Right Behind Her (Bree Taggert #4) by Melinda Leigh (audiobook) – Narrated by Christina Traister

right behind her

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Twenty-seven years ago, Sheriff Bree Taggert’s father killed her mother, then himself. Now Bree and her younger brother, Adam, find human bones on the grounds of their abandoned family farm. The remains are those of a man and a woman, both murdered in the same horrible way.

When the investigation determines the murders occurred thirty years ago, Bree’s dead father becomes a suspect, forcing Bree to revisit the brutal night she’s spent most of her life trying to forget. The only other suspect is an unlikely squatter on the Taggert farm who claims to know secrets about Bree’s past. When he mysteriously disappears and Bree’s niece is kidnapped, the cold case heats up.

Bree has stoked the rage of a murderer who’ll do anything to keep his identity – and motives – a secret. To protect everyone she loves, Bree must confront a killer.

Rating: Narration – C+; Content- B

Right Behind Her is the fourth book in Melinda Leigh’s series of romantic suspense novels featuring Bree Taggert, a former homicide detective who is now sheriff of Grey’s Hollow in upstate New York. While each one comprises a self-contained mystery plot, these books really do need to be read in order, so as to be able to follow and understand Bree’s journey from hard-nosed cop who never wanted to see her home town again to a woman making a life and a family there. In the first book, Cross Her Heart, Bree returned to Grey’s Hollow after the murder of her younger sister and realised she needed to stay in order to look after her niece Kayla (eight) and nephew Luke (sixteen) – even though she didn’t have the faintest idea about raising kids. As the series has progressed, we’ve seen her slowly settling into her new roles – professional and personal – although her path has been strewn with realistic obstacles, both internal and external, from dealing with the aftermath of the corruption she uncovered in the sheriff’s department to the continuing fall-out of her own personal trauma – her father was a violent man who killed her mother and then himself when Bree was just eight years old, and it’s clear that she has never really processed or dealt with it. It’s also left her very cautious about forming relationships – which means she’s spent the last couple of books keeping her love interest – investigator and K9 handler Matt Flynn – at a distance, while he begins to worry that she may never be ready or able to commit to him emotionally.

When Right Behind Her opens, Bree and her younger brother Adam – who was just a baby when their parents died – are paying a visit to their former family home, which Adam (now a very successful artist) has recently purchased. It’s hard for Bree, but she wants to be there for her brother, who is clearly looking for some sort of connection to a past he has no memory of. Privately, Bree thinks it’s better that way. As they’re leaving, Bree hears sounds coming from the nearby barn; she identifies herself and enters cautiously, only to be attacked by whoever is inside. The man runs, but Bree manages to subdue him, and once backup arrives and she hands him off, she realises the backpack he was carrying is missing. She, her deputies and Adam start looking for it, but find more than they bargained for when Bree finds the backpack – and Adam finds some old bones. Human remains that are later shown to be those of a man and a woman who were murdered around thirty years before. And the man had clearly been tortured.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Drown Her Sorrows (Bree Taggert #3) by Melinda Leigh

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When Sheriff Bree Taggert discovers the body of a young woman floating near the bank of the Scarlet River, a note in her abandoned car suggests suicide. The autopsy reveals a different story. Holly Thorpe was dead long before she dropped off the bridge and hit the water.

As Bree and her investigator Matt Flynn delve into the case, secrets in Holly’s personal life complicate their efforts to solve the murder. Holly left behind a volatile marriage, an equally divisive relationship with her sister, and an employer whose intimate involvement with Holly was no secret. Each one has a motive for murder.

When Holly’s sister is terrorized by a stalker’s sick prank, and the prime suspect turns up dead, everything Bree was sure of is upended and her case goes off the rails. When the killer strikes close to home, Bree and Matt must race to solve the murders before one of their own becomes the next victim.

