Her Deadly Secrets (Wolfe Security #2) by Laura Griffin

This title may be purchased from Amazon

She alone may hold the key to finding a vicious murderer…

Private investigator Kira Vance spends her days navigating the intricate labyrinth of Houston’s legal world. But, however shadowy its players and dark its secrets, the last thing she expects is for a meeting with her top client to end in a bloodbath. The police have no suspects but one thing is clear: a killer has Kira in his sights.

Fiercely independent, Kira doesn’t expect – or want – help from anyone, least of all an unscrupulous lawyer and his elite security team. Instead, she launches her own investigation, hoping to uncover the answers that have eluded the police.

But as Kira’s hunt for clues becomes more and more perilous, she realizes that she must take help wherever she can find it if she wants to stay alive…

Rating: B-

Her Deadly Secrets is the second in Laura Griffin’s Wolfe Securityseries which débuted last year with Desperate Girls.  Unlike the author’s long-running Tracers series, in which the stories revolve around the workings of a high-tech crime lab, and thus have a strong focus on forensics, the Wolfe Security novels feature the operatives of an elite private security company and their protectees, and have more of a straightforward murder/mystery vibe.  I’ve enjoyed a number of books by this author, but while the suspense storyline in this one is well-done, the romance is really disappointing and quite honestly, the story would have worked perfectly well without it.

Kira Vance is a hard-working private investigator with a number of cases and clients on her books,  the most important of which is the one she’s working on for her mentor, Ollie Kovak, whose services are used regularly by the high-end Huston law firm of Logan & Locke.  Brock Logan, well known for defending wealthy people accused of serious crimes, is defending Gavin Quinn, a doctor accused of murdering his wife, and Ollie has asked Kira to meet him at Logan’s house in order to review an important break in the case.  Kira hasn’t been there long when all hell breaks loose;  someone comes in the front door, shoots and kills Ollie, shoots at Logan and Kira and then gathers up as many of their phones, files and laptops as possible before getting out.

Though shaken, Kira is determined not to fall apart, and equally determined to find out who killed Ollie and why.  The stolen laptops and files must mean that the killer was after information relating to the Quinn case – but Kira has no idea what exactly Ollie had been working on before his death or what information he’d wanted to pass on to her that evening.  The one thing she’s does know is that finding answers to both those questions is imperative if she’s to get to the truth.

Logan asks Kira to take over from Ollie on the Quinn case, and after she agrees, informs her that now she’s part of his team, she’ll be accorded the same sort of round-the-clock protection as the rest of them.  Kira isn’t at all happy about this; she has to be able to act independently and spontaneously in order to do her job so the last thing she needs is to be followed around by guys who “look like the Avengers.”  But she agrees reluctantly, intending to bend the rules if necessary.

Kira’s detail is headed up by Jeremy Owen, who has just returned from a job that went from bad to worse and had been hoping for a bit of down-time after his long-haul flight.  He’s bummed when he realises that isn’t going to happen, but he’s a professional and he takes his responsibilities very seriously.  He immediately senses his new protectee wants nothing to do with him – but that’s tough.  He’s got a job to do and he’s going to do it whether she likes it or not.

When Kira gets over being miffed at needing a bodyguard, she soon realises it’s something she can use to her advantage, getting Jeremy to accompany her to various places she needs to go and finding him to be an extremely useful sounding board for her ideas and theories.  They develop a good working relationship as they work to track down clues and put pieces of the puzzle together to eventually realise that the murder of Ava Quinn and impending trial has opened a whole other, much more dangerous, can of worms.

While part of the narrative is told from Kira and Jeremy’s points of view, we also get the PoV of Charlotte Spears, the detective assigned to investigate Ollie’s murder.  She’s tough, no-nonsense and clever; dedicated to her job, she’s a terrific investigator and someone who trusts her instincts and weighs things up carefully.  She’s frustrated by the fact that there are things Kira obviously isn’t telling her, but she doesn’t let that get in the way of doing her job or of being prepared to accept the information Kira does give her and look into it. I liked the way we’re shown her coming to many of the same conclusions as Kira but via a different route.

