A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell #4) by Deanna Raybourn

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lured by the promise of a rare and elusive butterfly, the intrepid Veronica Speedwell is persuaded by Lord Templeton-Vane, the brother of her colleague Stoker, to pose as his fiancée at a house party on a Cornish isle owned by his oldest friend, Malcolm Romilly.

But Veronica soon learns that one question hangs over the party: What happened to Rosamund? Three years ago, Malcolm Romilly’s bride vanished on their wedding day, and no trace of her has ever been found. Now those who were closest to her have gathered, each a possible suspect in her disappearance.

From the poison garden kept by Malcolm’s sister to the high towers of the family castle, the island’s atmosphere is full of shadows, and danger lurks around every corner.

Determined to discover Rosamund’s fate, Veronica and Stoker match wits with a murderer who has already struck once and will not hesitate to kill again…

Rating: B+

Like many a fan of Deanna Raybourn’s series of Victorian-set historical mysteries starring the intrepid lady lepidopterist, Veronica Speedwell, I’m as much drawn to the complicated relationship established between Veronica and her delicious partner-in-crime, Revelstoke Templeton-Vane (Stoker), as I am to the mysteries the pair is called upon to solve in each book.  We’ve watched the couple circle around each other in what has sometimes been a most frustrating push-forward-pull-back dance; the sexual tension between them is incendiary, even though they’ve shared little more than one drug-induced kiss throughout three books, and the author has done a terrific job of developing a relationship between them that is based on far more than their obvious mutual lust.  But there comes a time when even a relationship built on incredibly strong foundations of admiration, respect and trust is no longer enough, not between two people who are so very clearly soul-mates in every sense of the term.  And Veronica and Stoker appear to have reached that point, their good-natured, teasing banter and ease in one another’s company having largely disappeared in this book and been replaced by awkwardness and – sometimes – verbal sparring that has crossed the line from affectionate to keenly barbed.

A Dangerous Collaboration, book four in the series, opens just hours after the previous book concluded.  Right at the end of A Treacherous Curse, it seemed that Veronica and Stoker were on the verge of declarations, but they were interrupted – and within hours, Veronica is packing for an expedition to Madeira. Stoker is – not surprisingly – angry and hurt at Veronica’s sudden decision, but after making an offhand suggestion he shouldn’t bother writing if it’s too much of a bore, and Stoker’s impassive response that he’s quite used to managing alone – she leaves.

Veronica is away for six months, during which time she hears nothing from Stoker – for which she knows she has only herself to blame – but instead of being energised by her expedition, she’s listless and unable to concentrate on her specimen hunting and the articles she’s supposed to be writing.  She wanted time apart from Stoker to try to sort out her tangled feelings and emotions;  she’s always taken pride in not needing anyone, on being her own woman and on not wanting to conform to the ideal of Victorian womanhood and get married and have children.  So she’s struggling to come to terms with the fact that she has, finally, come face to face with the prospect of commitment to one man – and it scares her.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

The Military Wife (Heart of a Hero #1) by Laura Trentham

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Harper Lee Wilcox has been marking time in her hometown of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina since her husband, Noah Wilcox’s death, nearly five years earlier. With her son Ben turning five and living at home with her mother, Harper fights a growing restlessness, worried that moving on means leaving the memory of her husband behind.

Her best friend, Allison Teague, is dealing with struggles of her own. Her husband, a former SEAL that served with Noah, was injured while deployed and has come home physically healed but fighting PTSD. With three children underfoot and unable to help her husband, Allison is at her wit’s end.

In an effort to reenergize her own life, Harper sees an opportunity to help not only Allison but a network of other military wives eager to support her idea of starting a string of coffee houses close to military bases around the country.

In her pursuit of her dream, Harper crosses paths with Bennett Caldwell, Noah’s best friend and SEAL brother. A man who has a promise to keep, entangling their lives in ways neither of them can foresee. As her business grows so does an unexpected relationship with Bennett. Can Harper let go of her grief and build a future with Bennett even as the man they both loved haunts their pasts?

Rating: B

Laura Trentham’s The Military Wife is a poignant, gently moving story that explores the various facets of military life as faced by the families of servicemen and women, who have to deal with challenges just as complex and difficult as their enlisted loved ones. It’s an entertaining and informative story in which the author examines serious issues such as depression and PTSD, and looks as well at the difficulty of putting down roots, holding down jobs and maintaining continuity when your partner could be transferred to another location at any time.

