Category: Mystery/Crime

The Business of Blood by Kerrigan Byrne

The Business of Blood by Kerrigan ByrneThe Business of Blood by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: The Business of Blood, #1
Published by Ardent Publishing on 20th October 2019
Pages: 309
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

London, 1890. Blood and death are Fiona Mahoney’s trade, and business, as they say, is booming.

Dying is the only thing people do with any regularity, and Fiona makes her indecorous living cleaning up after the corpses are carted away. Her childhood best friend, Mary, was the last known victim of Jack the Ripper. It’s been two years since Fiona scrubbed Mary’s blood from the floorboards, and London is no longer buzzing about the Ripper, but Fiona hasn’t forgotten.

And she hasn’t stopped searching for Jack.

When she’s called to a murder in the middle of the night, Fiona finds a victim mutilated in an eerily similar fashion to those of the Ripper, and only a few doors down from Mary’s old home. The relentless, overbearing, and irritatingly handsome Inspector Grayson Croft warns her away from the case. She might have listened, if she hadn’t found a clue in the blood. A clue that will lead her down a path from which there is no return.As a killer cuts a devastating swath through London, a letter written in blood arrives at her door, and it is only then that Fiona realizes just how perilous her endeavor is. For she has drawn the attention of an obsessive evil, and is no longer the hunter, but the prey. Fiona Mahoney is in the business of blood.

But she’s not the only one.

Taking place smack in the aftermath of the Ripper murders in the most squalid bits of London, ‘The Business of Blood’ follows an intrepid Fiona Mahoney who has somehow managed to eke a place out for herself as the clean-up crew of wet work, keeping company with questionable characters just so she can live decently. But it’s also one that has put her on a path of investigation and ultimately revenge: to search out the Ripper who’d torn up her friend 2 years prior, up until she tangles with law enforcement and the people who may or may not have had a hand in the murders suddenly happening all around her once more.

I loved the premise of the story from the start: it’s suspenseful, and probably groundbreaking for putting a female protagonist in a role that most heroines steer clear of in historical romances. It’s also macabre but fascinating in the way murder cases and unsolved crime mysteries probably are, hinting of ethnic struggles and the consequences of those in individuals that eschew the notion of life being sacrosanct—more so as these seem to underpin Byrne’s London as a gritty and unstable hotbed for brutal violence and insanity.

There’s barely a hint of romance at all in fact; much of it is Fiona’s story, her quest to unravel the thread linking the pile of bodies rapidly falling around her and her interactions with characters who are hiding too many secrets of their own for her liking. Seeing as this is a series, the Ripper murders aren’t done and dusted just yet, with the climax taking a bit of a hooked twist while leaving unresolved matters for the next few books to cover.

Byrne does write a good mystery, though it’s the purple prose and some over-descriptions of emotions or events that I could have done without. Still, ‘The Business of Blood’ is an intriguing read and a bit of a mental screw, to be honest. Yet I’d be the first in line for the next book already.

four-stars

Cross Her Heart by Melinda Leigh

Cross Her Heart by Melinda LeighCross Her Heart by Melinda Leigh
Series: Bree Taggert #1
Published by Montlake Romance on 17th March 2020
Pages: 369
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

For more than twenty-five years, Philadelphia homicide detective Bree Taggert has tucked away the nightmarish childhood memories of her parents’ murder-suicide…Until her younger sister, Erin, is killed in a crime that echoes that tragic night: innocent witnesses and a stormy marriage that ended in gunfire. There’s just one chilling difference. Erin’s husband, Justin, has vanished.

Bree knows how explosive the line between love and hate can be, yet the evidence against her troubled brother-in-law isn’t adding up. Teaming up with Justin’s old friend, former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler Matt Flynn, Bree vows to uncover the secrets of her sister’s life and death, as she promised Erin’s children.

But as her investigation unfolds, the danger hits close to home. Once again, Bree’s family is caught in a death grip. And this time, it could be fatal for her.

Melinda Leigh’s an old hand at this by now…writing taut and tight thrillers, I mean. With cleverly plotted, smartly-paced narratives that scarcely let you blink, the new Bree Taggert series—following the Morgan Dane one which I loved—is promising to be a good one, particularly if you’re more into the suspense than the romance.

Bree Taggert’s never really far from her violent past, but history seems to repeat itself in her sister’s murder, bringing her back to a place where she finds herself saddled with new responsibilities while dealing with fresh grief. Former investigator Matt Flynn helps her to unravel what happened that night, though it’s not one that’s easily undertaken both for Bree and the reader. Carnage, gore, complex characters, shady motivations and convincing legalese do make ‘Cross Her Heart’ an intriguing read from the start and it’s one that’s solid. Heavy topics are par for the course—death, guilt, murder—and Leigh covers this well and with sensitivity.