Rating: B

This third book in Melinda Leigh’s series of romantic suspense novels featuring former detective-turned-Sheriff Bree Taggert is another entertaining read that boasts a cleverly constructed mystery and a set of strongly-defined characters.  Bree is becoming more settled into her new life and responsibilities, and she’s trying to deal with some of her long-standing trust issues; I like the way the author dovetails Bree’s work and home life into her stories. But while the mystery is nice and twisty, I didn’t find it quite as compelling as those in the first two books in the series.

When Drown Her Sorrows opens, Bree is heading home after a long day and is looking forward to eating with her family and reading her young niece Kayla a bedtime story.  She’s in sight of her late sister’s farmhouse when she gets a call from one of her deputies advising her there’s an abandoned car by the river, and although there’s a purse and phone inside, there’s no sign of the driver.  It transpires that the car is registered to Holly Thorpe, a resident of Gray’s Hollow – and it’s been there for around three days.  Holly’s husband says he hasn’t seen Holly since she stormed out after they had a fight three nights earlier, and Bree walks down to the river while waiting for the search and rescue team to arrive.  She’s not gone far along the riverbank when she finds the body of a woman matching Holly’s description.  The presence, in the boot of the car, of a note that says “I can’t anymore.  It’s too hard.”  would seem to point towards Holly’s death being suicide – but the ME’s findings indicate that Holly was dead before she hit the water, and that she died as a result of compression to the neck.  Bree is looking for a murderer.

Former K9 handler Matt Flynn – who was invalided out of the department after he was shot in the line – now works as an investigator and consultant to the sheriff’s department.  He and Bree have been slowly working their way around to exploring the attraction that sparked between them when they first met, and by the time this book opens, they’re in a relationship and have decided to see where things might go.   He and Bree work together very well and I really enjoy their working dynamic;  Bree admits that her focus can be too narrow, and she needs someone like Matt at her back, someone who can see things she might have missed and more than anything, someone she can trust implicitly.

Bree and Matt open their investigation by questioning Holly’s husband; the Thorpe’s marriage was incredibly volatile, with frequent rows that often saw Holly storming out to go and stay with her sister, and their financial situation was precarious owing to their living beyond their means as well as having to pay towards the medical costs for Holly’s mother, who has Stage 4 cancer.  These costs are split with Holly’s sister Shannon, although, as Owen Thorpe sees it, not fairly, given that Shannon lives in a much bigger house and has a much nicer lifestyle than he and Holly did.  More digging reveals that Holly may have been having an affair with her boss at the construction company she worked for, and also that the firm was in serious financial trouble.  Bree and Matt follow up with Holly’s boss, who is obnoxious and uncooperative, which raises all sorts of red flags.  But when he’s gunned down outside his own home shortly after, another avenue of investigation into Holly’s death is closed off – and Bree has to consider the fact that the two murders may be linked.

The mystery is intriguing and the investigation is well-paced with a skilful twist near the end I didn’t see coming until I was on top of it.  Bree is coming into her own and has gained the trust of those around her, especially her chief deputy with whom she had a bit of a rocky relationship for a while.  I like her a lot; she’s hardworking, strong-willed and intuitive, and she’s slowly starting to realise that she can’t go it alone all the time and learning to trust the team she’s building around her.

And then there are Bree’s personal relationships; her past trauma (she was just eight years old when her father shot her mother and then himself; she protected her younger siblings, but grew up apart from them when they went to live with one relative and Bree another) isn’t something she’s dealt with all that well, and growing up apart from her siblings has left a mark, meaning she has to work hard at maintaining personal relationships and learn not to run from them, especially if they could expose her vulnerability.  She learned early on that the only person she could rely on was herself, but she’s trying hard to put the past behind her now, for her own sake and for that of her new found family; her sister’s death has left her guardian to her two children, Luke and Kayla, and has also enabled her to reconnect with her younger brother, Adam.  And then there’s Matt; lovely, solid, dependable (and sexy) Matt, who has Bree’s back without question and who is falling for her, hard. He respects her professionalism and he’s a calming presence, quietly reminding Bree that she’s allowed to be human rather than a full-time hero.  Their relationship is progressing slowly, partly because Bree doesn’t want to be the subject of yet more gossip (she’s had enough of that to last a lifetime), and partly because she’s still adjusting to the massive changes her life has gone through over the past few months.  I enjoy these insights into Bree as a person as much as I enjoy her as investigator, and Ms. Leigh strikes a good balance between the two; the mystery is undoubtedly the main focus of the book, but Bree’s home life is richly detailed, the characters are rounded and the relationships are well-written.