Harper Lee Wilcox lost her husband Noah when he was killed while on active service overseas five years earlier.  Her son Ben was conceived just before that last deployment so he has never known his father, and although Harper sometimes worries about his lack of a father figure, he’s a bright, happy, well-adjusted little boy who is the light of her life.  After Noah’s death, Harper and Ben moved in with Harper’s mother, who suggests that maybe it’s time for Harper to break out of the rather dull routine her life has become, doing books and taxes for a handful of local businesses and living really for Ben rather than for herself.  Harper graduated from university with degrees in business and marketing, and right now she’s not using either of them; but with Ben now in school full-time, perhaps it is time for her to move forward in terms of her career and her personal life.

Harper is concerned about one of her dearest friends, Allison Teague, whose normally chatty, exuberant nature has seemed to dim of late, so Harper decides to pay her a short visit to see if there’s anything she can do to help. When she arrives, she finds the normally well put-together, upbeat Allison is a complete mess.  She’s lost weight and carries an air of exhaustion around with her; her husband Darren is withdrawn, and short-tempered and hasn’t been the same since he returned from his last mission.  Both women suspect he may be depressed or suffering from PTSD, but whenever Allison tries to broach the subject of getting help, he shuts her down.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

TBR Challenge: Paternity Case (Hazard and Somerset #3) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

It’s almost Christmas, and Emery Hazard finds himself face to face with his own personal nightmare: going on a double date with his partner—and boyhood crush—John-Henry Somerset. Hazard brings his boyfriend; Somers brings his estranged wife. Things aren’t going to end well.

When a strange call interrupts dinner, however, Hazard and his partner become witnesses to a shooting. The victims: Somers’s father, and the daughter of a high school friend. The crime is inexplicable. There is no apparent motive, no connection between the victims, and no explanation for how the shooter reached his targets.

Determined to get answers, Hazard and Somers move forward with their investigation in spite of mounting pressure to stop. Their search for the truth draws them into a dark web of conspiracy and into an even darker tangle of twisted love and illicit desire. And as the two men come face to face with the passions and madness behind the crime, they must confront their own feelings for each other—and the hard truths that neither man is ready to accept.

Rating: A

Paternity Case is the third in Gregory Ashe’s series of novels featuring two detectives based in the small Missouri town of Wahredua, Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset.  These are gritty, complex stories that are practically impossible to put down once started; the mysteries are twisty and really well-conceived but at the heart of each book – and the series – is the complicated, fucked-up relationship between the two principals, a pair of stubborn, emotionally constipated individuals with a dark and  painful shared history that stretches back twenty years.

While each of the six books in the series boasts a self-contained mystery, there is also an overarching storyline that runs throughout, so I’d strongly recommend starting at the beginning with book one, Pretty Pretty Boys.  There’s probably enough backstory in this book for a newcomer, but if you do jump in here, you’ll miss out on a lot of relationship development and exploration of Hazard and Somerset’s history – which is absolutely integral to the series as a whole.  Gregory Ashe knows how to create sexual tension so thick it can be cut with a knife; this is slow-burn romance at its finest – and possibly most frustrating! – so don’t go into this series expecting a quick HFN/HEA.

A little bit of background. Detective Emery Hazard moves back to his small home town of Wahredua after being fired from his job in St. Louis (for reasons we don’t yet know).  The town doesn’t hold many good memories for him; the only openly gay kid at school, he didn’t have many friends and was badly bullied by three boys who made his life a misery for years.  Of these, one is now dead, another is a broken down mess, and the third… Hazard doesn’t know what happened to him, the charming, popular, movie-star handsome John-Henry Somerset, son of one of the town’s wealthiest families – until he turns up at his new station and meets his new partner.

Yep.

The first book sees Hazard and Somerset – who now goes by Somers – starting to work though the issues that lie between them, although it’s going to take more than an apology and the new, grudging, respect Hazard slowly develops for his new partner’s ability as a detective, and Somers’ admiration for Hazard’s intellect and his ability to work his way through complicated puzzles and construct solutions, to fix things between them.  Somers is almost desperate to prove to Hazard that he’s changed – and he really has – since they were in college, but Hazard is cautious and doesn’t want to have anything to do with him that isn’t work-related.  Somers is garrulous and quick to tease the much more serious Hazard, and on the surface they’ve got a bit of an ‘odd couple’ thing going on; but underneath, it’s all much darker and more complicated as the feelings that sparked between them twenty years earlier come roaring back to life.