There are tangents and off-shoots as Leigh pulls secondary characters under the microscope and hints that any might be a suspect as we’re taken on a winding journey of unravelling what seems like a domestic dispute case of a spouse killing his wife. But the overall murder plot is a little bizarre when all’s revealed, admittedly, as though it’s something that you merely give a side-eye to when you’re finally introduced to a pivotal turn of events, then are incredulous when it finally untangles in front of your eyes.

There’s strong friendship here, mature protagonists and barely a hint of romance, but if I know Leigh’s writing style, this is merely a slow burn, with a deliberate (and understandably, appropriate) build that will continue over the rest of the series. It’s a solid introduction however, to a couple that will just grow stronger over the next few books and I for one, can’t wait.

four-stars

The Intended Victim by Alexandra Ivy

The Intended Victim by Alexandra IvyThe Intended Victim by Alexandra Ivy
Series: The Agency #4
Published by Zebra on 31st December 2019
Pages: 352
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

ONCE, SHE GOT AWAY

The body lying on a cold steel slab bears all the hallmarks of the Chicago Butcher. There's a cruel slash across her throat, deep enough to sever the carotid artery, and a small crescent carved into her right breast. Her delicate features are painfully familiar to Ash Marcel, once a rising star in the Chicago PD. But though the victim resembles his former fiancée, Remi Walsh, he knows it's not her.

BUT THIS TIME

Though Remi escaped a serial killer five years ago, her father died trying to save her. Grief and guilt caused her to pull away from the man she loved. Now Ash is back in her life, insisting that Remi is still in danger.

IT'S A DEAD END . . .

Someone is targeting women who look just like Remi. With or without a badge, Ash intends to unmask the Butcher. But the killer isn't playing games any longer. He's moving in, ready to finish what he started, and prove there's nothing more terrifying than a killer's obsession . . .

I’ve not read the rest of the books that preceded ‘The Intended Victim’ by Alexandra Ivy, but this is easy enough to get into as a standalone. The premise is undoubtedly quite an intriguing one: a serial murderer—a.k.a. The Butcher—who’s apparently back after five years and is now strangely obsessed with altering his victims’ faces to resemble Remi Walsh before killing them.

The suspense plot itself is sort of unique, with a twist that I sort of saw coming but was left skeptical in the end. It did lack a bit of forward momentum even as the process of getting to know more about the strange spate of murders was ongoing, getting even disconcerting at times with different POVs belonging to secondary characters popping up from time to time.

There’s a second chance romance in here as well, but this was probably the weakest part of the story for me. Ash/Remi’s history was sort of glossed over; we weren’t told much, only that Remi had pushed Ash away after tragedy touched their lives and that he was only back because she seemed to be in the sights of the same killer again.

I was obviously hoping for harder soul-searching on Remi’s part, but most of it dealt with her determination to try to just look at the future and not the past—and that she only looked at Ash with regret. In this way, Ash/Remi’s second chance romance didn’t quite feel like a justified or a convincing one at all: a pairing brought back together incidentally and not because both wanted it enough to look for each other. Five years on, all we really had of Remi was her weak excuse of wanting to ‘protect’ others by pushing them away and internalising her own mental mess that she’d never bothered to sort out. Through it all, I never quite got the idea that she wanted them as much as Ash pursued her, merely caving to Ash’s insistent pressure and going along with it.

The uptick in the narrative happened at the last quarter, after which, it got engrossing, though everything was wrapped up quite neatly—too neatly perhaps—in the last chapter. Would I recommend this? Maybe. It’s a decent read if you like the usual red-herrings and the clues that come with solving a murder mystery, though romance-wise, it’s not quite a satisfying one.

two-stars

Shadows by Kristen Proby

Shadows by Kristen ProbyShadows by Kristen Proby
Series: Bayou Magic, #1
Published by Ampersand Publishing, Inc. on 29th October 2019
Pages: 324
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

I am never alone. Not even when I am alone. I see the unquiet dead, the souls that wander through the French Quarter.

They can’t move on, and I can’t stop seeing them. I wear malachite for protection, and I control what I let in. It’s the only way to stay sane.

Everything changes the day Cassian Winslow joins my ghost walking tour and knocks my world off its axis with green eyes the color of the stone around my neck.

An unspeakable evil is loose in New Orleans, taking young women and leaving a bloodbath in his wake.

