Save Your Breath (Morgan Dane #6) by Melinda Leigh

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When true-crime writer Olivia Cruz disappears with no signs of foul play, her new boyfriend, Lincoln Sharp, suspects the worst. He knows she didn’t leave willingly and turns to attorney Morgan Dane and PI Lance Kruger to find her before it’s too late.

As they dig through Olivia’s life, they are shocked to discover a connection between her current book research on two cold murder cases and the suicide of one of Morgan’s prospective clients.

As Morgan and Lance investigate, the number of suspects grows, but time is running out to find Olivia alive. When danger comes knocking at their door, Morgan and Lance realize that they may be the killer’s next targets.

Rating: B

Save Your Breath is the sixth and final book in Melinda Leigh’s series of suspense novels featuring defence attorney Morgan Dane, who – together with her three young daughters – moved back to her home town of Scarlet Falls following the death of her husband on active service.  Over the course of the series, Morgan has found love again with Lance Kruger, her former high-school sweetheart, and the couple are planning their wedding, which is due to take place in just a few weeks’ time.

Lance was a police officer and now works as a PI for the firm run by his former colleague and mentor, Lincoln Sharp; Morgan works from an office in the same building and the three are very close and have successfully worked a number of cases together.  Their latest case, however, is one that hits very close to home for Sharp when the woman he’s been dating for the past six months or so, investigative reporter Olivia Cruz, goes missing after having arranged to meet with the three of them the next day to discuss something she’s been working on.

With no other clues or information to go on, Sharp, Lance and Morgan start digging to see if they can tie Olivia’s disappearance to any of her current research projects.  They learn that she’s late with a book proposal to her editor, and find a couple of avenues of investigations to pursue, both of which appear to be related to cases of possibly wrongful conviction and imprisonment – and one of them is coincidentally connected to a meeting Morgan took just that morning.  But of course nothing is ever simple, and the plot takes several unexpected and cleverly executed twists and turns before all is revealed.

Save Your Breath is a suspenseful and enjoyable read in which the author steadily builds the tension as Sharp, Lance and Morgan race against time to find Olivia, while never losing sight of the fact that these are people with complicated lives and complex emotions.  Sharp has always been something of a steading presence in the other novels in the series – even a bit of a control freak; calm and unflappable, he’s a solid, dependable presence, but here, it’s almost painful to witness him as he starts to unravel.  At fifty-three, he’s been single for some time, and as both he and Olivia have been  burned by past romantic relationships, they’ve been content to take things slowly.  But as Sharpe struggles to keep it together and remain positive about finding her, he realises he can’t imagine life without her.

As always, one of the most enjoyable elements of these books is provided by the characters and the relationships between them.  Morgan and Lance are a solid couple who love and support each other unconditionally, and I applaud the author for showing that parenting three children aged seven and under is no picnic and how both of them put their family first.  (The scene where Lance takes the girls shopping for Halloween costumes is cuteness overload!)

I did have a few small problems with the novel overall. I was pleased when I learned it would focus on a story for Sharp and Olivia, who have been striking sparks off each other since Olivia first appeared in an earlier book in the series – so I was a bit disappointed to discover that they’ve been dating for several months by the time this story takes place.  I’d hoped for a little more romantic development, maybe them working alongside each other for a while before the kidnap occurred – and I have to say that the final reveal as to who was behind it and why had me scratching my head a little.  Not because it didn’t make sense, but because it was a bit of an anti-climax after everything Olivia had gone through.

Those niggles apart, Save Your Breath is a fast-paced page-turner featuring a clever mystery and a group of engaging, multi-faceted characters I’ve grown fond of.  It’s a fitting finale to what’s been a solidly entertaining series and fans are bound to enjoy it.

 

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5) by Melinda Leigh

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When a retired sheriff’s deputy is shot to death in his home, his troubled teenage stepson, Evan, becomes the prime suspect. Even more incriminating, the boy disappeared from the scene of the crime.

