A Grave End (Bodies of Evidence #4) by Wendy Roberts

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A woman died years ago, and the body’s still missing.

Julie Hall’s conscience tells her she needs to use her skills to help a grieving family find their daughter’s long-missing remains. The problem is, Alice was last seen in Julie’s hometown—a place so full of traumatic memories, the very idea of returning there nearly paralyzes Julie.

Clear boundaries help Julie overcome her fears and take the job. She’ll go all out with her search, but only for one week. An end date in sight will ease the anxiety she and her FBI boyfriend have about the price she’ll have to pay to do the right thing.

Despite a growing sense of foreboding as she hits one dead end after another, Julie is driven to keep looking for Alice. But after receiving vile threats and with her self-imposed deadline looming, Julie realizes she was right to be afraid—and she worries she may not survive this case.

Rating: B-

A Grave End is the fourth – and possibly final? – book in Wendy Roberts’  series of suspense novels featuring Julie Hall, a young woman who has the ability to locate dead bodies using a pair of dowsing rods.  Julie is a complex, prickly character; an alcoholic in recovery, she’s the survivor of a particularly brutal childhood during which she suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her grandmother.  She got away from her small home town of Blaine, Washington, as soon as she possibly could and simply the thought of going back there is enough to send her into a tailspin – but she now finds herself unable to refuse a request from a dying man desperate to find the remains of his daughter-in-law, a former schoolmate.

Julie is very much in love with her boyfriend, FBI Agent Garrett Pierce, whom she met in the first book in the series.  They live together and are committed to each other – and at the end of the previous book, A Grave Peril, they exchanged rings, although Julie is adamant she doesn’t want to get married, and Garrett – who is a widower – respects that decision.  Julie is, however, still struggling with the demons of her past, and six months before A Grave Endbegins, went on a bender one night when she’d gone to a bar to meet with an informant.  If the guilt over falling off the wagon wasn’t bad enough, somehow she managed to lose her ring, which is one of a matching pair and irreplaceable – and to make things even worse, she has no real memory of that night, other than of meeting a man with striking green eyes and going outside with him… and she can’t be sure she didn’t betray Garrett in the worst way possible.

So Julie isn’t in the best of places when she receives the request to find Alice Ebert’s remains.  But back when they were in school, Julie realised that, even though she and Alice didn’t have a lot to do with one another, one thing they did share was the fact that the adults in their lives were physically abusive, and Julie felt that made a kind of bond between them.  So she feels she owes it to the other woman to try to find out what happened to her and to at the very least, ensure that her body is at last laid to rest.  Her first step is to travel to the Ozette Correctional Center to visit Alice’s husband, Roscoe, who was convicted of her murder.  Roscoe has always protested his innocence, in spite of the fact that Alice’s blood was found in his truck, and after hearing again the story of the night Alice was killed, Julie agrees to think about taking on the task.

Leaving the facility, Julie heads towards the home of a woman who had contacted her via her website asking for help in locating her daughter, who recently disappeared.  As the weather worsens and the rain starts to fall in torrents, Julie’s rods – which are next to her in the passenger seat – take a violent swing to the side, and she knows there’s a body around there somewhere, most likely in the deep ditch by the side of the road. Another motorist pulls up and offers to help, introducing himself as Raymond Hughes as Julie prepares to head down into the ditch to investigate.  Sure enough there’s the body of a young woman down there, and after Julie has called it in, Ray, who is rather too friendly and enthusiastic for her peace of mind, tells her that he’s a psychic and that he’d actually recommended the missing girl’s family get in touch with her to see if she could help.  He goes on to suggest that maybe he and she could work together sometime, but by then, all Julie wants to do is to get home.  Before she can leave, however, she’s severely rattled when, after shaking hands, Ray tells her something he can’t possibly know, something about the night she fell off the wagon.

Julie decides she’ll give herself a week to come up with a solid lead as to what happened to Alice, and if after that, her investigation is going nowhere, she’ll accept defeat.  Going back to Blaine is hard, but the conflicting picture she’s getting of Alice and the veiled hostility of many in the community convince Julie that the generally accepted story concerning Alice’s death is the wrong one and make her even more determined to find Alice and bring her some peace.

I enjoyed A Grave End, and especially liked the way Julie’s character has evolved.  She’s still abrasive and not the easiest person to warm to, but she’s making good progress in dealing with her issues; she has regular sessions with a mental health professional, she has developed a strong relationship with her friend Tracey (who is her complete opposite!) and Garrett is her lodestone (although we don’t see very much of him here, he’s rarely far from Julie’s thoughts).  The fact that she is finally able to return to her home town is a big step; she probably wouldn’t have been capable of it before now, and the way she is able to deal with the way some of the townsfolk treat her shows a lot of determination and strength.  The plot is well-put together, but the secondary plotline – in which Julie falls victim to a whack-job who put me in mind of Norman Bates – just didn’t work for me.  I’ll admit that there’s one surprise I hadn’t forseen, but otherwise, it’s a bit clichéd and the identity of the villain is pretty obvious.

Still, the central mystery is intriguing and the author does a great job when it comes to creating that slightly creepy, everyone-in-everyone-else’s-business atmosphere typical of small towns.  I knocked off half a grade point for the weak sub-plot, but if you’re following the series, then A Grave End leaves Julie and Garrett in a good place, and the whole series is definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for suspense novels featuring a different kind of heroine.

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