Cold Evidence (Evidence #6) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The only thing Navy underwater archaeologist Undine Gray fears more than facing former SEAL Luke Sevick is never scuba diving again. But when a dive on a Cold War-era US Navy submarine ends with an accidental explosion, she’s terrified of going into the deep, forcing her to beg the most experienced diver she knows to take her back to the bottom of the cold Salish Sea.

Luke wants nothing to do with the woman who destroyed his career a dozen years ago but finds it impossible to turn his back on her plea. Caught off guard by an attraction he doesn’t want to feel, he’s eager to be done with this mission of mercy. But when they dive on the wreck, he only gets sucked in deeper. Someone has been digging on the Navy sub…and it appears the explosion that almost killed Undine was no accident.

To find the truth, Undine must navigate murky waters and the unexpectedly hot undercurrents swirling between her and Luke. Worse, divers are searching for something lost in US waters during the Cold War, and they’ll do anything to keep Luke and Undine from finding it first.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

Cold Evidence is number six in Rachel Grant’s seven-book (so far) Evidence series of romantic suspense novels. I’ve yet to read or listen to every instalment, but those I’ve got to so far have proved to be immensely enjoyable, complex and action-packed stories featuring hot-as-hell heroes and feisty (in a good way) heroines who don’t take any crap. The romances are nicely steamy and well integrated into the main storylines, and for me, the balance between romance and suspense is just about perfect. Cold Evidence does feature some recurring characters but like all the books in the series, it can be enjoyed as a standalone – although there is a bit of a cliff-hanger at the end which leads into the next book, Poison Evidence. Don’t worry though, it’s more by way of a teaser; the suspense storyline and HEA are happily resolved, so you can safely listen to this without fear of frustration!

Underwater archaeologist Undine Gray is working on a project to salvage the USS Wrasse, an old US submarine that sank off the coast of Seattle during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, taking a number of its former crewmembers with it; men who had served aboard her in World War Two and who had volunteered to take her to her final resting place, not knowing it would become theirs, too.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Advertisements

Catalyst (Flashpoint #2) by Rachel Grant

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When a food storage depot in famine-struck South Sudan is torched, American aid worker Brie Stewart flees, only to land in a market where she’s the next item up for auction. Is the attack on the aid facility another assault upon the war-torn fledgling democracy, or has her family set her up as a pawn in their quest for oil rights?

Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford crossed paths with Brie years ago when she was a shill for her family’s company, pushing a pipeline that threatened his tribe’s land. Determined to lead the rescue operation to save her, he won’t let her abduction—or the attraction that flares between them—get in the way of settling their unfinished business.

The Green Beret’s skills are put to the test in the flooded grasslands of South Sudan, where they must battle nature and dangerous factions who are after more than oil. Bastian and Brie put their hearts on the line as they find themselves embroiled in a conflict that extends beyond country and continent. Together they must douse the spark before it reaches the flashpoint and engulfs everything they hold dear.

Rating: B+

I’ve become a huge fan of Rachel Grant’s particular blend of complex, steamy and intricately plotted romantic suspense novels over the past year or so, and have been eagerly awaiting the release of Catalyst, the second book in her Flashpoint series. Like the previous book, Tinderbox, Catalyst is set in a real-life flashpoint, this time in South Sudan, a young nation embroiled in an ongoing civil war, and features characters based at the (fictional) US military outpost of Camp Citron in Djibouti. There are some things in this book that may be difficult to read about – in particular the buying and selling of women and children – and the way that the plight of so many people in desperate need is thrust aside in favour of big business and political expediency made my blood boil on more than one occasion. Ms. Grant tells a gripping, well-paced and impeccably researched story that pulled me in from the start and kept me transfixed until the nail-biting conclusion.

Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford is surprised to recognise a familiar face one night in the bar at the camp – Gabriella Prime, the daughter of Jeffrey Prime Sr., owner of one of the world’s largest energy corporations. The last time Bastian saw her, she was in full ball-buster ‘Princess Prime’ mode – designer clothes, killer heels, full make-up – in her role as Prime Energy’s PR executive, defending the company’s plan to screw over the native American tribes of East Washington by building an oil pipeline that would ignore even the most basic environmental rules. The woman in front of him now, a decade later, is different, though. The outward trappings of the corporate shill and billionaire boss’s daughter are gone; over the last decade, Gabriella Prime has cleaned up, grown a conscience and left her old life behind her. She deliberately sabotaged PE’s plans for the Northwest oil pipeline, cut all ties with her father and brothers, legally changed her last name to Stewart (her mother’s name) and for the past five years has lived and worked under the radar for USAID in South Sudan. Bastian is rather stunned to discover that Brie Stewart is an aid-worker who lives from pay-day to pay-day like everyone else – and maybe a little suspicious that such a ruthless leopard could have changed its spots, but he has to admit to a reluctant admiration for the guts it must have taken to thwart her father’s plans and then to re-invent herself. But that doesn’t tell him what he really wants to know – which is what she’s doing in Djibouti hanging out with the camp ‘spook’, the enigmatic CIA operative, Savannah James.

One month later, the aid station Brie works at is attacked and she and her three co-workers are forced to flee for their lives. Brie manages to evade capture for a couple of days, but her luck runs out and she is taken to the very slave market she had been summoned to Camp Citron to talk to Savannah James about.

Bastian and his team are authorised to get Brie out – but when they discover that the slave market also houses a large number of children, none of the team can bear to leave the kids there and make impromptu plans to get them out as well.  Unfortunately, things go awry, and Brie and Bastian are stranded when their vehicle and equipment fall victim to roads made impassable by the heavy rains. They hole up at an abandoned village while Bastian works on a way to get them out of there, knowing they likely haven’t got long before the Sudanese soldiers who originally captured Brie find them.  During the few days they spend alone together, the attraction that had sparked between Bastian and Brie back at the camp builds to inferno levels and becomes increasingly difficult for them both to resist – although resist they must.  And do.  With difficulty. While they await rescue, they try to work out why Brie’s camp was targeted – was it a random attack? Had her family somehow found her and orchestrated the attack to get her back?  Or is something even more sinister going on that neither of them can yet comprehend?

The kidnap and rescue is only the beginning of what is a superbly conceived and plotted story that pitches Bastian and Brie into the sights of a Sudanese warlord with links to the Russian mafia, and a dangerous former associate of Brie’s father who is obsessed with her almost to the point of madness.  The vile plan this person hatches is so utterly despicable that it fairly took my breath away; and although he is perhaps a little over the top, his scheme is, sadly all too plausible.

Once again, Ms. Grant achieves just about the perfect balance between the disparate elements of this romantic thriller. She obviously knows her stuff when it comes to the geo-political background of the region in which the book is set, and the way she utilises that knowledge and interweaves it throughout the story to forge a cohesive, compelling tale of corporate greed, military ambition and terrifying obsession is quite masterful.  Her central characters are just as multifaceted as her story and the romance that develops between them simply drips with sexual tension from the moment the pair of them face off at the bar in Camp Citron. Brie and Bastian have more than their share of baggage and neither of them has had any desire for much more than hook-ups and casual sex in the past, but as the attraction that burns between them gradually starts to encompass admiration and respect, it becomes clear that this relationship is unlike any they’ve had before.   I admit to finding Brie’s tendency to beat herself up over her past choices a little irritating, although she does have an inner mental strength that is admirable and I liked how she was able to find something positive to focus on once the revelation over her identity meant she was no longer able to work for USAID.

Although some characters from Tinderbox make an appearance here – most notably Pax, Cal and Savanna James – the book works perfectly well as a standalone, and fans of Ms. Grant’s Evidence series might also recognise a certain enigmatic Russian spy who pops up to lend a (very dangerous!) hand.  A great combination of action-packed, intelligently-written, edge-of-the-seat thriller and sexy romance, Catalyst is an engrossing read and earns a strong recommendation.

