Stone Cold Heart (Tracers #13) by Laura Griffin

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

NOTE: AT TIME OF WRITING, THE KINDLE EDITION IS £0.99 IN THE UK.

When local rock climbers stumble upon abandoned human bones in a remote Texas gorge, Sara Lockhart is the first to get the call. She has a reputation as one of the nation’s top forensic anthropologists, and police detective Nolan Hess knows she is just the expert he needs to help unravel this case. Although evidence is scarce, Nolan suspects the bones belong to a teenage climber who vanished last summer.

But as Sara unearths strange clues, she finds chilling similarities to a case from her past – a case that now threatens to rock Nolan’s community. While Sara digs deep for answers, the stakes rise higher as another young woman disappears without a trace. Investigators work against the clock as Sara races to discover the truth, even if her harrowing search brings her face to face with a stone-cold killer.

Rating: B

This thirteenth book in Laura Griffin’s Tracers series once again sees a member of the team from the high-tech Delphi Centre Crime Lab working with law enforcement officers working to solve a particularly disturbing case.  Although this is a long-running series, each book comprises a self-contained suspense plot so it’s perfectly possible to dip in and out as any recurring characters are kept to secondary roles and their backstories don’t impinge on the main plotlines.

Forensic Anthropologist Sara Lockhart is the new kid on the block at Delphi, having relocated to San Marco following a broken engagement and a year spent excavating mass graves in Guatemala.  Her ex-fiancé seemed to think her career was less important than his and their parting was acrimonious, which has given Sara a not surprising caution about getting involved again.  Not that she’s looking for that though; she wants to do her job, make friends and focus on her career path.  She’s at the wedding of a colleague when she gets a call from Detective Nolan Hess of the Springfield police department, asking her to come to White Falls Park to take a look at bones that were discovered by some hikers earlier in the day.

Nolan Hess grew up in Springfield, and feels a real sense of responsibility towards his community, where, it seems, he knows everyone and everyone knows him.  He’s determined to bring closure to the family of a young woman who disappeared over a year earlier, and when the bones are found in the park, there’s a lot of speculation that they are the remains of the missing girl. When Nolan meets Sara, he’s immediately impressed by her cool command of the situation, but simultaneously exasperated by her reluctance to offer any preliminary opinions or explanations.  He understands the work she does isn’t going to provide fast answers, but all the same he’s anxious for results that will enable him to confirm the identity of the victim.  He also senses that Sara knows more than she’s sharing with him.

Sara does.  Or rather she suspects.  The evidence presented by the bones – plus a gut feeling born of experience – suggests to her that there’s likely to be more than one victim here, and that the body they’ve discovered  is unlikely to have been killed and/or dumped in its final location.  She’s proven right when a search farther along the gorge turns up more bones, clearly belonging to a different set of remains.  Her theory is that the victims were killed elsewhere and their bodies dumped off a cliff, then washed down the valley in a flood.  When these killings are linked to a third, and then to the recent disappearance of a young woman, it becomes clear that a serial killer is at work – and that Sara and Nolan need to work faster to turn up clues if they’re to be able to save the life of the latest victim.

One of the things I always enjoy about the Tracers series is the well-researched background detail that the author supplies in just the right amount.  She explains the nitty gritty of Sara’s profession really well, and without getting bogged down in too much unnecessary detail, and her descriptions of the various locations are vivid and really help put the reader in the middle of the action. The suspense plot is well-constructed with plenty of twists and turns and moments of nail-biting tension, but unfortunately, the romantic subplot is less successful and falls pretty flat.  I did enjoy the longing glances and impulsive kisses that Sara and Nolan share and I liked them as individuals, but there wasn’t much romantic development.  Nolan is a terrific hero, an all-round nice guy who’s dedicated to his job but prepared to put the work into a relationship, while Sara has some issues to work through, and her determination not to become involved with Nolan meant she came off as a bit unfeeling.  I liked both of them when it came to their working relationship – they’re both dedicated and good at what they do – and I completely bought that they liked each other (a lot), but there wasn’t time in this book to develop anything beyond an initial attraction and infatuation, which made the romance ultimately unsatisfying.

If you’re a fan of CSI-type stories, then the Tracers series is one I’d definitely recommend checking out.  Stone Cold Heart is a solid addition; although the romance is a little lacklustre, the well-executed suspense plot is fairly gripping and if you’re in the mood for something that’s heavier on the mystery and lighter on the romance, then it might well suit.

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