Tag: 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
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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
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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

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
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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
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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

Whiteout by Adriana Anders

Whiteout by Adriana Anders
Series: Survival Instincts, #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 28th January 2020
Pages: 352
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four-half-stars

Angel Smith is ready to leave Antarctica for a second chance at life. But on what was meant to be her final day, the research station is attacked. Hunted and scared, she and glaciologist Ford Cooper barely make it out with their lives…only to realize that in a place this remote, there's nowhere left to run.

Isolated in the middle of a long, frozen winter with a madman at their heels, they must fight to survive in the most inhospitable—and beautiful—place on earth. But the outside world depends on what Ford and Angel know and, as their pursuers close in and their new partnership burns bright and hot, they will stop at nothing to make it out of the cold alive.

Adeptly written, full of thrilling moments showing superb narrative control, ‘Whiteout’ is putting Adriana Anders on my romantic-suspense-authors list. Truth is, I had a damn good time with this. Few stories use Antarctica as a setting; even fewer delve so deeply into and write so convincingly about the endless, brutal, frigid whiteness and the fragility of humanity against the unrelenting harshness of nature.

Both Angel Smith and Ford Cooper are in Antarctica for various reasons of their own, but they have each found a place there they belong, amongst an eclectic group of people finding camaraderie at the end of the world. Things change only when a series of events lead them to run for their lives and the fractious ‘relationship’ both initially have changes as they are thrust together in extreme and adverse circumstances that no one could ever imagine.

Angel/Ford are an unlikely pairing, but Anders persuades me early on that a terse, emotionally-unsure glaciologist with an everyday heroine with her own hurts can actually be one I’ll root for. In fact, the strength that Angel develops as the crisis goes on is admirable—more so because it very eloquently details the sort of limits and fortitude you don’t know you have until the need for survival drops suddenly on you.

The overall narrative arc isn’t one that is yet resolved: Ford and Angel barely get out of this alive (this is still thanks to an almost Deus ex Machina moment) and the bad guys for now get their comeuppance, but there overall trajectory of world domination through population-cleansing is still there. It left me somewhat uncertain and unclear, so portions with the masterminding corporation and the higher-ups seemed fuzzy despite the slow movements of chess pieces across a board I couldn’t fully understand yet.

I wished we could have had more moments exploring Ford’s history together—that is merely briefly alluded to—but the focus is so on the present that there just doesn’t seem to be enough space (both mental and emotional) for it. The last few pages wrapped up Ford/Angel’s story a tad hastily and a sort-of cliffhanger ending made ‘Whiteout’ feel incomplete despite the rushed HEA. But Anders leaves me wanting more and in this case, I’m already watching out for the sequel.

four-half-stars

Orientation by Gregory Ashe

Orientation by Gregory AsheOrientation by Gregory Ashe
Series: Borealis Investigations #1
on 24th May 2019
Pages: 311
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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

Fallen by Rebecca Zanetti

Fallen by Rebecca ZanettiFallen by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Deep Ops, #2
Published by Zebra on 24th September 2019
Pages: 368
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three-stars

Too quiet.
A talented hacker who got caught, Brigid Banaghan is now forced to work with a secret Deep Ops unit. But she won't reveal any more to these renegade Feds than she has to. Especially not to Raider Tanaka, her control freak of a bodyguard and handler. It's enough that his body is tensed for action and his heated gaze is always on her . . .

Too sharp.
Raider knows there's more to his new assignment than he's been told. Why send a deadly agent of his experience to guard a computer genius—even a gorgeous, unpredictable, undisciplined one? But when Brigid's estranged father is named in an investigation into Boston's organized crime, Raider's mind switches onto high alert, just like his senses . . .

Too close.
To clear her father's name, Brigid needs Raider's help. The Unit's idea that she bring a strait-laced Fed in as her "fiancé" won't fly, though—not unless Raider can release his inner bad boy and become the rebel Brigid can't resist . . .

‘Fallen’ is Rebecca Zanetti’s second instalment of her ‘Deep Ops’ series and one that, if you’ve not read the first book, could be difficult to wade into from the beginning as you struggle to make sense of events, characters and context. But it isn’t an impossible task to figure out that this ragtag team of covert government agents operating off the fly, will do off-the-record missions barely held together by duct tape despite the individual competencies and shady backgrounds of its agents.

I know that Raider Tanaka’s story has been long-awaited, and I was hoping ‘Fallen’ would do justice to it with a pairing of handler and former ex-con. But there’s pretence on several levels as Brigid and Raider go undercover, but perhaps the strongest betrayal is yet to come as Brigid keeps her own secrets from him. That all seems to be suddenly forgiven when things come to a climactic finish however, does feel like a cop-out without Brigid paying her dues, so to speak.

Zanetti’s writing style, in itself, is sometimes, hard to pin down and this had me stumbling particularly in the middle. There are driving, satisfying moments where you could literally see the jigsaw puzzles sliding seamlessly into place, just as there are moments of high-riding tension, only to be broken by odd pockets of humour that surface within the storytelling—unwarranted, unexpected but sometimes enough to jerk you into a bark of laughter—with characters who have at least a quirk or 2 that become their calling card. And that, never fails to leave me either breathless, or scratching my head in bewilderment at the absurdity of the very different aspects of storytelling that Zanetti seems to incorporate in all her works. Suspension of disbelief aside, there were scenes (particularly the ones with anthropomorphism) that were probably meant to be funny but had me painfully grimacing instead.

‘Fallen’ is a not bad read, though not a fantastic one. There are hints of future pairings (though it seems the rest of the books are a long time in coming) and I wish it’d left more of an impression nonetheless, given how much I was looking forward to Raider’s story and how much I like Zanetti’s storylines.

three-stars