For two books, readers have watched them struggle to adjust to their working partnership and ignore the intense mutual attraction that neither wants to acknowledge.  They’ve had their heated moments, but are both in deep denial; Somers has been trying (unsuccessfully) to work things out with his estranged wife (with whom he has a two-year-old daughter), while Hazard has embarked on a relationship with a gorgeous (and much younger) grad-student, Nico Flores. Both men are involved with someone who just doesn’t ‘get’ them or understand their dedication to their job or loyalty to each other, especially Nico, who can’t understand how Hazard can bear to work with Somers considering their history.

Paternity Case opens as Hazard and Somers are getting ready to go out – on a double-date, of all things; Hazard and Nico, Somers and his almost-ex-wife, Cora.  The reader already knows this is one of the worst ideas in history and a train-wreck in waiting, but before things can get too uncomfortable, Somers receives a phone call from his father, who practically orders him to the family home during the Somerset’s annual pre-Christmas party.  It’s not a case, but Somers insists Hazard accompanies him anyway, and they arrive to find a very drunk – or stoned – old guy wearing nothing but a Santa hat in the middle of the Somerset’s living room.  As Somers and Hazard try to find out what on earth is going on, the lights go out and shots are fired, one killing a young woman and five of the others landing in Glenn Somerset’s chest but somehow not killing him.

Naked-Santa is deemed to be responsible and is taken into custody, but both Hazard and Somers are immediately seeing things that don’t add up. And when they arrive at the hospital to discover that the suspect has been shot and killed by another detective, it ratchets up suspicions they’ve held for a while now that one of their colleagues is on the take.  The hints of political corruption and intrigue that have appeared in the earlier books now become something more solid, and when Hazard and Somers are ordered to drop their investigation they smell more than just one rat.  Their boss insists there’s nothing to investigate, but neither man buys that; for Somers this is personal – he might not get along with Glenn Somerset, but the man is still his father – and Hazard isn’t about to sit idly by and watch his partner self-destruct or put himself in danger without someone to watch his back.

While both characters get equal billing in the series title, the previous two books have focused a little more on Hazard as the main protagonist. Here, that focus shifts to Somers, and as he starts to unravel, readers are shown more of what lies beneath that gorgeous, wise-cracking exterior – a man who doesn’t like himself much and who is weighed down by the guilt of a terrible betrayal he wrought years ago.  Mr. Ashe very deftly delineates Somers’ toxic family situation, and his insight into the power dynamics that existed when Hazard and Somerset were kids is completely on the nose.  We see a different side to the normally personable, laid-back detective as the author peels away the layers to reveal  the loneliness lying at his core as he is forced to face up to some painful and unwelcome truths about his long-buried feelings, and to reach some significant conclusions as a result.

Both men are guarded and not easy to understand. They talk a lot – well, Somers does – but rarely – if ever – say what they mean, and right from the start, their conversations have been as much about what they don’t say as what they do. They’re both excellent detectives; Hazard is precise and logical while Somers has the kind of emotional intelligence that makes him a really good ‘people person’ – and yet they’re both blind when it comes to each other.  While the investigation is the focus of the plot, the intensity of the underlying love story permeates the book; these two are stupid in love but certain the other doesn’t feel the same, and the emotional punch the author delivers at the end is simply masterful.

The secondary cast is strongly-drawn, the plot is cleverly constructed and Gregory Ashe’s writing ranges from the vividly descriptive  –

At this time of year, when darkness came early, Warhedua looked like the last place of light and warmth in a burned-out world. Ahead of them, the sodium lights dropped away until the only thing illuminating the asphalt was the Interceptor’s headlights, bluish-white, the color of fresh snow if it had somehow transformed into light.

to the lyrical…

Love isn’t a choice. Love is collision. Love is catastrophe. Somers had thought he’d understood. He thought he’d known how dangerous those words were, he thought he’d sensed how deeply Emery Hazard had upset his life.

But he’d had no idea.

There are moments of observation and insight so sharp it’s almost painful, and the circumlocutory conversations that characterise Hazard and Somers’ interactions are both completely absorbing and a masterclass in how to say something without ever actually uttering the words.