Desperate to find her son, Evan’s mother begs PI Lance Kruger for help. She knows her son is innocent. Kruger and defense attorney Morgan Dane want to believe that too, but the evidence against the boy is damning. Just as the trail goes cold, another deputy vanishes. His shocking connection to Evan’s stepfather throws the investigation into chaos as Lance and Morgan fear the worst…that Evan is the killer’s new target.

With so many secrets to unravel, will Lance and Morgan find him before it’s too late?

Rating: B

This fifth book in Melinda Leigh’s series about defence attorney Morgan Dane, her partner – PI Lance Kruger – and his boss and their mutual friend Lincoln Sharp, focuses on a tautly written mystery plot involving a murder and a missing teen while also taking an insightful look at the challenges of parenting young children and finding a practicable work-life balance.

When Secrets Never Die opens, we meet sixteen-year-old Evan Meade as he’s returning home – later than he should be – from an evening out with a friend.  He’s surprised to see there are no lights on inside the house; his mother, a nurse, is still at work and his stepfather, Paul, a retired sheriff’s deputy, always leaves a light on for her – but the place is in total darkness.  Cautiously – and still feeling guilty for being out late and having ignored Paul’s concerned texts earlier – Evan is making his way through the house when he hears a loud pop he thinks must be a gunshot.  He stands in the doorway of the den, frozen in terror at the sight of Paul lying on the floor, covered in blood, as a large man carrying a gun stands over him and shoots him again, this time between the eyes, execution style.  As Evan watches, horrified, he sees the man is wearing a gold badge clipped to his belt and he’s wearing gloves – is he a cop?  After that final shot, the killer’s eyes fix on Evan – who turns and starts running for his life.

Morgan and Lance have had a particularly difficult and exhausting few days.  Morgan’s three daughters  – all aged six and under – have been ill which has meant disturbed nights for both of them (something I’m sure all parents will be able to identify with!) and they’re both running on empty when Lance gets a call in the early hours from Tina, Evan’s mother, who tells him she returned from work to find her husband shot dead and her son missing.  Lance, an ex-cop turned PI, also coaches a hockey team of at-risk youths, which is how he knows both mother and son.  He and Morgan think it’s a bit strange that Tina has called them before dialling 911, but they nonetheless head over to the house, arriving at the scene before the County Sheriff and his team, which gives them a chance to look over the house for evidence before they’re told to butt out.

When Sheriff Colgate does arrive, it’s clear he’s not pleased to see Morgan and Lance already there, but accepts their explanations that they’re friends of the family and allows them to remain while he and his team start documenting the crime scene. The discovery of blood on the handle of the back door and on the cell phone they find on the other side of the back fence indicates that Evan must be injured, although it’s impossible to tell how badly.

But it rapidly becomes clear to Morgan and Lance that there are things the sheriff isn’t telling them, and that he is pursuing his own agenda. They know Evan is innocent of the murder of his stepfather but with him still missing, his past history of being in trouble with the law and evidence pointing to his relationship with Paul having been an acrimonious one, the difficulty is going to lie in proving it.

Long buried secrets, police corruption, a crimelord recently released from prison… author Melinda Leigh skilfully interweaves her various plotlines and clues into a tightly-written, fast-paced mystery that credibly combines the suspense elements with a look at the day-to-day difficulties of parenting young children alongside having a demanding and sometimes dangerous job. Morgan and Lance are engaged now – although Morgan has become a little skittish and has so far refused to set a date – but there’s no big melodrama involved, and they act like sensible, mature adults and talk things through so that by the end of the book, things are back on track. There’s only a whiff of romance in this one, though, which is provided by Lance’s boss, Sharp, whose reluctant crush on reporter Olivia Cruz (who helped out with the investigation in the previous book, What I’ve Done) hasn’t abated. I always like a romance between older protagonists (Sharp is fifty-three, Olivia is in her forties) and Olivia is a great addition to the cast; she’s funny, she’s clever, she’s vivacious, and she’s got Sharp’s number – plus, I can never resist characters who lob quotes from The Princess Bride at each other ;). Olivia proves herself to be one tough cookie when she and Sharp find themselves in a perilous situation when they follow up on a new lead – and I hope to see more of her in the next book.