So… I liked the investigation plotline and I liked that the story features two independent and very determined women, but the book falls down when it comes to the romance, which is perfunctory at best, superfluous at worst.  There’s no chemistry between Jeremy and Kira and no sexual tension; their first kiss happens completely out of the blue with no build up or reasoning behind it other than that they’ve both acknowledged that the other person is attractive, and the sex scene towards the end  seemed to have been thrown in mostly to satisfy the demands of the ‘romance’ part of the ‘romantic suspense’ label.  Quite honestly, I’d much rather read a mystery/suspense novel without a romance (provided I knew that’s what I’d signed up for) than one in which the romance is so poorly developed and executed.

In fact, this is something I’ve been finding more and more often in romantic suspense novels lately.  With a few notable exceptions (Rachel Grant and Loreth Anne White come to mind) nearly all those I’ve read recently contain romances barely deserving of the label.  I like a good suspense plot, but I expect a good balance between the romance and the suspense in a romantic suspense novel, and that’s not something I’ve found very often of late – not in m/f romantic suspense, anyway. In m/m, however, it’s a different story, because some of the best romantic suspense around right now is to be found there. Seven of SpadesFish Out of WaterBig Bad WolfHazard and Somerset  – to name but a few – are all terrific series and strike the right balance between the two elements, perhaps because the romances get to develop over several books rather than just one single title.

Anyway.

I’m giving Her Deadly Secrets a qualified recommendation because even though the romance was a non-starter, I really did enjoy the plot and the way the author gradually pulled everything together.  I’ll continue to read Laura Griffin’s books because I like her writing and there’s no questioning her skill in constructing complex, intriguing plotlines and creating likeable characters.  I’ll just have to remember to adjust my expectations when it comes to the romance part of this particular romantic suspense series.

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.

Desperate Girls (Wolfe Security #1) by Laura Griffin

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Defense attorney Brynn Holloran is right at home among cops, criminals, and tough-as-nails prosecutors. With her sharp wit and pointed words, she’s a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom, but in her personal life, she’s a mess.

When a vicious murderer she once helped prosecute resurfaces and starts a killing spree to wipe out those who put him behind bars, one thing becomes clear: Brynn needs to run for her life.

Turning to a private security firm for protection, Brynn can’t resist getting involved in the investigation. As the clock ticks down on a manhunt, Brynn’s desperate search for the truth unearths long-buried secrets and reignites a killer’s cold fury.

Rating: B-

I’ve enjoyed a number of Laura Griffin’s Tracers series of romantic suspense novels, and have been impressed with her ability to craft fast-paced, complex plots that combine a bit of steam with action-packed set pieces and fascinating, behind-the-scenes detail.  Desperate Girls is book one in a new series – Wolfe Security – which is linked to the Tracers books by virtue of the fact that security expert Liam Wolfe, the owner of the high-end private security firm is the hero of Shadow Fall (Tracers #9).

Defence attorney Brynn Halloran has a reputation as a ball-buster, which is just the way she likes it.  Coolly professional and determined to get the job done, she’s tough as nails and lives for her job… which is just as well, because her personal life – what there is of it – is a bit of a mess.  The case she’s working on right now is one that could make or break her career; it’s the first time her boss has given her the lead on such a high profile case as this one, in which a mixed-race teenager is accused of first-degree murder.  Brynn knows he’s innocent and is sure she can win the case – until her key witness disappears just days before the trial is due to commence.

But there’s more bad news to come.  Arrived at the offices of the small defence firm she works for, Brynn learns that her friend and mentor, Judge Jen Ballard, has been murdered in her own home.  And that’s not all; the suspected killer, James Corby, escaped from prison just days before the murder, and he has reason to want to exact revenge on the two lawyers – Jen and Brynn – who secured his conviction, three years earlier, for the rape and murder of a number of women.  When Brynn’s boss insists that she could be Corby’s next target and that she needs protection during the upcoming trial in Dallas. Brynn tries to argue against him – she doesn’t need some lumbering goon hanging over her 24/7 while she’s trying to track down a missing witness and save a young man’s life.  But her boss is adamant and she’s overruled.

Erik Morgan, former Marine and ex-secret service, is one of Wolfe Security’s top operatives and is leading the team of six personnel assigned to protect Brynn and her co-counsel, Ross Foley. Erik is damn good at his job, and knows immediately that Brynn isn’t happy at having a round-the-clock bodyguard, but, well – tough. His team’s job is to protect her and Ross, and that’s what they’ll do, even to the point of taking a bullet for them if they have to.

