Tag: suspense-thriller

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

What I’ve Done by Melinda Leigh

What I’ve Done by Melinda LeighWhat I've Done by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #4
Published by Montlake Romance on 18th September 2018
Pages: 336
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four-stars

Morgan Dane’s new client has blood on her hands—and no recollection of what happened—as the #1 Amazon Charts bestselling series continues.

Haley Powell wakes up covered in blood, with no memory of the night before. When she sees a man lying in the backyard, stabbed to death, she has only one terrified thought: What have I done?

Agreeing to take the case as a favor to her PI friend Lincoln Sharp, Morgan must scale a mountain of damning circumstantial and forensic evidence to prove her client innocent. Haley couldn’t appear more guilty: her bloodstained fingerprints are on the murder weapon, and she has no alibi. But Morgan can’t shake the feeling that this shocked young woman has been framed.

Someone out there is hell-bent on sabotaging her defense, targeting Morgan, her partner, and especially Haley. Someone who will stop at nothing—and whose next move will be deadly.

Melinda Leigh’s ‘Morgan Dane’ juggernaut of a series goes on strong with no sign of abating and I for one, am glad for it. With little of the unnecessary (and sometimes over-exggerated) drama as her stalwart, arse-kicking protagonists who go from strength to strength, ‘What I’ve Done’ is another solid offering in which I was happy to get lost.

There’re slight developments in Morgan’s and Lance’s relationship which are always nice to read about, but by and large, they are an established couple, which frees Leigh to concentrate on the suspense. We’re plunged straight in, like any police procedural show: an establishing mystery which eventually turns out to be the complicated case that Morgan and Lance get involved in. The stakes are high; the evidence mounts against them in a near-indefensible case, but Leigh quite masterfully twirls the mess until it makes coherent sense with a satisfying resolution.

It isn’t often that I like the suspense overshadowing the romance—a hearty mix of heat and action is typically what I look for—but this series is one that I can’t help but want more and more of. In short, I was nonetheless riveted and engaged—when the case unravels to show that no one is truly innocent and the degree of debauched behaviour is just skewed towards who’s the worse guy.

Admittedly, the romance is subdued, the heat much less pronounced with a new kind of conflict brewing but Morgan/Lance’s chemistry and affection for each other—borne of months working seamlessly together—are obvious despite the very few scenes that concentrate solely on them. ‘What I’ve Done’ is nonetheless solid and well-written, closing with the sense that this growing partnership in more ways than one, is far from over.

four-stars

Firestorm by Rachel Grant

Firestorm by Rachel GrantFirestorm by Rachel Grant
Series: Flashpoint #3
Published by Janus Publishing on 10th July 2018
Pages: 300
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CIA covert operator Savannah James is after intel on a potential coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but she needs a partner fluent in Lingala to infiltrate the organization. Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan is the perfect choice, except he doesn’t like her very much. He doesn’t trust her, either, despite the sparks that flare between them, fierce and hot. Still, he accepts the assignment even though their cover requires Savvy to pose as his mistress.

They enter battle-worn Congo to expose the financing for the coup. A trail of cobalt, gold, and diamonds leads them into the heart of a jungle in which everyone is desperate to find the mother lode of ore and gems. Betrayal stalks them as they follow the money, but Savvy will stop at nothing to bring down the would-be dictator before he can ignite a firestorm that will engulf all of Africa.

Deep in the sultry rainforest, spy and Green Beret forge a relationship more precious than diamonds, but Cal knows Savvy is willing to sacrifice anything—or anyone—to complete her mission. As they near the flashpoint, Cal will have to save her from the greatest threat of all: herself.

Start a Rachel Grant book and it’s a sure-thing to surface only a few days later. It’s that intricate, that complex and that impossible to breeze through because of the details and the twists and turns that slowly come into play despite the deceptively simple beginning. A light-hearted read this isn’t, but ‘Firestorm’, like every other Grant read, always muscles in on the romantic suspense genre with a lot of audacious aplomb.