More shadows lurking for me. More unhappy dead. There might be a way to stop it. Open myself up to Cassian. If I do, it could spell his death. But if I don’t, it’s mine.

In the bayou of New Orleans (a place that certainly lends credibility to the paranormal plot), three sisters gifted with paranormal abilities are suddenly thrust into a fight for their survival when things happening in the physical start mirroring what happens in the paranormal plane. If the story begins with a seemingly harmless ghost walking tour and an near-instant connection between Brielle and Cash, it ends with a creepy suggestion that there is more than just the present life that stalks these characters and that much had already gotten me wanting the rest of the series.

Brielle and Cash’s relationship is angst-free and easy; the road bumps they face aren’t in the developing relationship itself, but in the obstacles they face in keeping Brielle alive. There are spooky bits to keep you wide-eyed, insane twists that keep the story going just when you think it’s over and lots of heart-racing thrills to haunt you out of a peaceful night’s sleep way past the last page.

‘Shadows’ is quite a departure from what I’ve expected of Kristen Proby’s books and it’s a change that surprised me—and not a bad one either, given how quickly I inhaled the paranormal elements and the things that quite literally went bump in the night. The combination of suspense and the paranormal isn’t new, but Proby might have stumbled into a winning one here.

four-stars

Colder Than Sin by Toni Anderson

Colder Than Sin by Toni AndersonColder Than Sin by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice: Crossfire, #2
Published by Toni Anderson on 22nd October 2019
Pages: 400
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Top FBI negotiator Quentin Savage is hurled into his worst nightmare when a terrorist attack on a luxury hotel propels him from esteemed keynote speaker to powerless captive.

Haley Cramer is co-owner of a private security firm and prides herself on her independence, but she is shaken to the core when gunmen attack a conference she is attending. She survives, but only because Quentin Savage pretends she’s his wife.

Together Savage and Haley plot their escape from a ragtag army of brutal but efficient thugs while struggling to figure out exactly who the enemy is. Why was the conference attacked, and why was Quentin a specific target?

With non-stop action, ‘Colder Than Sin’ pushes all the James Bond buttons right: a terrorist bombing of a security convention in Indonesia—itself a volatile part of Southeast Asia—, a bid to escape, the kind of incidental romance that blooms along the way.

And this might just be Toni Anderson’s grittiest one yet, as she deals with the very, very uncomfortable topic of sexual assault and its repercussions, more so because this is in particular a crime against women and throwing it in the spotlight as one of the main plot devices in a romantic suspense story (a genre mostly written for and read by women) makes it harder to swallow.

For this reason, the surprise for me, weren’t really Haley and Quentin (who seemed alright together, but not a blazingly hot couple I was entirely invested in), but Darby O’Roarke, the young, strong survivor who probably deserved her own medal and story for keeping it together as well as she could given the circumstances.

But I think the icing on the cake was the riveting story on its own with or without the romance: the superb suspense, the search for answers, the breathless fight for survival lent a fast-paced trot to the whole narrative that there wasn’t quite time to think about the implications of such before the next twist occurred. I did have a suspicion how it would all go down and did guess correctly in the end but Anderson’s execution of this was simply done so, so well.

There was a contrived moment or two though: it was hard to stomach seeing Quentin and Haley getting it on while terrorists were on their tails (mud and all) while Darby was waiting for them—it just felt thoughtless at that moment, when good sense seemed abandoned for blazing lust. There were also a few TSTL moments for Haley, nonetheless, but Anderson generally writes mature characters who own up to their mistakes, their cowardice and their own emotional blocks and resolved it in a way that was by and large, satisfying.

Having been a fan of Toni Anderson for a long while, there’re few books of hers that actually disappoint. If there’s something she is known for, it’s complex and intelligently crafted stories that are in the unique position of boasting an equal amount of romance and suspense to keep the pages turning and turning. I’d be crossing my fingers for Darby’s own story next—this has really given me something to look forward to.

four-stars

Orientation by Gregory Ashe

Orientation by Gregory AsheOrientation by Gregory Ashe
Series: Borealis Investigations #1
on 24th May 2019
Pages: 311
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Shaw and North are best friends, private detectives, and in danger of losing their agency. A single bad case, followed by crippling lawsuits, has put them on the brink of closing shop. Until, that is, a client walks into their Benton Park office.
Matty Fennmore is young, blond, and beautiful, and he’s in danger. When he asks for Shaw and North’s help foiling a blackmail scheme, the detectives are quick to accept.