There are thus two threads to the narrative; one concerning the murder of the judge and the hunt for Corby and the other centring around the murder trial, and these storylines are delivered in three different PoVs – Brynn’s, Erik’s and that of detective Lindsey Dillon, who is investigating Jen Ballard’s murder. Corby is a sadistic, frighteningly clever man who always liked to think he was one step ahead of the police and thrived on the publicity generated by his notoriety – and it’s clear he’s out to settle a score. But as her investigation progresses, Dillon begins to see certain anomalies in the killer’s MO, and realises that there’s something that doesn’t fit.

Sometimes, in a book with separate storylines that feature characters other than the main protagonists, I get frustrated when the focus shifts away from the principals – but that wasn’t the case here, as I was equally intrigued by the murder investigation and the trial plotline. The courtroom scenes near the end of the story are intense and very well done, the action scenes are great, and the pacing is excellent; the author does a great job of keeping the tension bubbling along and then ramping it up at key moments. So with all that going for it why, you ask, haven’t I awarded Desperate Girls a higher grade? Simply put – the book falls down in the characterisation of the hero and heroine.

Erik is likeable enough – tall, dark, handsome, fit, competent and an all-round good guy, he knows his job and isn’t about to let Brynn run rings around him because she doesn’t think she’s in danger. He makes a big thing of how important it is for him to remain focused at all times, and how he can’t afford to allow himself to be distracted by a smart, leggy redhead … and promptly does exactly that. To be fair, he does recognise what’s going on and tries to keep his distance, but … yeah, that doesn’t work out so well. Okay, this is, in part, a romance, and the bodyguard/protectee trope wouldn’t exist if the bodyguard maintained a professional distance at all times, so I could go with the flow on that. But as a character, Erik is barely two-dimensional and I never felt as though I got to know him outside of his relationship to Brynn and the assignment.

A bigger problem, however, is that I couldn’t warm to Brynn. I like stories featuring clever, tough, professional women who’ve earned their place in a man’s world (and who – to paraphrase Tom Thaves – can do everything a man can do but backwards and in high-heels), but the trouble with Brynn is that she’s stubborn to the point of stupidity. She refuses to believe her life could be at risk, in spite of the fact that people with far more experience of such things tell her it’s possible, and then, tries to make demands and changes to the operational procedure of the people who have been hired to protect her – again, in spite of the fact that they are experts and she is not. Her attitude leads her to do some really stupid things that put people other than herself at risk, which is something that always bugs me.

I’d still recommend Desperate Girls, because the story is intriguing and well-constructed, and I was entertained in spite of the flaws in the characterisation. I’ll be looking out for the next in the series and crossing my fingers I’ll find some more fully-rounded, engaging characters within its pages.

Touch of Red (Tracers #12) by Laura Griffin (audiobook) – Narrated by Tavia Gilbert and George Newbern

This title may be downloaded from Audible

When crime scene investigator Brooke Porter arrives at the home of a murdered woman, the only thing more shocking than the carnage is the evidence that someone escaped the scene. But where is this witness now? A thorough search of the area yields more questions than answers, and before Brooke even packs up her evidence kit, she’s made it her goal to find the witness and get them out of harm’s way.

Homicide detective Sean Byrne has seen his share of bloody crime scenes, but this one is particularly disturbing, especially because Brooke Porter is smack in the middle of it. Sean has had his eye on the sexy CSI for months, and he’s determined to help her with her current case—even if it means putting his attraction on hold so he and Brooke can track down a murderer. But as the investigation—and their relationship—heats up, Sean realizes that keeping his work and his personal life separate is more complicated than he ever imagined; especially when the killer sets his sights on Brooke.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B

Touch of Red is the twelfth book in Laura Griffin’s Tracers series of standalone romantic suspense novels, and is one of only four titles in the series available in audio (the others are books one, two and eight – I have no idea why those in particular). While that’s rather frustrating for anyone wanting to embark upon a long-running series, it could actually turn out to be a good thing, because if the publisher is planning on recording the other books, there’s the chance that they’ll use the same excellent dual narrator team of Tavia Gilbert and George Newbern to perform them.