Even though the mystery in Drown Her Sorrows isn’t quite as enthralling as those in previous books, it’s clever and well-written, and I really enjoyed the continuing development of Bree’s character and relationships.  At a pinch, it could probably be read as a standalone, but I’d strongly suggest going back to book one, Cross Her Heart, so as to gain a fuller understanding of Bree and her situation. In any case, Drown Her Sorrows earns a solid recommendation, and fans of the author and the series are sure to find much to enjoy within its pages.

See Her Die (Bree Taggert #2) by Melinda Leigh


This title may be purchased from Amazon

New sheriff Bree Taggert is called to a shooting in a campground shuttered for the winter. But she arrives to find a perplexing crime. There is no shooter, no victim, and no blood. No one but Bree believes the sole witness, Alyssa, a homeless teenager who insists she saw her friend shot.

Bree calls in former deputy Matt Flynn and his K-9 to track the killer and search for Alyssa’s friend. They discover the battered corpse of a missing university student under the ice in Grey Lake—but it’s not the victim they were looking for.

When two more students go missing and additional bodies turn up, Bree must find the link between the victims. She knows only one thing for certain: the murders are fueled by rage. When Alyssa disappears, Bree must race against time to find her before her witness becomes another victim.

Rating: B+

Book two in Melinda Leigh’s new series of mystery/suspense novels featuring Bree Taggert, See Her Die, opens just three weeks after the events of Cross Her Heart.  A former Philadelphia detective, Bree’s life underwent a major upheaval when she returned home to the small upstate New York town of Grey’s Hollow – somewhere that holds few pleasant memories for her – in order to investigate the murder of her sister Erin.  By the end of the book, Bree has decided to remain in Grey’s Hollow to become the guardian to Erin’s two children, Luke (sixteen) and Kayla (eight) and to take the position of Sheriff, following the departure of the previous holder of the office, whose blatant corruption had been public knowledge but whom nobody had been able to dislodge.

When See Her Die begins, Bree is still struggling to adapt to her new life and responsibilities.  She’s not sleeping well (Kayla sometimes has nightmares and has taken to creeping into bed with her at night), she’s worried about Luke, who has become very quiet and incommunicative, she’s not completely sure which of her deputies she can trust, her department is underfunded and understaffed… it’s a long list of problems to sort out all the while she’s working to ensure the safety of everyone in the local community.

A call in the early hours of the morning sees Bree heading out to a local campground that is – supposedly – closed for the winter, following a 911 call from a young woman who says she saw her friend get shot.  When Bree and her deputies arrive, there’s no sign of a body or evidence of a shooting – and no sign of the person who made the call, until Bree and one of her deputies enter one of the cabins, where they find a terrified young woman who says her name is Alyssa Vaughan and that her friend Harper was shot out in the woods.  With no body or evidence, Bree has to consider the possibility that Alyssa may have made it all up, or have committed the murder herself… but something tells her that while Alyssa is definitely hiding something, that something isn’t murder.

Meanwhile, Bree’s friend, former K-9 handler Matt Flynn, has been asked by his sister Cady to look into the disappearance of Eli Whitney, a student at the university and the grandson of an elderly lady who fosters senior dogs for Cady’s rescue centre.  Matt took medical retirement from the Sheriff’s department after he was shot in the hand in the line of duty some three years earlier, and he’s setting up a K-9 training facility – or he would, if his sister didn’t keep filling up his kennels with her rescue dogs!   He agrees to ask around to see if he can find out what might have happened to Eli.

