The Best of 2017 – My Favourite Books of Last Year.

It’s something of a tradition to put together a “favourite books of the year” list around Christmas and New Year – I’m a little late with mine this year, but here’s the Best of 2017 list I put together for All About Romance.  Did any of them make your Best Books of 2017 list?

I had to make some really tough choices – here are some of the books that also deserved a place on the list, but which I just couldn’t fit in!

Advertisements

The Lullaby Girl (Angie Pallorino #2) by Loreth Anne White

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Detective Angie Pallorino took down a serial killer permanently and, according to her superiors, with excessive force. Benched on a desk assignment for twelve months, Angie struggles to maintain her sense of identity—if she’s not a detective, who is she? Then a decades-old cold case washes ashore, pulling her into an investigation she recognizes as deeply personal.

Angie’s lover and partner, James Maddocks, sees it, too. But spearheading an ongoing probe into a sex-trafficking ring while keeping Angie’s increasing obsession with her case in check is taking its toll. As startling connections between the parallel investigations emerge, Maddocks realizes he has even more than Angie’s emotional state to worry about.

Driven and desperate to solve her case, Angie goes rogue, risking her relationship, career, and very life in pursuit of answers. She’ll learn that some truths are too painful to bear, and some sacrifices include collateral damage.

But Angie Pallorino won’t let it go. She can’t. It’s not in her blood.

Rating: A-

I have been eagerly awaiting the next release in Loreth Anne White’s new Angie Pallorino series ever since I finished the first book, The Drowned Girls. Not only did that book contain an extremely compelling and densely plotted mystery surrounding a serial killer nicknamed ‘The Baptist’ and an international sex-trafficking ring, but it also introduced us to the eponymous heroine, a dedicated, hard-working cop in the Metro Victoria PD sex-crimes unit whose ball-busting, lone-wolf ways have never made her popular with her male colleagues and upon whom the six years she has spent delving into the minds and activities of some seriously sick individuals has started to take its toll. She’s been in something of a downward spiral for the last couple of years and in the grip of what seems to be an ever strengthening self-destructive streak; the death of her partner and of the child they were trying to save some months earlier has thrown her even more off balance, and on top of all that, a complicated family situation had spawned doubts about her origins and caused Angie to start to question everything she has ever known about herself.

The Drowned Girls ended with a mystery solved and a group of bad guys taken down, but with Angie uncertain about her future, both personally and professionally. The story of her search for the truth about her past really gains momentum in The Lullaby Girl, but if you haven’t read the previous book, a lot of what’s happening here is unlikely to make sense; these books need to be read in order, and because I’ll be referring to some plot points from the first book, there are spoilers for it in this review.

Angie is on suspension from duty following her take-down of The Baptist. He had kidnapped and intended to murder the teenaged daughter of Angie’s lover, Detective James Maddocks, and although Angie had saved both their lives by killing Spencer Addams – the man behind the nickname – she has been accused of using excessive force in order to do so, having shot the man eight times over. At the time, Angie had been gripped by a troubling vision of a little girl in a pink dress, a vision that had been haunting her for some time and which she now strongly suspects is related to long-suppressed memories.

While she waits to find out if she still has a career or not, Maddocks is heading up the investigation into the so-called “barcode girls”, six young women who were rescued from a luxury yacht that operated as a floating brothel.  The women are all teenagers, of a similar age to Maddocks’ daughter, Ginny; they’re terrified, traumatised and are being cared for in hospital while Maddocks and his team – which includes Angie’s rather odd and enigmatic former partner, Kjel Holgersen – start to piece together the evidence and try to work out exactly where they came from and the route taken by the traffickers.

Angie is, understandably, frustrated and angry at being pulled from the case she had a big hand in blowing wide open and she also can’t help being jealous of the fact that Maddocks is heading up the investigation.  She’s also scared at the fact that she just might be falling in love with him; she’s been emotionally closed off for so long that the thought of allowing herself to feel something for him terrifies her. And although she recognises all these things – fear, jealousy, frustration – for what they are, she is in danger of allowing them to get the upper hand and of pushing Maddocks away for good.