Each book in the series boasts a self-contained suspense plot and a romance that reaches an HFN or HEA by the end, so there is no need to worry about cliffhangers; and although characters from earlier books do make an appearance – par for the course with series books – the author gives the listener enough information to explain how they relate to the current story and its characters, so it’s not strictly necessary to have listened to or read the previous books. Linking the books together is the Delphi Center, a high-end, high-tech forensics facility that is usually called in by the San Marcos PD to help with their biggest and most difficult cases.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Touch of Red (Tracers #12) by Laura Griffin


This title may be purchased from Amazon

When crime scene investigator Brooke Porter arrives at the home of a murdered woman, the only thing more shocking than the carnage is the evidence that someone escaped the scene. But where is this witness now? A thorough search of the area yields more questions than answers, and before Brooke even packs up her evidence kit, she’s made it her goal to find the witness and get them out of harm’s way.

Homicide detective Sean Byrne has seen his share of bloody crime scenes, but this one is particularly disturbing, especially because Brooke Porter is smack in the middle of it. Sean has had his eye on the sexy CSI for months, and he’s determined to help her with her current case – even if it means putting his attraction on hold so he and Brooke can track down a murderer. But as the investigation – and their relationship – heats up, Sean realizes that keeping his work and his personal life separate is more complicated than he ever imagined; especially when the killer sets his sights on Brooke.

Rating: B

I read my first Tracers book by Laura Griffin late last year – book eleven in the series, At Close Range – and thoroughly enjoyed the tightly plotted, edge-of-the-seat story and the steamy romance woven through it, so I eagerly jumped into Touch of Red, the twelfth book.  Once again, a member of local law-enforcement joins forces with one of the Tracers – a team comprised of experts in the various areas of forensic science – this time to investigate the brutal and savage killing of a young woman outside her home.  It’s a very well-written, cleverly put-together story with plenty of twists and turns and the sort of high-stakes finale typical of many a police procedural; throw in a romance between two people who have faced difficult – and in the case of the hero, life-altering – situations in their recent pasts, and you’ve got a thoroughly entertaining and very readable romantic suspense novel that had me engrossed from beginning to end.

The crime scene to which CSI Brooke Porter is called late one Wednesday evening is among the more problematic she has observed.  A young woman has been viciously murdered – her throat has been cut literally from ear to ear – outside her house, and there is no immediately discernible evidence at the scene.  The interior of the house is neat, orderly and practically spotless, the victim lived alone and there were no witnesses to the murder… or so it appears.  Keen eyed observation and strongly informed intuition lead Brooke to suspect that there was a witness, a suspicion borne out after she performs some very specific and complicated tests that prove there was a child in the house who very likely saw the killing.

Brooke imparts her findings to the team of detectives working the case, and they begin the process of locating him or her, even though there’s little to go on.  But they are moving slowly, so Brooke decides to do some investigating of her own, her concern for the safety of the witness causing her to step outside her area of expertise and become involved in aspects of the investigation which aren’t within her remit.  This brings her into conflict with the lead detective on the case, Sean Byrne, whose frustration at her actions is two-fold; one, he has to make sure that any evidence uncovered during the investigation is admissible in court and two, he is worried that by branching out on her own, Brooke may be placing herself in danger.

I admit that this aspect of the story didn’t sit all that well with me; I’m no expert, but even I know (from watching TV police shows!) that Brooke’s activities could have had a detrimental effect on the investigation.  That said, however, I recognise that it’s the sort of thing that happens regularly in police procedurals (I mean, Castle has a novelist investigating crimes!) so I chalked it up to artistic license and decided to go with the flow.

And it’s a very good flow.  Brooke’s methods may not be by the book, but she does help Sean and his team to make a number of important connections that enable them to narrow down their list of suspects, and is instrumental in identifying and making contact with the child witness, a ten-year old boy named Cameron.  That doesn’t excuse her occasional recklessness (she veers dangerously close to TSTL once or twice) but it does make for a thumping good story and, of course, enables her to interact with the lovely Sean more frequently than she could have done had she been stuck inside a lab all the time!