TBR Challenge: Dissident (Bellator Saga #1) by Cecilia London


This title is available FREE on Amazon

“I will always be with you…”

Rising Democratic star Caroline Gerard hasn’t had an easy year. After losing her husband, she is raising two small children alone while trying to navigate the tricky and sometimes shallow halls on Capitol Hill. A string of nasty speeches has her scrambling to apologize to any number of candidates, including newly elected Republican Jack McIntyre. Falling in love again is the last thing on her mind.

Jack McIntyre might have a reputation as a playboy, but he has his sights set solely on his new colleague. Can he break through Caroline’s grief and capture her heart?

Told mostly in flashback and set against a chilling fascist backdrop, Dissident is a rollercoaster ride of political intrigue, passionate contemporary romance, and undying love.

One of my fellow AAR reviewers, Kristen Donnelly, has raved about Cecilia London’s Bellator Saga – and given that I like a nice, juicy political thriller, I decided pretty much at the beginning of the year that Dissident, the first book in the series would be my recommended read this year.

I’ll start out by saying that the saga is a serial in which one storyline runs through all six books in the series; rather like a TV mini-series, all the books need to be read in order for the reader to experience the entirety of the story, so if you’re planning on having a look at this one, be prepared to be in it for the long haul.  I think each book ends on a cliffhanger (which is clearly stated at Amazon); this one definitely does and I’m sufficiently invested in the story and characters (especially the two principals) to want to read more.

The story opens in the present as we follow a couple – a husband and wife we learn are named Jack and Caroline – as they run through the woods in the attempt to evade the soldiers who are pursuing them.  Both are injured, but Caroline is clearly in a very bad way, and she urges Jack to continue without her, telling him that the information they have risked so much to gather is more important than either of them.  It’s clear that these two are devoted to one another and that it costs Caroline a lot to make the suggestion and even more for Jack to hear it.  Even though we’re just a few pages into the book at this point, it’s quite devastating when Jack wrenches himself away and prepares to do as Caroline asks, saying:

“I will come back for you, Caroline.  Understand?  I promise I will come back.  I’m not giving up.  I will find someone I can trust and I will come back.”

As it’s the first in a series, Dissident is mostly set-up, focusing on the two central characters, the recently widowed Democratic Congresswoman Caroline Gerard and Jack McIntyre, a multi-millionaire Republican with a reputation for being an arsehole.  Having read Kristen’s reviews of two of the later books in the series, it’s clear that the author is going to take us to some dark and uncomfortable places, so it’s important that we get to know and understand these individuals given that they are our windows into the story, and that the relationship that evolves between them is its bedrock.

Over five years earlier, Jack and Caroline got off to a rocky start when she bad-mouthed him to the media, calling him a “millionaire playboy trying to buy his way into Congress.”. Her only defence is that at that time, she was in a very bad place; she had recently lost her husband and had thrown herself into work to compensate, making a number of bad decisions of which spouting off about would-be Congressman McIntyre was one.  Months later, she hopes to apologise to him in person, but he doesn’t want to hear it and brushes her off abruptly, which Caroline thinks she probably deserves.  But later that same night, Jack relents and the two of them strike up a conversation which leads to the development of a very close friendship which is terribly important to them both.