Later that day, Bree and her team are back out at the campground, still searching for evidence of a shooting and not finding much – until they turn up a set of footprints and tracks in the snow.  At this point, Bree decides to see if they can borrow a K-9 unit from the state police – but it’s nothing doing; all their available K-9s are searching for a missing student.  With the light fading and snow threatening, her chief deputy suggests she call in Matt Flynn and Brody (his service dog) – and Bree is just a little conflicted.  On the one hand, Matt’s connection to the department is not an easy one (he was shot by a fellow deputy and still suspects it may have been deliberate), but on the other she trusts him, and it would feel great to know someone has her back.

Matt agrees to help, and before long Brody is hot on the trail and leads Bree and Matt to the cracked ice around a boat ramp where, bobbing between long, jagged sheets of ice, is a human hand.  The hand belongs to the body of a young man who is unidentifiable due to the damage done to his face, which looks as though it’s been pulverised in an act of brutal rage.  Is this the shooter?  If it is, they have yet to find the victim.  And if it isn’t the shooter, could it be the missing student?

I love watching the way Melinda Leigh sets out what are seemingly different storylines and then slowly pulls them together until they coalesce and we can see how the pieces all fit as part of the larger whole.  The plot in See Her Die is complex, clever and well-executed and Bree is a tough, likeable and relatable heroine, a woman who is juggling so many balls in the air that she has no time for a life outside of work and her newly acquired family.  I also appreciated the peek into what it takes to run a sheriff’s department in a large but sparsely populated rural area, and felt for Bree as she wondered who among her staff she could really trust.

I enjoyed the story, but it would be remiss of me not to point out that for a book categorised as romantic suspense, the romance here is peripheral at best.  Matt is a lovely guy and he and Bree have great chemistry, so the lack of romantic development was a bit of a disappointment – BUT what we do get here is them working together again and I loved watching the professional side of their partnership develop.  Matt is such a wonderful support for Bree when she needs it, he’s a cool head in a crisis and, as Bree admits to herself, he’s smart and often sees connections she’s overlooked; they’re a great team, and it definitely seems that things are progressing on the romantic front by the time the book comes to a close.

In spite of the little bit of disappointment I experienced over the lack of romantic progression, I enjoyed See Her Die very much.  The principals are likeable, the secondary cast is nicely drawn, the mystery is compelling, and it all adds up to a thoroughly entertaining read.  I’ll definitely be back for book three when it’s released in Spring 2021.

Cross Her Heart (Bree Taggert #1) by Melinda Leigh

This title may be purchased from Amazon

For more than twenty-five years, Philadelphia homicide detective Bree Taggert has tucked away the nightmarish childhood memories of her parents’ murder-suicide… Until her younger sister, Erin, is killed in a crime that echoes that tragic night: innocent witnesses and a stormy marriage that ended in gunfire. There’s just one chilling difference. Erin’s husband, Justin, has vanished.

Bree knows how explosive the line between love and hate can be, yet the evidence against her troubled brother-in-law isn’t adding up. Teaming up with Justin’s old friend, former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler Matt Flynn, Bree vows to uncover the secrets of her sister’s life and death, as she promised Erin’s children. But as her investigation unfolds, the danger hits close to home. Once again, Bree’s family is caught in a death grip. And this time, it could be fatal for her.

Rating: B+

Bestselling author Melinda Leigh introduces readers to Detective Bree Taggert in Cross Her Heart, the first book in her new series of romantic suspense novels.  It’s an excellent start, a solid, intriguing and well-paced mystery that introduces and starts fleshing out the central characters and the relationships between them at the same time as it presents a mystery that is very personal for Bree, whose tragic past is brought abruptly back to her in the worst possible way.

The book opens on a harrowing scene taking place at eight-year-old Bree’s home in Grey’s Hollow in upstate New York.  She is desperate to protect her younger siblings – Erin and baby Adam – from their violent, abusive father, as he rages at and beats their mother. Bree has managed to call the police and to keep herself and her brother and sister safe, although when the police arrive, it’s too late for their mother – and their father then turns the gun he used to shoot her on himself.