Detective Sean Byrne was shot in the line of duty some months earlier and has discovered that almost dying causes one to make all sorts of re-evaluations and reassessments of one’s way of life. He had plenty of time while recovering to work out what really matters to him, to learn patience and the importance of appreciating people and experiences more than ever before.  He’s dedicated to his job, but as Brooke observes, pretty chilled when it comes to his personal life – which is a good thing for her, because it means he’s prepared to bide his time when it comes to the relationship he hopes will develop between them.  Sean has had a thing for Brooke for some time and senses there’s interest on her side, too, but she’s skittish and guarded around him and he doesn’t know why.  He’s determined to get to the bottom of it, however; whatever is holding her back from giving into the strong mutual attraction buzzing between them, he will give her the space and support to work it out.  This willingness to let her set the pace sort of unnerves Brooke, who has recently got out of a relationship in which – she now realises – her ex had become increasingly more possessive and controlling.  Having a guy around her who is not only prepared, but wants Brooke to make her own decisions and be her own person is a heady thing – but also a little scary because while she knows, deep down, Sean is a good guy, there’s a small part of her that can’t stop second-guessing her instincts when it comes to men and is reluctant to let down her guard completely.

I was as intrigued by this more personal aspect of the story as I was by the main suspense plot, and the author does a terrific job of balancing the two.  Brooke and Sean have strong chemistry and given that they have known and ‘like’ liked each other for a while, their progression towards a more romantic relationship doesn’t feel rushed.  The murder-mystery is gripping and I really enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the intricacies involved in certain aspects of the forensics, such as Brooke’s explanations of the difficulties involved in lifting childrens’ fingerprints, or the problems inherent in the use of familial DNA.

I would definitely recommend Touch of Red to fans of well-written, strongly-plotted romantic suspense novels, although a couple of things did bring my grade down a notch.  Firstly, there seemed to be rather a big leap of logic at one point in the case when the detective team zeroes in on their main suspect; and secondly, in spite of the fact that it’s quite commonplace in these types of stories, I never quite accepted the level of Brooke’s involvement in the investigation.  She and Sean clash a number of times over her refusal to leave the detecting to the detectives, and while I understood that she was motivated by her concern for the well-being of a child, I found Sean’s frustration over her lack of concern for her own safety and his worry that she could damage the integrity of the case to be more compelling and understandable.  The good thing though, is that Ms. Griffin doesn’t ignore or gloss over these differences of opinion; they’re part of the story and the relationship.

Even with those reservations, I still raced through Touch of Red in a couple of sittings and was bleary-eyed one morning because I’d stayed up way past my bedtime so I could finish it.  It works perfectly well as a standalone, although there are cameo appearances from some characters from earlier books, and fans of intelligent, strongly-written romantic thrillers are sure to enjoy it.

At Close Range (Tracers #11) by Laura Griffin

at-close-range

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When a lakeside tryst ends in a double murder, police detective Daniele Harper arrives on the scene determined to get answers. Clues are everywhere, but nothing adds up. Dani turns to the Delphi Center crime lab for help, but soon regrets it when her secret attraction to their chief firearms examiner threatens to distract her from the most important case of her career.

As a ballistics expert and former Navy SEAL, Scott Black knows firearms, and he knows he can help Dani unravel her case. Scott has managed to hide his interest in his best friend’s younger sister for years, but when her investigation brings them together, the sparks between them quickly get out of control. Scott resolves to keep his hands off Dani and his eyes on the goal—identifying a killer. But when that killer zeroes in on Dani, all bets are off. There isn’t a line Scott won’t cross to convince Dani to trust him so that he can help her take down a ruthless murderer who has her in his sights.

Rating: B+

Although At Close Range is the eleventh book in Laura Griffin’s Tracers series, I didn’t feel as though I’d missed out by not having read the previous ten books.  Information about the Tracers themselves and the highly advanced forensic facility at which they work is disseminated quickly and without getting bogged down in too much detail; and even though some characters from the earlier novels make appearances, they are here as secondary characters and there’s no overlap of their stories with this one.

The plot is fast-moving and complex, with plenty of action and suspense and a focus on a particular area of science which is very relevant, giving the story a really up-to-the-minute feel.  But not everything is flashy and hi-tech; the plotlines and characteristics are very strongly grounded in reality – even for a Brit whose knowledge of the US justice system comes primarily from watching the various police procedurals which grace our TV screens ;).