I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll close by saying that if you’re a fan of m/m mysteries and romantic suspense, then you’re going to want to start on the Hazard and Somerset series right away.  I promise you’ll thank me later 😉

 

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig & Karen White (audiobook) – Narrated by Brittany Pressley, Vanessa Johansson & Saskia Maarleveld

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

May 2013

Her finances are in dire straits, and best-selling author Sarah Blake is struggling to find a big idea for her next book. Desperate, she breaks the one promise she made to her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother and opens an old chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915. What she discovers there could change history.

Sarah embarks on an ambitious journey to England to enlist the help of John Langford, a recently disgraced member of parliament whose family archives might contain the only key to the long-ago catastrophe….

April 1915

Southern belle Caroline Telfair Hochstetter’s marriage is in crisis. Her formerly attentive industrialist husband, Gilbert, has become remote, preoccupied with business…and something else on which she can’t quite put a finger. She’s hoping a trip to London in Lusitania’s lavish first-class accommodations will help them reconnect – but she can’t ignore the spark she feels for her old friend, Robert Langford, who turns out to be on the same voyage. Feeling restless and longing for a different existence, Caroline is determined to stop being a bystander and take charge of her own life….

Tessa Fairweather is traveling second-class on the Lusitania, returning home to Devon. Or at least, that’s her story. Tessa has never left the US, and her English accent is a hasty fake. She’s really Tennessee Schaff, the daughter of a roving con man, and she can steal and forge just about anything. But she’s had enough. Her partner has promised that if they can pull off this one last heist aboard the Lusitania, they’ll finally leave the game behind. Tess desperately wants to believe that, but Tess has the uneasy feeling there’s something about this job that isn’t as it seems….

As the Lusitania steams toward its fate, three women work against time to unravel a plot that will change the course of their own lives…and history itself.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B

Three authors, three main characters, three narrators; The Glass Ocean is a dual timeline story from the pens of the 3Ws – Williams, Willig and White – that weaves together interconnecting stories featuring three very different woman in two different time-periods almost a century apart. I have no idea which author penned which character – and apparently it’s a very closely guarded secret – but the narration is clearly assigned, with Vanessa Johansson reading the chapters told by Sarah Blake, and Brittany Pressley and Saska Maarleveld reading those from the points of view of Caroline Hochstetter and Tess Schaff respectively.

Five years earlier, Sarah Blake wrote a very successful book about the mid-nineteenth century Irish Potato Famine. For a year she was feted, interviewed, sought after for book signings and events… but when inspiration for a follow-up book failed to arrive, she more or less fell off the radar, and now, even her agent hardly ever calls her. She’s struggling – both creatively and financially – and in desperation, turns to an old family heirloom, breaking her promise to her Alzheimer-stricken mother and opening the chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1915. What she finds there leads her to travel to England to request access to the archives of the Langford family in the hope that the documents contained within it will help her to find answers to the questions raised by her great-grandfather’s papers. The problem is that getting permission to view the Langford family’s documents is going to be difficult. John Langford MP has recently become unwillingly entangled in a scandal involving his ex-wife and is lying low in an attempt to dodge the paparazzi stalking him, so Sarah is going to have to approach him carefully – and probably using subterfuge – if she’s to stand any chance of getting him to agree to her request.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Viscount’s Veiled Lady (Whitby Weddings #3) by Jenni Fletcher

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

A lady hidden from society

A viscount with his own secrets…

When Frances Webster meets brooding Arthur Amberton on Whitby shore he’s a different man from the dashing young gentleman she once carried a flame for. But life has changed her too. After a tragic accident left her scarred, physically and emotionally, she’s led a solitary life. She cherishes their new friendship, and yet she can’t help but hope Arthur sees the beauty within her…

Rating: B

In this third book in her Whitby Weddings series, author Jenni Fletcher pens a tender romance between a man who has allowed his past to imprison him and a young woman whose facial scarring has caused her to fashion a prison, of sorts, for herself.  The Viscount’s Veiled Lady is not without its weaknesses, but the central relationship is nicely developed and the hero and heroine are both likeable characters who have to learn to stop playing it quite so safe if they’re to have the life – and love – they deserve.