While Adam and Erin were taken in and brought up by their grandmother, Bree, who was something of a handful, was brought up by a stern cousin in Philadelphia. Looking back, Bree can see that their childhood separation has had a negative effect on their adult relationship; they’re not close, and although Erin continues to live in Grey’s Hollow, Bree has rarely been able to get past her issues to visit there, so Erin and her two kids visit Philly once a year instead.  When we meet Bree again, she- now a homicide detective with the Philadelphia PD – and her soon-to-retire partner, Dana Romano,  have just chased down a suspect when Bree picks up a panicked message from Erin saying she’s in trouble, but when she calls back, only gets voicemail.  Worried because Erin is the head down, go to work, raise her kids sort who’s never in trouble, and still unable to contact her, Bree heads to Grey ‘s Hollow – and her fears for Erin only ratchet up when she arrives at her sister’s house to see two sheriff’s department vehicles parked outside.  Something is very, very wrong.

Erin has been killed, and the chief deputy explains that their main suspect is her estranged husband, Justin, who is currently missing.  Erin’s body was found by Justin’s friend, Matt Flynn, a former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler, who was at the house to collect Justin to take him to his Narcotics Anonymous meeting.  Drugs were the cause of Justin and Erin’s split; he became addicted to pain meds following a car accident, and she didn’t want him around her kids while he was using.  But they were still seeing each other and intended to work things out, and Justin has been trying, with Matt’s help and support, to get clean.

Matt left the sheriff’s department three years earlier after he was shot in his right hand and, due to nerve damage, is no longer able to fire a weapon.  Matt is sure Justin isn’t responsible for Erin’s death and is concerned for his safety;  he’s also not completely confident that the sheriff’s department, which is short on personnel following  the dismissal of the former sheriff and other officers for corruption, is going to pursue the investigation properly – or that the corruption has been completely eradicated.

Chief Deputy Todd Harvey knows that Bree and Matt aren’t going to sit quietly by while his department investigates, so he makes a deal with them; he won’t try to stop them, but wants to be kept informed of what they find out and will share information with them in return.

As I’d expect from Melinda Leigh, the mystery is well-put together, with plenty of twists and turns and gradually building tension and suspense as Bree and Matt work together to find Justin and identify Erin’s killer.  Alongside the mystery we get the gradual unveiling of Bree’s character, a smart, competent, resilient yet flawed individual who is suddenly faced with a shedload of new responsibilities she’d never thought to have, two grieving children she doesn’t know all that well and her own grief and guilt at not keeping her sister safe as she’d vowed to do so many years ago.  I enjoyed the focus on the family as Bree slowly absorbs the fact that her life is never going to be the same;  Morgan Dane, in the author’s previous series, had a strong family unit which rounded her out and grounded her as a character, and I was pleased there’s to be something similar happening here.

I liked Matt, who is being set up as Bree’s future love interest.  He’s a good guy; dependable and supportive, he clearly cares a lot for Justin, and comes to care for and respect Bree and her abilities as an investigator.  There’s the merest frisson of attraction between them at this stage, but fingers crossed that will develop as the series progresses. Dana is a great addition to the family unit; Bree’s closest friend and work-partner, she’s about to retire from the force and goes to Grey’s Hollow to deliver Bree’s cat Vader (!) and to help out while Bree decides what she’s going to do next.

Cross Her Heart is an entertaining story featuring attractive and engaging leads and a supporting cast I look forward to getting to know in future books.  I enjoyed the balance between plot-  and character- driven elements in the story, and my one real complaint is that the identity of the villain came as something of a surprise, but not in a good way.  This character was present in one scene (apart from the few short chapters told anonymously from his PoV) and was mentioned only a few times, so when he was revealed to be the killer it didn’t feel organic or as though the clues had really been leading to that point.

In spite of that, however, I enjoyed the book and would certainly recommend it to fans of the author or to anyone looking to try her work for the first time.

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.