While she waits for a decision about her career, Angie starts in earnest on the search for information about her true identity.  She believes herself to be the ‘Angel’s Cradle child’ who was left at a local hospital in 1986, aged around four.  (An Angel’s Cradle is a way for desperate mothers to leave their unwanted children somewhere safe without fear of being tracked down and identified.)  While it was more usual for newborns to be put in such places, this one saved Angie’s life; she was bundled in there by a woman she believes was her mother amid a gun battle in the street which killed a cop and injured a bystander.  She meets with one of the nurses who was on duty that night – Christmas Eve 1986 – and then makes contact with the widow of the detective who worked the case of the shootings, who is, miraculously, able to supply Angie with some valuable information and evidence her husband had ‘appropriated’ from his office before, according to protocol back then, it was destroyed.

Unable to believe her luck, Angie engages the services of a high-end, top-quality forensics lab to see if they are able to obtain any DNA evidence using the more sophisticated methods now available, but unfortunately, her relief at having some potential leads is destined not to last long. Having been told she will be on probation for twelve months in a desk job, and that there is no guarantee she will be reinstated to her old position at the end of it, Angie is furious and seriously thinks of quitting.  But she realises that if she can stick it out, she will retain access to police databases, labs and contacts that she might be able to make use of in order to help her to find out who she really is and where she came from.  But when, on her first day, Angie receives a visit from two officers from the RCMP demanding she turn over everything to them, she faces having the rug pulled out from under her yet again.  The officers are investigating the likely murder of a child following the discovery of a dismembered foot encased in a purple trainer which was washed up at the beach near the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal.   Forensic testing reveals the DNA to be identical to Angie’s – which stuns her.  The only possible explanation is that she must have had a twin sister – could she be the little girl in pink of Angie’s memories and visions?  Could hers have been the voice urging Angie to “Comeum playum dum grove”?

All this happens within the first few chapters, and Ms. White has set the stage for an enthralling story in which the two different threads – Angie’s search for clues as to her identity and Maddocks’ investigation into the Barcode Girls – are gradually and inexorably woven together to produce a truly gripping and un-putdownable read.  Angie isn’t always the easiest character to like, but her need for answers is understandable and literally jumps off the page, so strongly articulated as it is by the author.  Angie relentlessly goes her own way, even when warned that she could well be putting her life in danger; it’s not her finest moment, perhaps, but she has reached the stage where she feels so unmoored, so needful of regaining a sense of identity that she is prepared to look death in the face if she must in order to find her true self.

Angie’s romantic relationship with Maddocks takes a bit of a back seat here; their time together is fairly brief, and it’s clear that they’re both struggling to work out exactly what is going on between them. The complications added by their work situation  – with Maddocks being on the inside and Angie pushed out – only make things more difficult, forcing Angie to admit that walking away would  be the easier option.  But is that what she really wants?

The Lullaby Girl is a terrific blend of complex, cleverly-plotted mystery and suspense with a nice dash of romance thrown in for good measure, and I’m sure that if you enjoyed the first book, then you’ll love this one.  I can’t wait to see what Loreth Anne White has in store for Angie next.

The Drowned Girls (Angie Pallorino #1) by Loreth Anne White (audiobook) – Narrated by Julie McKay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

He surfaced two years ago. Then he disappeared.

But Detective Angie Pallorino hasn’t forgotten the violent rapist who left a distinctive calling card – crosses etched into the flesh of his victim’s foreheads. When a comatose Jane Doe is found in a local cemetery, sexually assaulted, mutilated, and nearly drowned, Angie is struck by the eerie similarities to her earlier unsolved rapes. Could he be back?

Then the body of a drowned young woman, also bearing the marks of the serial rapist, floats up in the Gorge, and the hunt for a predator becomes a hunt for a killer. Assigned to the joint investigative task force, Angie is more than ready to prove that she has what it takes to break into the all-male homicide division. But her private life collides with her professional ambitions when she’s introduced to her temporary partner, James Maddocks – a man she’d met just the night before in an intense, anonymous encounter.