Frances Webster was injured in an accident some years earlier and was left with a scar down one side of her face.  Self-conscious and feeling that her mother is embarrassed by her looks, Frances rarely attends public events and when she does go out, she never leaves home without wearing a veil.  Knowing her ugly scar has ruined her marriage prospects – her former fiancé called off their engagement after the accident and she doesn’t expect to ever have another suitor – Frances has started to plan for an independent future.  She’s having some success making jewellery from the jet that is found abundantly on the nearby beach and selling it to local shops at a decent profit, even though she knows her family will be horrified at the thought of her engaging in ‘trade’.

When the story opens, her sister, Lydia – whose year of mourning for her husband isn’t quite up – is begging Frances to take a message to Arthur Amberton, Viscount Scorborough, who is a near neighbour and former suitor.  She wants Frances to persuade him to call, but Frances is uncomfortable, knowing Lydia is husband hunting.  Lydia is beautiful, spoiled and used to getting her own way, carelessly insisting that it’s perfectly alright for Frances to visit a young man without a chaperone as she has no reputation to damage (the implication being it’s because she’s no longer a marriageable young woman).  Hurt, but not particularly surprised by her sister’s callousness, Frances gives in when Lydia threatens to tell their parents of her jewellery making activities.

Unusually for a viscount, Arthur Amberton refuses to live at the family seat, Amberton Castle, as it holds too many painful memories, and instead maintains a small farm near the village of Sandsend.  When Frances arrives there, she’s surprised to find it deserted – until she ventures into the house and is confronted by a large, muscled, almost-naked young man emerging form one of the rooms.  Frances doesn’t recognise him – the Arthur she’d known had been slender and elegant – and bolts, running out of the house before he can stop her.  When he catches up with her, Frances has slipped and turned her ankle – and in spite of her protests, Arthur insists on carrying her back to the house to make sure no serious damage has been done.

Back when he’d been courting Lydia, Arthur and Frances had become friends of a sort; unlike Lydia’s (many) other suitors, he’d never dismissed her younger sister and had taken the time to talk to her and treat her as an adult.  As the days and weeks pass, Arthur and Frances renew their friendship, albeit in secret; Frances doesn’t want to hurt Lydia’s feelings by admitting that she’s spending time with Arthur even though he’s made it very clear that he has absolutely no interest whatsoever in seeing Lydia again.  In Arthur’s company, Frances  rediscovers the bright, vivacious girl she used to be, and while she believes she’s unattractive because of the scar on her face, Arthur doesn’t agree – he looks at Frances and sees only her – and realises that for the first time in years he feels like himself and whole again. Their romance is nicely done; although both of them have reasons for thinking they should try to fight their mutual attraction there’s definite chemistry between them and I particularly liked the way they support one another and encourage each other to step out of their comfort zones.

I mentioned that the book has weaknesses, and these are principally to do with certain events in Arthur’s past and his reaction to them.  He holds himself responsible for his father’s death, and also questions his mental health based on one (isolated) incident, citing that concern as his reason for eschewing marriage.  The black moment that comes near the end and threatens his and Frances’ happiness is somewhat flimsy as well – and it’s been and gone in almost the blink of an eye, which made me question the need for its presence at all.

Those quibbles apart, however, The Viscount’s Veiled Lady was an enjoyable read, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone in the market for a gently moving, character-driven romance.

A Duke in Need of a Wife by Annie Burrows

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

A search for a duchess
…despite his scandalous secret!

Oliver, Duke of Theakstone, needs a duchess—but who will accept his secret illegitimate child? He invites several eligible ladies to his estate to assess their suitability, including infuriating beauty Miss Sofia Underwood. Oliver is a master of cool practicality, so he’s hopeful when he sees the connection between Sofia and his daughter. What scares him is that there’s nothing cool or practical about his attraction to Sofia!

Rating: C+

This book’s title – A Duke in Need of a Wife – tells you pretty much all you need to know going into this story (that’s one thing about Harlequin Historical titles – they don’t generally beat about the bush!).  It’s pretty standard historical romance fare – an aristocratic, coolly controlled hero meets a somewhat downtrodden young woman whose behaviour isn’t quite as it should be and becomes completely smitten with her in spite of his determination to remain aloof.

