Disgraced ex-cop Angie Pallorino is determined to make a new start for herself as a private investigator. But first, she and her lover, newly promoted homicide detective James Maddocks, attempt a quiet getaway to rekindle a romance struggling in the shadows of their careers. The peace doesn’t last long when human skeletal remains are found in a nearby mossy grove.
This decades-old mystery is just what Angie needs to establish her new career—even as it thrusts her and Maddocks back into the media spotlight, once again endangering their tenuous relationship.
Then, when Angie’s inquiry into the old crime intersects with a cold case from her own policing past—one that a detective on Maddocks’s new team is working—the investigation takes a startling twist. It puts more than Angie’s last shot at redemption and a future with Maddocks at risk. The mystery of the girl in the moss could kill her.
In this final instalment in her trio of novels featuring Angie Pallorino, Loreth Anne White delivers another compulsively readable, complex mystery that hooks your interest from the get-go and gradually tightens its grip until you literally can’t put the book down. It’s like reading a snowball; an impactful start sees it start rolling down the hill, gradually getting larger as it picks up and encompasses other clues, plot-threads and information and travels faster and faster until it hits bottom to reach an explosive and immensely satisfying dénouement. Here, that snowball starts rolling when former detective Angie Pallorino and her boyfriend, Detective James Maddocks are taking a four day trip down the Nahamish River on a quiet, romantic getaway. It’s been a tough few months for Angie, who was busted down to a desk job after she was judged to have used excessive force to take down a serial killer. Furious and frustrated, Angie broke the twelve-month probation imposed upon her and went rogue, continuing to work on the case of the bar-code girls (in book two, The Lullaby Girl) which also led her to her discovering the truth about her parentage and true identity as the daughter of a sex-trafficker and major crimelord. Unable to return to the job she loved, Angie is trying to pick up the pieces of her life, and is now working towards getting her PI license, but given the intense publicity generated by the news of her identity, her backstory as the “angel’s cradle baby” and her part in bringing down a major sex-trafficking ring, there are almost no PI agencies willing to hire her (she’s too high-profile) so she can get the required number of hours under her belt she needs before she can branch out on her own.
Things between Angie and Maddocks are uncertain, too. He’s the golden boy of the Metro Victoria PD and has been appointed to head up a prestigious new task-force while she is struggling to find out who she is if she isn’t a cop. She knows she loves Maddocks and wants to be with him, but Angie is subconsciously pulling back – and Maddocks knows her well enough to realise it but is worried that she’ll run if she gets the chance. Their relationship isn’t in the best place, but they hope that a little time spent together with nothing to interrupt or distract them will get them back on track. Unfortunately, that is not to be when on their last night at the camp, a skeleton is found near the banks of the river. It’s going to be the morning before local law-enforcement can get to such a remote location and secure the scene, so Maddocks and Angie spend what should have been a romantic evening, complete with gourmet dinner, wine and hot tub, camped out next to a crime scene.
The remains are eventually identified as belonging to a young woman named Jasmine Gulati who died while on a fishing trip on the Nahamish some twenty-four years earlier. She had been part of a group of women anglers who were taking part in a documentary being filmed by Rachel Hart, who had chosen her subjects to be from different walks of life and in different stages of their lives. Much as the producers of shows like Big Brother do today, Rachel had hoped that their differences would produce interesting viewing – but after Jasmine’s death, the project was canned and the documentary never appeared.
A while later, Angie is surprised to receive a phone call from a retired judge, Jilly Monaghan, who explains that Jasmine was her granddaughter and offers Angie a large fee if she will find out what really happened to her. Her death has been ruled accidental, but the judge wants to know if that is really the case or not; either way, she wants the closure that knowing the truth will bring.
Angie’s investigation soon leads her to suspect that Jasmine’s death wasn’t an accident at all, and as she digs deeper, she exposes the web of secrets, lies and conspiracies that have lain buried in the small community of Port Ferris for almost twenty five years. The mystery is gripping; tightly constructed and incredibly well-written, and the author makes fantastic use of her wilderness setting, which is both beautiful and terrifying, at the same time brilliantly conveying the insular nature of a small, close-knit community such as this one. The men resent Angie and what they see as her interference, and are prepared to do whatever it takes to protect their own. It would be easy to laugh at this unsophisticated group of ‘hillbillies’ but no, they’re actually extremely disturbing and Angie is in real danger, probably more than she’s ever been, considering that she’s no longer a cop and doesn’t have the weight of authority behind her – or a gun.
There’s an intriguing secondary plotline in which Maddocks sets up a new cold case unit placing Angie’s former partner, Kjel Holgerson, at its head. This storyline serves to bring us back neatly to some of the events of The Drowned Girls, but it also opens up the possibility of more stories set in this ‘universe’; I would certainly not be averse to reading more about the enigmatic and oddly endearing Holgerson. I also liked the author’s subtle exploration of the ethics of cold cases; in a situation such as this one, where one family needs closure, another is ripped apart, so it’s difficult – or impossible – to achieve a balance. But Angie is, as ever, focused on finding the truth, no matter how hard it is. Her own experiences have taught her that it’s better to know and deal than to deny, and ultimately, the needs of justice have to be served.
My one niggle about the book is that Maddocks is (necessarily) MIA for almost all of it, even though there’s no question he’s a huge presence in Angie’s life and her desire to come to him as a woman who knows who she is and where she’s going is the impetus for her becoming involved in the Gulati case. Still, the brief glimpses we get of their relationship are well done, and while I’d have liked a bit more of them together, I think they needed the short separation in order to remind one another of exactly what they have together.
A complex, atmospheric thriller with a pervading sense of menace, especially in the second half, The Girl in the Moss is a terrific finale to a terrific series, and I really hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Angie, Maddocks, Holgerson – and Jack-O.