Ms. London writes this growing relationship incredibly well; Jack and Caroline are mature characters (he’s forty-seven, she’s thirty-six) and their life experience shows, lending a real sense of authenticity to their interactions, which are deep, playful, witty and insightful by turns.  Their gradual falling-in-love is superbly and subtly depicted; it’s obvious that Jack is head-over-heels fairly early on but recognises that he shouldn’t rush things, while Caroline is a little more hesitant to become romantically involved.  She’s warm, funny and utterly devoted to her young daughters as well as being the sort of person who fights for the underdog and wants to make a difference.  Jack comes across as an arrogant arse when we – along with Caroline – first meet him, but it’s soon clear that isn’t really who he is, and I loved the way that as their friendship progresses,  Caroline comes to see him for the good man he is beneath the highly polished exterior.  Their romance is beautifully done and nicely steamy (Jack is one hot silver fox!) and the emotional connection they share is very deeply rooted and one which, I suspect, is going to prove a lifeline for both of them as the story progresses.

While something like seventy-five percent of the book takes place five years in the past and concentrates on the growing romance between Jack and Caroline, there are a few  present day chapters scattered strategically throughout Dissident showing us what happens after Jack leaves Caroline in the woods.  (The fact that he leaves her is one of the reasons this character-building story is essential; we need to know the strength of Jack’s feelings for Caroline in order to realise just how important the information he is carrying must be if he is prepared to leave her to an unknown fate to keep it safe.)  It’s clear that all is not well in America; the information I’ve gleaned has come mostly from reading reviews, so I won’t spoil it here, save to say that mentions of secession and martial law and the accusations of treason levelled at Caroline definitely tell us we’re not in Kansas any more.

There are a few writing hiccups and the odd place where the pace flags a bit, but for the most part, this is a strongly-written and well-conceived tale of political intrigue that sucked me in from the start and kept me eagerly turning the pages.  Jack and Caroline are engaging characters, their romance is believable and passionate, and the author has started the ball rolling on what promises to be an epic story.

I’m definitely in it for the long haul.

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.

Single Malt (Agents Irish and Whiskey #1) by Layla Reyne (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Eight months after the car crash that changed everything, FBI agent Aidan Talley is back at work. New department, new case, and a new partner. Smart, athletic, and handsome, Jameson Walker is 12 years his junior. Even if Aidan was ready to move on – and he’s not – Jamie is off-limits.

Jamie’s lusted after Aidan for three years, and the chance to work with San Francisco’s top agent directly is too good to pass up. Aidan is prickly – to put it mildly – but a growing cyber threat soon proves Jamie’s skills invaluable.

Jamie’s talents paint a target on his back, and Aidan is determined to protect him. But with hack after hack threatening a high-security biocontainment facility, time is running out to thwart a deadly terrorist attack. They’ll have to filter out distractions, on the case and in their partnership, to identify the real enemy, solve the case, and save thousands of lives, including their own.

Rating: Narration – B+ Content – B+

Single Malt is Layla Reyne’s début novel and is the first in a romantic suspense trilogy featuring FBI agents Aidan Talley and Jameson Walker, nicknamed Agents Irish and Whiskey. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the series earlier this year and was really pleased to see the books being released in audio format. I’m not familiar with narrator Tristan James, but he’s got over thirty titles to his name at Audible so I decided to take a chance and I’m glad I did; he delivers a strong and entertaining performance in this fast-paced, intriguing and sexy thriller.

Eight months after the car crash that killed both his husband, Gabe, and his FBI partner, Tom Crane, Special Agent Aidan Talley has been given the go ahead to return to work. On the evening before he is due to show up at the office, he is visited by his sister-in-law, Melissa Cruz – who also happens to be his boss – and given some unsettling news. The day she was promoted to her current position of Special Agent in Charge, she received an anonymous package containing an encrypted flash drive and information suggesting that the crash was no accident. Aidan is stunned; he has been convinced of that from the moment he woke up in the hospital, but no one would take him seriously. Now, however, Mel gives him the permission to start investigating on the quiet – and tells him, rather cryptically, that she has given him everything he needs to start getting answers.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Last Move by Mary Burton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Catching monsters helps FBI agent Kate Hayden keep her nightmares at bay. Now an urgent call brings her back to San Antonio, the scene of her violent past. A brutal new murder shows hallmarks of a serial killer nicknamed the Samaritan. Tricky part is, Kate already caught him.

