Oak Creek, Wyoming because she has no other options. She left years ago, broken and bleeding, without anyone really noticing. So she’s not surprised nobody here recognizes her as the stuttering, socially awkward girl she used to be.

Except Zac Mackay. The very reason she ran in the first place.

The present hunts her. . .

Zac’s years in special forces taught him the skills to stay alive in the most dangerous of circumstances. Now he has dedicated his life and built a company—Linear Tactical—to teach those same survival skills to others, so they don’t have to live in fear.

Then why is Annie, the last person he’d ever want to hurt, afraid of him?

Zac’s determined to wipe the fear from the eyes of the woman who has never been far from his mind. And fix the mistakes—his mistakes—that put that look there in the first place. But Zac's not the only one who's set his sights on Annie. Survival skills become much more than lessons when a predator starts prowling the streets of Oak Creek . . . and puts Anne in his crosshairs.

Reading ‘Cyclone’, or rather, getting into the first book of Linear Tactical, is strangely akin to seeing Janie Crouch freed of her writing restraints, and there’s no blunter way of putting it especially when it showcases the writing in fine form. ‘Cyclone’ is a full-length, more colourful, more explicit (hooray) story and simply a lot more compelling than the ‘tamer’ novellas Crouch has done for the Harlequin Intrigue/Suspense imprint in contrast, and begins with a huge misunderstanding and a painful event that neither of the main protagonists have quite gotten over.

Justifiably skittish, broken and gun-shy, Anne Nichols’s return to her small hometown brings her back into contact with the man she’d never wanted to see again, though Zac Mackay isn’t even aware of what exactly had put the rift between them that Anne wouldn’t talk about. And that’s where the pieces slowly come together, as I sat in with spiteful glee and got on the grovelling journey Zac took in trying to make up for his abysmal misdeeds 6 years ago, more so because I found myself sympathising and identifying with Anne’s insecurities, her wariness and even her quiet bravery and the strength that are so easily looked over. That she’s too forgiving made me a little outraged, even.

The element of the forbidden isn’t as strong as I thought here—Anne being the good friend of Zac’s long-dead wife, even if they’d known each other for a long time—and that Anne had always loved him yet tamped it down always made it feel as though Zac had a long way to go before getting up to speed with her. Apart from feeling that Anne was a little short-changed for the longest time, colour me surprised when Zac was able to move forward rather easily with her, as I’d expected some kind of accounting for how he finally had eyes for Anne when he never quite did before.

Still, ‘Cyclone’ is less angsty than I thought it would be, less drawn-out with the push-pull that happens between with a couple so weighed down by their pasts (this is not a NA novel after all), especially after the growing relationship between Anne/Zac is gradually overshadowed by the growing suspense plot that inevitably snares Anne in its trap.

Nonetheless, if ‘Cyclone’ is the standard-setting benchmark for the rest of the books to come—I was impatient to get back to the book each time my attention was called away—, then wherever or however Crouch might take this entire series is something I’m really looking forward to.

four-stars