The story opens at a disastrous moment.  The fireworks display mounted to celebrate the new peace with France has gone badly wrong and the fireworks are going off all over the place, causing the onlookers to panic and a mass stampede as they rush to safety.  One bystander, however, is running in the opposite direction; noticing a woman whose skirt has caught fire, Sofia Underwood rushes to her side to help her, arriving at the same time as one of the waiters.  He tries to get Sofia to leave but she refuses, staying to comfort the injured woman and covering her with her cloak while the waiter goes to fetch a doctor.  Sofia knows she’ll hear no end of complaints from her aunt when she gets home  – how she could have ruined her best cloak by acting so irresponsibly? – but Sofia doesn’t care.  Well – she does, but complaints about her behaviour are par for the course and she’s become accustomed to them.  Life following the drum has ill prepared her for a life among good society.

She is completely puzzled the next day, when the Duke of Theakstone – a man she knows neither in person nor by reputation – comes to call at her aunt and uncle’s house, and is surprised to see that he’s the ‘waiter’ who had helped the injured woman at the fireworks display.  Theakstone is abrupt  and clearly not interested in making small talk; he asks Sofia to accompany him on a ride in his curricle the following afternoon, telling himself it’s because he didn’t like the way her relatives were so dismissive of her the night before, especially in light of her bravery in rushing to help an injured stranger.

The next day, Theakstone is still asking himself what made him extend the invitation, especially as the retiring, subdued Miss Underwood he’d seen in company with her aunt and uncle was nothing like the brave young woman he’d glimpsed on the night of the display.  She’s nothing special, he tells himself; she’s pretty enough, but her manners are a strange mixture of retiring and forward and her tendency to veer away from the subject in conversation frustrates him, yet he’s drawn to her and clearly infatuated, even though he doesn’t realise it.

Still unable to shake off his fascination with Sofia, Theakestone decides to invite her and her guardians to the house party he’s holding at Theakstone Court – to which he’s also invited a number of the most eligible of the year’s crop of debutantes.  His decision to marry is not based simply on his desire to do his duty to the title and set up his nursery, but because he recently discovered the existence of his illegitimate daughter, Olivia (Livvy) and wants to provide her with a home and loving family. He’s therefore on the lookout for a woman who can do more than fulfil her duties as his duchess – he wants one who will be a wife and mother first and a duchess second – which is a refreshing change from all those heroes who express their intentions to wed the most well brought-up, well trained and biddable young ladies because they will be the perfect peeress and hostess.

Sofia is an engaging character, even though she’s somewhat stereotypical; an orphan whose upbringing was irregular because she grew up outside England – and as if that wasn’t bad enough, her mother was a catholic.  After her father’s death, she was passed around relatives until settling with her aunt and uncle; and grateful to have a home – any home – Sofia worked hard to stifle her naturally adventurous, outgoing nature and now is so repressed that she rarely speaks unless spoken to, and only allows her true self to emerge when she’s walking her dog alone in the woods. Theakstone is also a character-type we’ve seen often before; the son of an unfeeling, stentorian father who hasn’t experienced much in the way of love or affection, he doesn’t believe in love for himself and is far more focused on providing it for his daughter.  I appreciated that he was able to see Sofia in a way nobody else did, and how her confidence grew as a result; and it’s clear he loves Livvy and wants the best for her.  On the downside however, he can be cold and off-hand with Sofia to the point of hurting her feelings, and Sofia’s tendency to go off at a tangent made her seem a bit scatter-brained at times.

A Duke in Need of a Wife is a well-written take on a familiar trope featuring interesting, though  flawed characters, and if you enjoy stories featuring an obliviously head-over-heels hero then it might fit the bill.

 

A Grave Peril (Bodies of Evidence #3) by Wendy Roberts

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Sometimes at night, she can hear the dead calling.

Julie Hall’s job is to find bodies. For the sake of her sanity, she’s taking a much-needed break—but the dead don’t wait. With bodies piling up alongside her guilt, she knows she has to dive back in, despite pushback from her FBI boyfriend, Garrett Pierce. But Garrett is working a troubling case of his own and no longer seems like the man she fell in love with.

Despite his warnings—or maybe because of them—when Garrett goes missing, Julie has no choice but to use her skills to find where the cartel buries their victims…before he becomes part of the body count.

Rating: B

A Grave Peril is the third book in Wendy Roberts’  Bodies of Evidence series featuring Julie Hall, a young woman with the unusual ability to locate dead bodies using a set of dowsing rods.  I’ve been meaning to dip into this series ever since I read AAR’s review of the first book, A Grave Calling, but haven’t managed to get round to it yet – so when I saw this book was available for review I decided to pick it up.  A Grave Peril works fairly well as a standalone, as the author has included enough information about Julie’s backstory to fill in any gaps for a newbie, although I think I’d have benefitted from reading the earlier books in order to get a fuller picture of the events that have shaped her.