Either Kate made a deadly error, or she’s got a copycat on her hands. Paired with homicide detective Theo Mazur, she quickly realizes this murder is more twisted than it first appeared. Then a second body is found, the mode of death identical to a different case that Kate thought she’d put behind her.

Now Kate and Detective Mazur aren’t just working a homicide; the investigative pair is facing a formidable enemy who knows Kate intimately. While Mazur is personally trying to protect Kate, the closer they are drawn to the killer, the clearer it becomes that in this terrifying game, there is only one rule: don’t believe everything you see…

Rating: B

The Last Move is a new standalone novel from popular romantic suspense author Mary Burton featuring a prickly but pragmatic FBI Forensic linguistics expert who is frequently called in to consult on complicated cases that need to make use of her skills to analyse the language employed by murderers, kidnappers and other unsavoury characters in order to effect rescues and arrests.  It’s a very readable, well-plotted story that seems to be heading in one direction until the author pulls a handbrake turn and sends it beetling off elsewhere – and I was completely gripped by it throughout.  On the downside, if you like a romantic suspense novel to have an actual romance in it, then you might be a bit disappointed, because while the story has romantic elements and ends with an HFN which clearly has the possibility of becoming more, the balance here is firmly in favour of the mystery and the romance is very low-key.

Seasoned detective Theo Mazur gave up his job at the Chicago PD to move to San Antonio when his ex-wife moved there with their teenaged daughter, Alyssa.  He has just been called to the scene of a murder on the interstate – I-35 – which bears a number of similarities to other killings that were carried  out on the same road over the past couple of years; the victim is a woman alone in her car, the car malfunctioned in some way, she’s been shot in the heart at point-blank range  and the killer has left a video and a message on a burner phone for the investigators.  More specifically, he leaves it for FBI profiler, Dr. Kate Hayden.  Mazur recognises the M O of a serial killer nicknamed The Samaritan and puts in a call to his boss, who duly contacts Kate, the agent responsible for arresting and identifying him as one Charles Richardson. But there’s a snag. Richardson is currently in prison awaiting trial.

While the evidence linking Richardson to the Samaritan’s murders is strong, this new killing could completely blow Kate’s case out of the water, so she has to drop her current investigation – into a sick bastard who kidnaps young girls, keeps them locked in boxes and takes them out to repeatedly rape them before letting them die – and head to her home town of San Antonio, somewhere she’s avoided at all costs since the murder of her father ripped her family apart when she was just seventeen.

Though there was never any sign that Richardson had an accomplice, Kate is fairly certain that they’re dealing with either an acolyte or a copycat because, while this recent killing is very similar to the previous ones, the killer has deviated from his M O in his choice of victim. Gloria Sanchez was a successful and wealthy businesswoman, whereas the previous victims were younger and less affluent, usually working in the service industries. It’s only when another murder victim is found, this time displaying multiple stab wounds and the sort of mutilation that is the hallmark of a killer known as The Soothsayer that Kate and Mazur start to suspect that these murders aren’t their copycat’s end-game. By killing using methods used in some of Kate’s previous investigations, he is clearly taunting her, intending to draw her out in order to exact some kind of revenge.

The Last Move is a very well written, strongly plotted thriller and while the serial-killer-who-is-out-to-get-the-female-investigator plotline is a frequently used one, Ms. Burton nonetheless kept me engaged and eagerly turning the pages as Kate and Mazur uncovered a web of infidelity, lies and deadly, long-buried secrets that she cleverly links back to Kate’s past and the murder of her father. The author puts forward a couple of strong suspects for the murders, but even though I felt they were perhaps a bit too obvious and the reader is privy to some brief chapters from the killer’s PoV, we don’t discover his identity or motivations until Kate and Mazur do. There are plenty of twists and turns along the way and I was kept guessing until the final reveal.