That kind of daring comes in from the beginning with Savannah James and Cassius Callahan going undercover, though the trajectory of the storytelling doesn’t stay in a direction you’d expect. There’re hooked roads, forked paths and unforeseen obstacles that constantly throw wrenches in the good ol’ plot, which makes ‘Firestorm’ and all-round absorbing ride. But beneath that, there are also gut-churning and tooth-rottingly salacious details revolving around exploitative sex, violence and mega-money deals in a hot zone in Africa—all of which Cal and Savvy try to uncover without compromising themselves—that can be difficult to power through.

Still, betrayals and disavowals are par for the course, and it’s akin to hopscotching blindfolded in a minefield. The lack of full disclosure, the deception and lies (whether necessary or not), tend to be one of my pet-peeves in such romances nonetheless. ‘The mission above all’ as mantra and the prolonged double-crossing that inevitably destroys a relationship account for what I’ve always thought of as the biggest failings in such stories. There are a few instances of that here, unsurprisingly as it is, when it comes down to spooks justifying their belief that the ends justify the means. That said, it makes for interesting, though not always enjoyable friction and conflict between Cal and Savvy.

In contrast to Cal’s open-book demeanour however, I was itching to unravel Savannah, or at least get to the real person behind the mission-above-all heartless character who’s seemingly been nothing more than a compassionless automaton in the first few books of this series. What I wasn’t prepared for was a tragic backstory to emerge, and one that should be uncomfortably close to women who’ve tried to rise in their careers. It isn’t to say there aren’t eye-rolling TSTL moments—like the stunt she pulls towards the end, which made me think that trust was still an issue, not to mention the stupid (and wrong) belief of doing even stupider things to in a self-sacrificing way that typically gets old and annoying.

As I’d initially expected, ‘Firestorm’ is a longer read than most typical romance-length books. Beyond the characters and the thrilling storyline, Grant takes her time laying out the context of the Central African region to the point where parts of the story feel like a anthropological documentary embedded into the rush of adventure…and for that alone, it’s not hard to consider ‘Firestorm’ a fantastic (and quite possibly, the best) addition to the series.

Wanting You by Leslie A. Kelly

Wanting You by Leslie A. KellyWanting You by Leslie A. Kelly
Series: Hollywood Heat #2
Published by Forever Yours on 31st July 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

A cold case is suddenly too hot to handle

Police officer Rowan Winchester wants nothing to do with his family's A-list Hollywood legacy. Working with the LAPD is his way of atoning for the Winchesters' dark and secretive past. And, right now, the last thing Rowan needs is true-crime novelist Evie Fleming nosing around the most notorious deaths in Los Angeles - including the ones that haunt his own family. To make things worse, he's torn between wanting the wickedly smart writer out of his city... and just plain wanting her.

While researching her latest book, Evie suspects that a dangerous new killer is prowling the City of Angels. Now she just has to convince the devastatingly handsome cop that she's right. Soon Evie and Rowan are working together to try to find the killer, even as their attraction ignites. But when the killer hones in on Evie, she and Rowan realize they'll have to solve this case fast if they want to stay alive.

‘Wanting You’ reads more like a typical murder-mystery in the RS genre as compared to the previous book—since it involves law enforcement and a true crime writer—, which isn’t a bad thing. If Leslie A. Kelly’s first book in the series felt more like a glitzy portrayal of celebrity romance, Evie/Rowan’s story delves into the grittier side of violent crime in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, with a lot less of the stardust that one would expect of this kind of story.