The conspiracy surrounding Matty runs deeper than Shaw and North expect. As they dig into the identity of Matty’s blackmailer, they are caught in a web that touches politicians, the local LGBT community, and the city’s police.
An attack on Matty drives home the rising stakes of the case, and Shaw and North must race to find the blackmailer before he can silence Matty. But a budding romance lays bare long-buried feelings between Shaw and North, and as their relationship splinters, solving the case may come at the cost of their friendship.

It isn’t often that I delve into M/M stories, but ‘Orientation’—strictly not quite a romance as yet—is making me rethink my choices. Gritty, oh-so-angsty and so well-put out, Gregory Ashe outlines 2 beguiling best-friends-protagonists who sort of sit on the opposite ends of the personality spectrums—private detectives, if you would, whose agency is failing, until someone walks through the door one day and changes the game.

Unresolved sexual tension is the order of the day, both Shaw and North struggle with their own deeply buried feelings for each other. There are parts that are excruciating to read about, as Ashe covers spousal abuse, unrequited feelings and the constant need (and the subsequent inability) to get past one’s own issues so sharply that you can’t help but feel for both Shaw and North. All these are interspersed with their banter, their amazing chemistry and the keen intelligence that permeate the rest of the narrative, as both Shaw and North trudge through what is more than just a simple case of blackmail and a shy young man supposedly coming out of the closet.

But at the same time there’s a whopping amount of brutality that Ashe doesn’t shy away from, just as he draws out the contradictions in the characters that you find in real life. Shaw/North don’t stay in their boxed up stereotypes; North, the blue-collared worker from a construction background is surprisingly in tune with his own emotions, while the Lululemon-wearing Shaw whose strange, romantic idealism jars so strongly with the sudden injections of impulsive violence he’s capable of showing.

If I were to find any fault with this book, it’s just that the plot is convoluted, a mite bit drawn out too much, the word play and the inner monologue too frilly, with some characters so flamboyant and overtly annoying gracing the pages even if they’re not actively present. But that’s perhaps nitpicking. There are layers upon layers of history, twists and turns in the form of conjectures and assumptions that aren’t exactly laid out in a linear fashion, so blink and you’ll miss it, or get even more confused.

Still, ‘Orientation’ is a book that had me sitting up and taking note of the language, the writing style and the compelling main characters—Ashe’s insights into both Shaw and North alone, are good enough for me to read straight into the next book without wanting to stop.

three-half-stars

Save Your Breath by Melinda Leigh

Save Your Breath by Melinda LeighSave Your Breath by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #6
Published by Montlake Romance on 17th September 2019
Pages: 320
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Morgan Dane and PI Lance Kruger investigate the mysterious disappearance of a true-crime writer.

When true-crime writer Olivia Cruz disappears with no signs of foul play, her new boyfriend, Lincoln Sharp, suspects the worst. He knows she didn’t leave willingly and turns to attorney Morgan Dane and PI Lance Kruger to find her before it’s too late.

As they dig through Olivia’s life, they are shocked to discover a connection between her current book research on two cold murder cases and the suicide of one of Morgan’s prospective clients.

As Morgan and Lance investigate, the number of suspects grows, but time is running out to find Olivia alive. When danger comes knocking at their door, Morgan and Lance realize that they may be the killer’s next targets.

Melinda Leigh returns with one of the tightest, most cohesive crime-busting, lawyer-PI team in the Morgan Dane series—I can’t seem to get enough of Morgan Dane and Lance Kruger—and ‘Save Your Breath’ is yet another great instalment in this fantastic lineup.

I think I’ve said this in every review of the series, but written from a romance review’s perspective, I’ll need to say it again: the romance is slight and brought off-screen, given the established pairings, with slight touches and kisses and reaffirming words forming the basis of affection here. Lance and Morgan are grounded in each other and it’s always a joy to read about their mature relationship and how they get on in each new book, so ‘Save Your Breath’ furthers their relationship just a little more and probably gives them the short but needed HEA all of their stalwart fans want.

As much as I was hoping for a sharper focus on Lincoln Sharp’s and Olivia Wade’s romance developing along side Morgan/Lance’s rock-solid one, ‘Save Your Breath’ wastes no time in moving past their attraction, straight onto the meat of the story of Olivia’s disappearance and several seemingly unlinked cases.

There’s no doubt that Leigh always crafts a good suspense; this far into the series, the pacing, tone and characters are nuanced and pitch-perfect, though a mite bit predictable plot-wise, or even a bit of a let down when all’s revealed and tied up.

Still, it’s a smooth read otherwise, engaging and compelling and if this is really Leigh’s last in this series, I’ll be saying a very, very wistful goodbye.

four-stars