While the romantic aspect of the story is not as strong as in some of Mary Burton’s other books, she does develop a terrific working relationship between Kate and Mazur, whose different skills and approach thoroughly complement each other. Mazur is an easy-going type whose open, friendly manner and frequently deployed humour belies that fact that he’s sharp as a tack and doesn’t miss a trick, whereas Kate is a little awkward and has to consciously work at behaving in a manner appropriate to the situation. She’s practical, forthright and sometimes abrupt to the point of rudeness; she keeps herself very tightly contained, but doesn’t hide the truth of her past from Mazur or the reasons being back in her home town make her so uncomfortable. I liked both characters; Kate for her straightforwardness and Mazur for his insight and humour, and they make a great couple. There’s one love scene fairly late on and we’re left with the impression that these two have the potential to make a future together. Fans of the author’s are sure to enjoy The Last Move, and given it’s a standalone, if you’ve never read her but enjoy romantic suspense novels where the emphasis is on the suspense, this book could be a good way to give her a try.

Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams (audiobook) – Narrated by Eva Kaminsky and Alex Wyndham

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Burdened by a dark family secret, Virginia Fortescue flees her oppressive home in New York City for the battlefields of World War I France. While an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, she meets a charismatic British army surgeon whose persistent charm opens her heart to the possibility of love. As the war rages, Virginia falls into a passionate affair with the dashing Captain Simon Fitzwilliam, only to discover that his past has its own dark secrets – secrets that will damage their eventual marriage and propel her back across the Atlantic to the sister and father she left behind.

Five years later, in the early days of Prohibition, the newly widowed Virginia Fitzwilliam arrives in the tropical boomtown of Cocoa Beach, Florida, to settle her husband’s estate. Despite the evidence, Virginia does not believe Simon perished in the fire that destroyed the seaside home he built for her and their young daughter. Separated from her husband since the early days of their marriage, the headstrong Virginia plans to uncover the truth, for the sake of the daughter Simon never met.

Simon’s brother and sister welcome her with open arms and introduce her to a dazzling new world of citrus groves, white beaches, bootleggers, and Prohibition agents. But Virginia senses a predatory presence lurking beneath the irresistible, hedonistic surface of this coastal oasis. The more she learns about Simon and his mysterious business interests, the more she fears that the dangers that surrounded Simon now threaten her and their daughter’s life as well.

Rating: Narration – A- Content – B

Having very much enjoyed listening to The Wicked City earlier this year (and being a fan of this author’s alter-ego, Juliana Gray), I was keen to listen to Beatriz Williams’ latest offering, Cocoa Beach, which follows a young widow as she tries to discover the truth about the estranged husband who recently perished in a house fire at his Florida home. It is loosely linked to both The Wicked City and the book which preceded it, A Certain Age, insofar as some of the characters have either appeared or been mentioned in one or both of those novels, but otherwise Cocoa Beach can be enjoyed as a standalone.

In 1917, Virginia Fortescue flees her oppressive home in New York to drive ambulances back and forth between the trenches and the field hospitals of Northern France. The USA has not yet joined the war, but she and a group of other volunteers led by the wealthy and formidable Mrs. DeForest are out there “doing their bit”, in whatever capacities they can be useful. On a trip to pick up some wounded men and take them to the hospital Mrs. DeForest has set up in an old château, Virginia meets the handsome, charismatic Captain Simon Fitzwilliam, an army surgeon, and he ends up travelling back to the hospital with her in order to inspect the facilities. There’s an instant frisson of attraction between the two, although Virginia is wary; not only is he quite a bit older than she is (she’s twenty-one, he’s mid-thirties) and almost too good to be true, but her complicated relationship with her stern, reclusive father means she has little experience with men and is uncomfortable around them. Yet by the end of this brief time spent together, Virginia is desperately smitten and so, it seems, is Simon, and he tells her he’s going to write to her. Virginia is on cloud nine – until one of the other girls in her unit tells her Simon is married, with a young son.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.