This novel works perfectly well as a standalone, although one of the real strengths of the series is the closely knit ‘family’ of characters the author has built up around Morgan, all of whom have important parts to play in her life and the stories. It’s not necessary to have read the previous books in order to enjoy this (I’m still working my way through them), but doing so will definitely provide a little more insight into the various characters and their relationships. Secrets Never Die is an intriguing mystery that grabs the attention from the opening chapter and keeps you turning the pages through the twists, turns and life-or-death situations until the very end.

What I’ve Done (Morgan Dane #4) by Melinda Leigh

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Haley Powell wakes up covered in blood, with no memory of the night before. When she sees a man lying in the backyard, stabbed to death, she has only one terrified thought: What have I done?

Agreeing to take the case as a favor to her PI friend Lincoln Sharp, Morgan must scale a mountain of damning circumstantial and forensic evidence to prove her client innocent. Haley couldn’t appear more guilty: her bloodstained fingerprints are on the murder weapon, and she has no alibi. But Morgan can’t shake the feeling that this shocked young woman has been framed.

Someone out there is hell-bent on sabotaging her defense, targeting Morgan, her partner, and especially Haley. Someone who will stop at nothing—and whose next move will be deadly.

Rating: B+

What I’ve Done is the fourth book in the author’s series of novels that feature former prosecutor-turned-defence attorney Morgan Dane and the men of Sharp Investigations, Lincoln Sharp and Lance Kruger, her former high school boyfriend, with whom she is again romantically involved. I haven’t read the previous three books, but this one works well as a standalone; there are a few references to prior events, but these are quickly and simply explained and I didn’t feel as though I was missing any of the information I needed to make sense of – and enjoy – this story.

Morgan is asked to take on the case of a young woman named Haley Powell who has been accused of stabbing a man to death.  She woke up covered in blood in a strange bed in a strange house with no recollection of where she was or how she got there; feeling completely disoriented she got up and looked around, saw blood everywhere and found the body of the young man she vaguely remembers hooking up with the night before lying outside the back door.  She’s taken into custody and is pretty much completely out of it – she’s been without medication for her Addison’s disease for longer than is advisable and its flare up is only making it harder for her to function.

Haley’s late father was a cop who was shot in the line of duty over two decades earlier, and his partner, Lincoln Sharp, vowed he’d look after his best friend’s wife and daughter.  Elizabeth and Haley moved away from Scarlet Falls some time ago, but have recently returned – and it’s to Sharp that Elizabeth turns for help.  He brings in Morgan, who quickly realises that Haley has been framed – but with the evidence against her seemingly overwhelming and the local media whipping public opinion into a frenzy proving it is going to be an uphill struggle.

I liked the way the story unfolds for the reader just as it does for Haley; we know what she knows to start with and our knowledge of what happened grows along with Morgan’s as she and the guys gradually put the pieces of the puzzle together.  I was also impressed with the way the author portrayed the “trial by media” aspect of the story, creating a real sense of menace out of the mob mentality displayed by so many of the townsfolk who had convicted Haley of murder while knowing nothing of the truth, and who extended their hatred to Morgan and the team simply for doing their jobs.

Morgan, Lance and Sharp are engaging, fully-rounded characters who obviously like and respect each other a great deal, and while the romantic aspect is low key (Morgan and Lance are an established couple who are obviously in it for the long haul) their relationship is so well founded that it was easy to see that they care for each other deeply and that while Lance obviously wants to keep Morgan safe, he’s not one of those men who misguidedly tries to cut her out of the loop; he knows she’s smart, tough and capable and trusts her to know what she can handle.

What I’ve Done is a tense, tightly-plotted thriller that kept me guessing up until just about the last minute and eagerly turning the pages.  I’m looking forward to the next in the series, and am going to try to catch up with the earlier books before Secrets Never Die comes out next Spring.