Recently-minted Detective Daniele (Dani) Harper is both pleased and wary when she is assigned as lead detective on the case of the double homicide of a college professor and the young woman with whom he was having an affair.  While it’s flattering that her boss, Ric Santos, feels she’s up to the job, the fact that the victims were both on staff at the local university means the case is going to attract a lot of media attention, and deep down, Dani is worried that she’s not ready to take on a leadership role.  But she’s nothing if not tenacious so she grits her teeth and throws herself into the investigation, determined not to let Ric down and to show that she – the daughter of a cop and sister of a prosecutor with the DA’s office – has earned her place through dint of sheer hard work and not because of her family connections.

Firearms and ballistics expert Scott Black joined the Tracers – the forensic team at the Delphi Center – when a knee injury forced him to retire from his work as a Navy SEAL. He and Dani have known each other for around fifteen years owing to his friendships with her brothers, so he’s always treated her like his best friend’s kid sister.  But that changed a few months earlier when they shared a drunken New Year’s Eve kiss, and things have been awkward between them ever since.  Dani has fancied Scott for years, but never thought anything would come of it – and while he is equally attracted to her, according to the unwritten code of guy friendship, his friend’s little sister is strictly off limits.

When Scott arrives at the crime scene, Dani isn’t sure whether to be relieved or dismayed.  She knows he’s the best at what he does, but doesn’t want the feelings she still harbours for him to get in the way of their working together.  Worse, it’s obvious right from the start that this is going to be a tough case.  The crime scene is surprisingly unhelpful; the female victim had no ID or phone – or none that was found – and the bullets and shell-casings retrieved are useless.  Good old-fashioned policing reveals the dead woman to have been Tessa Lovett, research assistant to James Ayres, professor of microbiology, and the woman with whom he’d been having an affair for quite some time.  Moreover, both victims had previously worked together in New Mexico, and both had recently relocated to San Marco – to a less prestigious university – and taken pay cuts, neither of which makes sense.

The ante is well and truly upped when Dani’s house is broken into late at night and her ID and laptop are stolen.  She gives chase but is unable to catch up with the interloper – and it becomes even more evident that she’s dealing with something other than a simple crime of passion perpetrated against an adulterous husband.  Events take an even more surprising turn when Scott is implicated in the crime and he is suspended from duty.  Whoever is behind the murders has planned meticulously, always seeming to be one step ahead of Dani in a bewildering game of cat and mouse as each lead she uncovers seems doomed to be cut off before she can pursue it.  And although Scott is officially off the case, he’ll be damned before he leaves the task of proving his innocence to someone else, even someone he trusts as much as Dani.  But his determination to protect her as well as to find out who has framed him risks the integrity of the evidence and the entire case; and when the perpetrators put them firmly in the firing line, their relationship is tested even as the ever-present attraction between them ignites into something neither is quite sure how to handle.

The suspense story is extremely well-put together, with lots of unforeseeable twists and turns and moments of high-octane drama, and I found myself on the edge of my seat several times.  Ms. Griffin really knows how to pile on the tension without taking things too far; as an example, there’s a brilliant set-piece around the middle of the book which is a terrific example of how to write a heroes-in-peril action scene, and in which the descriptions and imagery are so vivid that it was like I was watching a movie in my head.

The romance between Scott and Dani is well done, too, although it’s secondary to the suspense plot.  The pair has known each other for years, so their unacknowledged mutual attraction is of fairly long standing and the chemistry between them is pretty intense.  Since he came back from Afghanistan, Scott’s only relationships have been of the one-night variety, and even though he wants Dani, he tries to hold back, believing she deserves better than him.  His mixed signals – one minute he’s kissing her, the next he’s keeping his distance – and his insistence on pursuing his own investigation infuriate the hell out of Dani, but she also knows there’s no-one else she’d rather have watching her back.  They circle around each other warily, neither of them wanting to admit to anything they can’t pull back from, but as the danger intensifies, it becomes impossible for them to go on denying that there’s more between them than sexual attraction.

At Close Range is an exciting, action-packed story that certainly won’t be the last I’ll read by Laura Griffin.  The plot is well-constructed and the resolution is audacious but plausible with cleverly planted clues; and the two principals are strongly characterised and well-matched.  Because the novels are standalones, it’s the sort of series one can dip in and out of, so I’ll definitely be revisiting the team at the Delphi Center in the not too distant future.