Together, Angie and Maddocks agree to put that night behind them. But as their search for the killer intensifies, so does their mutual desire. And Angie’s forays into the mind of a monster shake loose some unsettling secrets about her own past. How can she fight for the truth when it turns out her whole life is a lie?

Rating: Narration – B+ Content – B+

The Drowned Girls is the first book in Loreth Anne White’s new series of romantic suspense novels featuring Angie Pallorino, a detective with the Metro Victoria PD Sex Crimes Unit. Angie is abrasive, stubborn, driven and hot-tempered; she’s not a good team player and isn’t always an easy heroine to like, but there’s no questioning her commitment to her job or her desire to make a difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable in society. This is a fast-paced, multi-layered story in which the author doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the descriptions of the abuse suffered by or damage inflicted upon the its victims, so you might want to take that into consideration before deciding to make this your next listen.

Angie has worked Sex Crimes for the past six years and is now angling for a prestigious promotion to Homicide. She’s had the training, completed the courses, but her application has stalled because she has yet to complete a psychological evaluation following the death of her partner some months earlier. In spite of her eagerness to join Homicide, there’s a reason Angie is reluctant to undergo the psych eval. She’s on the verge of a breakdown; six years in Sex Crimes, the guilt over her partner’s death and the child they couldn’t save, the worry over the deterioration of her mother’s health from a condition Angie could have inherited … she’s barely hanging on, has to fight every day to contain her anger and aggression, and has developed a coping mechanism whereby her need to maintain control sees her picking up guys for anonymous sex at a club outside of town.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

The Drowned Girls (Angie Pallorino #1) by Loreth Anne White

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

He surfaced two years ago. Then he disappeared …

But Detective Angie Pallorino never forgot the violent rapist who left a distinctive calling card—crosses etched into the flesh of his victim’s foreheads.

When a comatose Jane Doe is found in a local cemetery, sexually assaulted, mutilated, and nearly drowned, Angie is struck by the eerie similarities to her earlier unsolved rapes. Could he be back?

Then the body of a drowned young woman floats up in the Gorge, also bearing the marks of the serial rapist, and the hunt for a predator becomes a hunt for a killer. Assigned to the joint investigative task force, Angie is more than ready to prove that she has what it takes to break into the all-male homicide division. But her private life collides with her professional ambitions when she’s introduced to her temporary partner, James Maddocks—a man she’d met the night before in an intense, anonymous encounter.

Together, Angie and Maddocks agree to put that night behind them. But as their search for the killer intensifies so does their mutual desire. And Angie’s forays into the mind of a monster shake lose some unsettling secrets about her own past . . .
How can she fight for the truth when it turns out her whole life is a lie?

Rating: A-

The Drowned Girls – the first book in Loreth Anne White’s Angie Pallorino trilogy – is a superbly plotted, intense romantic thriller which sees the heroine trying to come to terms with family problems, the recent death of her work-partner and concerns about her own mental health – all while continuing to work as a detective in the Metro Victoria PD sex crimes unit and gunning for a promotion to the elite, all-male homicide division.

Angie has always been a bit difficult to work with.  She’s hot-tempered, stubborn and doesn’t work well with others, but she’s good at her job and truly believes she makes a difference by doing what she does, putting away the sick bastards who prey (mostly) on women and young girls.  But dealing with the sorts of things she has dealt with on a daily basis for the past six years has gradually taken its toll, and even before her partner was killed a few months earlier, Angie had begun to shut down her emotions and close herself off, to become all about the job and nothing else. But since his death, and the death of the child they were working to save from her abuser, Angie has pretty much gone down the rabbit-hole; she’s in a self-destructive downward spiral, driving herself harder and harder, having to work hard to contain her aggression and fury and needing to maintain control at all times, using meaningless sex with strangers as her coping mechanism and way of blowing off steam.

