Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5) by Melinda Leigh

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When a retired sheriff’s deputy is shot to death in his home, his troubled teenage stepson, Evan, becomes the prime suspect. Even more incriminating, the boy disappeared from the scene of the crime.

Desperate to find her son, Evan’s mother begs PI Lance Kruger for help. She knows her son is innocent. Kruger and defense attorney Morgan Dane want to believe that too, but the evidence against the boy is damning. Just as the trail goes cold, another deputy vanishes. His shocking connection to Evan’s stepfather throws the investigation into chaos as Lance and Morgan fear the worst…that Evan is the killer’s new target.

With so many secrets to unravel, will Lance and Morgan find him before it’s too late?

Rating: B

This fifth book in Melinda Leigh’s series about defence attorney Morgan Dane, her partner – PI Lance Kruger – and his boss and their mutual friend Lincoln Sharp, focuses on a tautly written mystery plot involving a murder and a missing teen while also taking an insightful look at the challenges of parenting young children and finding a practicable work-life balance.

When Secrets Never Die opens, we meet sixteen-year-old Evan Meade as he’s returning home – later than he should be – from an evening out with a friend.  He’s surprised to see there are no lights on inside the house; his mother, a nurse, is still at work and his stepfather, Paul, a retired sheriff’s deputy, always leaves a light on for her – but the place is in total darkness.  Cautiously – and still feeling guilty for being out late and having ignored Paul’s concerned texts earlier – Evan is making his way through the house when he hears a loud pop he thinks must be a gunshot.  He stands in the doorway of the den, frozen in terror at the sight of Paul lying on the floor, covered in blood, as a large man carrying a gun stands over him and shoots him again, this time between the eyes, execution style.  As Evan watches, horrified, he sees the man is wearing a gold badge clipped to his belt and he’s wearing gloves – is he a cop?  After that final shot, the killer’s eyes fix on Evan – who turns and starts running for his life.

Morgan and Lance have had a particularly difficult and exhausting few days.  Morgan’s three daughters  – all aged six and under – have been ill which has meant disturbed nights for both of them (something I’m sure all parents will be able to identify with!) and they’re both running on empty when Lance gets a call in the early hours from Tina, Evan’s mother, who tells him she returned from work to find her husband shot dead and her son missing.  Lance, an ex-cop turned PI, also coaches a hockey team of at-risk youths, which is how he knows both mother and son.  He and Morgan think it’s a bit strange that Tina has called them before dialling 911, but they nonetheless head over to the house, arriving at the scene before the County Sheriff and his team, which gives them a chance to look over the house for evidence before they’re told to butt out.

When Sheriff Colgate does arrive, it’s clear he’s not pleased to see Morgan and Lance already there, but accepts their explanations that they’re friends of the family and allows them to remain while he and his team start documenting the crime scene. The discovery of blood on the handle of the back door and on the cell phone they find on the other side of the back fence indicates that Evan must be injured, although it’s impossible to tell how badly.

But it rapidly becomes clear to Morgan and Lance that there are things the sheriff isn’t telling them, and that he is pursuing his own agenda. They know Evan is innocent of the murder of his stepfather but with him still missing, his past history of being in trouble with the law and evidence pointing to his relationship with Paul having been an acrimonious one, the difficulty is going to lie in proving it.

Long buried secrets, police corruption, a crimelord recently released from prison… author Melinda Leigh skilfully interweaves her various plotlines and clues into a tightly-written, fast-paced mystery that credibly combines the suspense elements with a look at the day-to-day difficulties of parenting young children alongside having a demanding and sometimes dangerous job. Morgan and Lance are engaged now – although Morgan has become a little skittish and has so far refused to set a date – but there’s no big melodrama involved, and they act like sensible, mature adults and talk things through so that by the end of the book, things are back on track. There’s only a whiff of romance in this one, though, which is provided by Lance’s boss, Sharp, whose reluctant crush on reporter Olivia Cruz (who helped out with the investigation in the previous book, What I’ve Done) hasn’t abated. I always like a romance between older protagonists (Sharp is fifty-three, Olivia is in her forties) and Olivia is a great addition to the cast; she’s funny, she’s clever, she’s vivacious, and she’s got Sharp’s number – plus, I can never resist characters who lob quotes from The Princess Bride at each other ;). Olivia proves herself to be one tough cookie when she and Sharp find themselves in a perilous situation when they follow up on a new lead – and I hope to see more of her in the next book.

This novel works perfectly well as a standalone, although one of the real strengths of the series is the closely knit ‘family’ of characters the author has built up around Morgan, all of whom have important parts to play in her life and the stories. It’s not necessary to have read the previous books in order to enjoy this (I’m still working my way through them), but doing so will definitely provide a little more insight into the various characters and their relationships. Secrets Never Die is an intriguing mystery that grabs the attention from the opening chapter and keeps you turning the pages through the twists, turns and life-or-death situations until the very end.

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