The book functions well as a standalone, but there’s a heavy reliance on a tragic narrative arc and a convoluted, mysterious back story involving child actors, fame and what might be cover-ups. Kelly recounts it just fine, so catching up wouldn’t be an issue at all if that’s a concern. Disparate pieces of the mystery did throw me off though, when I found myself struggling to make the connections between Rowan’s family history, Evie’s current writing project (and the dangers that brings on its own), a deranged stalker and how these really linked up when they felt like smaller, unrelated threads that weren’t satisfactorily tied together. The latter half of the book settled into a police procedural as the newly minted team of Evie and Rowan go on a serial killer’s trail and felt more predictable in the way it throws shadow on everything, though I did spend a goodly bit of time wondering where this was all leading.

Speaking of couple-chemistry, Evie and Rowan do clash in their objectives and that’s typically what I dig when it comes to the romantic portion of it all: the sparks, the secrets that the latter guards and what the former wants to crack open, all of which seemingly putting each other on opposite sides despite their attraction. The quick way they fell into lust which then strayed into a holding pattern that mostly had Rowan blowing hot and cold proved a lull unfortunately, along with the roundabout police procedural that made me skim a bit.

That said, I liked Evie a lot—her determination, her compassion and forwardness—and this was a huge plus point in the general unevenness of the storytelling, which, don’t get me wrong, is something that still piques my interest. Kelly’s writing can be absorbing, and even if there were parts I was more engrossed in than others, I’m this far into the series not to want the last book in it.

 

three-stars

Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin

Desperate Girls by Laura GriffinDesperate Girls by Laura Griffin
Series: Wolfe Security #1
Published by Gallery Books on 7th August 2018
Pages: 368
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four-stars

Defense attorney Brynn Holloran is right at home among cops, criminals, and tough-as-nails prosecutors. With her sharp wit and pointed words, she has a tendency to intimidate, and she likes it that way. She’s a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom, but in her personal life, she’s a mess.

When a vicious murderer she once helped prosecute resurfaces and starts a killing spree to wipeout those who put him behind bars, one thing becomes clear: Brynn needs to run for her life.

With no help from the police, Brynn is forced to take matters into her own hands, turning to a private security firm for protection. But when Brynn defies advice and gets involved in the investigation, even the former Secret Service agent assigned to protect her may not be able to keep her safe. With every new clue she discovers, Brynn is pulled back into the vortex of a disturbing case from her past.

As the clock ticks down on a manhunt, Brynn’s desperate search for the truth unearths long-buried secrets and reignites a killer’s fury.

‘Desperate Girls’ isn’t a title I’d immediately associated with the blurb of the story and it became quite clear from the onset that the story is so much more than the rather irrelevant-sounding title. As a sort-of offshoot of Laura Griffin’s Tracers series, I was eager nonetheless to take a closer look into Liam Wolfe’s Security company staffed by supersized heroes and the different kind of romantic suspense revolving around security that Griffin was going to write.

The stoic bodyguard who eventually falls for his principal when they are paired up—typically reluctantly on the latter’s part—as a threat escalates isn’t a new idea, but Griffin’s take on it is a unique, intriguing one, going further than the usual bodyguard-type romance. The standout as always, is Griffin’s writing, her ability to juggle so many elements at once while revealing the intricate details about the security business that simply go beyond shadowing a principal. The complexity of the police case, the red-herrings, solid protagonists and the well-researched and fantastic writing made ‘Desperate Girls’ an entertaining read, even though my rather shallow way of measuring this had partially to do with the amount of sleep I had the past few nights at night as I got lost in Griffin’s writing.

My only gripes were the few TSTL moments early on, the courtroom drama that proved a bit of a lull (I was more caught up in the danger of a psychopathic, escaped convict and the slow, amping up of the action) and the final plot-twist feeling like a last-gasp attempt at drama that proved to be downers for me. I did feel that characterisation suffered a little under the hyper-focus on the court case and the overall suspense but these however, weighed against how much I enjoyed the developing action nonetheless, probably seem somewhat churlish to include. Still, the pulse-pounding moments, all leading up to the action-movie-type ending (complete with the exotic location) seemed to be over too soon, leaving me eager for the next book in this promising series and its fresh, new cast of characters.

four-stars

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

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