Julie Hall has been in a relationship with her FBI agent boyfriend Garrett Pierce for a couple of years, and they’ve recently bought a house together, a fixer-upper in a quiet neighbourhood near Seattle – which isn’t quiet enough for Julie’s liking, mostly because she grew up in an isolated environment and doesn’t like having neighbours. But… it’s a nice house and she’s starting to feel safe there; plus she knows her aversion to having people around is one of the many issues she needs to work on.

After the truly harrowing events of the last case she worked on (detailed in book two, A Grave Search), Julie is taking a break from her business – Divine Reunions – to recuperate, but lately has been feeling ansty about getting back to work.  Her inbox is overflowing with requests for help finding the bodies of loved ones from people desperate for closure and to find and bury their dead, and Julie decides it’s time to ease herself back in.  She’ll take on a request she received a few months back from a mother desperate to find the body of the son who went missing while out hiking in the forest near Spokane.  Garrett – who has been away from home working a case for the last week – isn’t wild about the idea of Julie taking on this job without him there to support her, but she agrees to take a friend with her when she drives out to Hog Lake, and that eases his mind a little.

But just as Julie is starting to feel more like her old self and regain confidence in her dowsing ability, Garrett starts to act strangely.  She knows he’s working a big case – although of course he can’t tell her about it – but when he makes it home, he’s snippy and distant, and although he tells her he’s been recused from the case (because he’d discovered his late wife’s brother was involved), the next day, he’s gone again and is back working it.  Julie can see he’s rattled, but doesn’t want to add to his worries by asking too many questions; she agrees to take on another job – this time searching for the body of an eight-year-old girl – but becomes uneasy when she doesn’t hear from Garrett.  It’s unlike him not to text or call once a day, even if it’s just a brief ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I love you’; he doesn’t answer her calls or texts, and days later, after finding a message from him telling her to “trust no-one” Julie’s worries multiply.  She starts to think that he’s in over his head and decides to try to find him herself, even though it means putting herself in danger – as that’s what he’d do for her if the situation were reversed.

From reading reviews of the earlier books, I gather that this storyline is a bit of a departure because it focuses more on Julie and her relationship with Garrett than on her working on her dowsing cases.  Not having read those (yet), I can’t make comparisons; but I can say that I enjoyed this book for what it was, and found it a fairly absorbing read.  Julie is clearly battling some very difficult problems – alcoholism for one – and suffers PTSD as the result of an abusive upbringing; she’s a loner who struggles to form relationships, or rather, shies away from them because her past has taught her, over and over, that the only one she can rely on is herself.  Falling in love with and learning to trust Garrett (who is, incidentally, over twenty years her senior) are huge steps forward for her, but she fights every day to stop herself retreating into her protective shell.  Garrett’s erratic behaviour would be hurtful for anyone on the receiving end, but for Julie, it’s a knock to the fragile new reality she’s attempting to construct for herself – and it’s a testament to her strength and resilience that she doesn’t just fall apart or retreat to the bottom of a bottle.

Even though Garrett is absent for a large part of the book, the author does a good job of showing the strengths – and weaknesses – of their relationship through Julie’s thoughts and actions.  The fact that she wants to save him from whatever mess he’s got into speaks to the depth of her love for him, as his desperation to keep her safe and out of it speaks to his; but Julie’s trust is shaken, especially by some of the things he says to her (out of fear and frustration it’s true, but still) near the end, and she starts to wonder if maybe love isn’t enough.

There are only a handful of secondary characters in the book, and the standout is Tracey, Julie’s only real friend – the only person she’s let get close enough to attempt a friendship anyway – a pink-haired, quirky young woman who struggles with health issues (she has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) but who is there for Julie and helps buoy her up when things look bleak.

I enjoyed the book overall, although the climactic showdown was a teeny bit… well, anticlimactic, and I can’t say I found Garrett all that appealing.  But then this was my first time reading about him – and he doesn’t get much page time – and judging from Lynn’s review, he makes a better showing in the earlier books.  Still, A Grave Peril gets a mostly thumbs-up for its unusual premise and prickly, complex heroine – I’m definitely planning to read more in this series.