When a comatose sixteen-year-old girl is found dumped at the foot of a statue of the Madonna in a local graveyard, having been brutally assaulted, mutilated and almost drowned and has the shape of a crucifix carved into her forehead, Angie is sure it’s the work of the same killer she and her partner had been trying to put away three years earlier.  There were two victims (that they knew of) both sexually assaulted and with a crucifix drawn on their foreheads with a red marker.  The further disfigurement of the latest victim would indicate that the perpetrator is escalating – and the discovery of another body bearing the same mutilations and signs of assault, this time one who has been wrapped in polythene and dumped in the river – definitely supports that theory and indicates that he is almost certainly going to strike again soon.

Sergeant James Maddocks, formerly of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) has recently moved to the area in order to be close to his daughter, Ginny, who is a student at the University of Victoria.  His marriage broke down under the strain placed upon it by his job and while the move to the Victoria PD is a bit of a step-backwards career wise, he wants to be near Ginny and to be a better dad.  He is assigned as lead on the case of the body found in the river, and when the victim from the graveyard dies, the case turns into a double homicide.

With the death of the assault victim, the hunt for a serial rapist becomes the hunt for a serial killer, and, given her familiarity with the killer’s MO and with the earlier unsolved murders, Angie is seconded to the homicide team investigating both murders.  The discovery that her new partner and boss is the guy she’d picked up in a bar and fucked the night before just pushes her closer to the edge; how can she work with someone who knows something so personal about her, and who – she is sure – must know she’s screwed up inside?

But Maddocks is a good guy.  He doesn’t push and he agrees with Angie that they should put that night behind them – although it becomes quickly clear that isn’t going to be easy for either of them. There’s an attraction there than neither can ignore; and for Angie, it’s a problem.  She has rules, lines she mustn’t cross; sex for her is about control, not caring, but she senses that Maddocks is someone she could come to care for and it scares the hell out of her.

This is the first book I’ve read by Loreth Anne White, and it definitely won’t be the last.  I was completely gripped by the story from the start and kept eagerly turning the pages as she ratcheted up the tension, introducing new plot threads and characters into the mix and weaving an increasingly complex and engrossing story involving political corruption, a rogue reporter with connections to the earlier victims, and possible links to a sex-trafficking ring.

But at the heart of the book is Angie herself, a woman who pushes herself too hard and is clearly on the edge of a major breakdown.  At the beginning of the book, her father has just had her mother admitted to a psychiatric care home for a mental illness that began to manifest itself several years earlier.  Angie’s relationship with both her parents has deteriorated badly in recent years, and it’s clear that her father, a university professor, is not happy about her chosen career.  When Angie starts hallucinating, seeing a little girl in a pink dress, she starts to wonder if it’s because she’s gone too long without sleep… or if perhaps her mother’s condition – which can be inherited – is starting to affect her.  Angie is a complicated and not always likeable character who makes some questionable decisions, but there’s no doubt that she cares deeply about getting justice for the victims of the crimes she investigates.  Her relationship with Maddocks is nicely done; they’re combustible together but neither is prepared for the emotional pull they feel toward one another, or for the degree of trust that builds between them.

The Drowned Girls kept me reading late into the night as layer upon layer was peeled away to reveal the intricate connections between the various characters and the extent of their involvement with the killer. Angie’s storyline is equally compelling; she’s a mess of issues around control, trust and intimacy, and needs to face up to them if she’s ever going to climb out of the hole she’s dug for herself. She has the guts to do it – but in doing so, uncovers secrets about her past that cause her to question everything she’s ever known.

The balance between thriller, romance and Angie’s personal journey is just about right, and Ms. White does a terrific job in inexorably building the dramatic tension as she propels us into an exciting, high-stakes climax. But while the case is solved by the end of the book, Angie has much to learn about herself, and I imagine that her search for answers, together with her developing relationship with Maddocks will continue through the other books in the trilogy.

The Drowned Girls is strongly recommended for fans of edgy heroines and gritty romantic suspense.  I’m already counting the days until book two comes out in November.