A Grave End (Bodies of Evidence #4) by Wendy Roberts

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A woman died years ago, and the body’s still missing.

Julie Hall’s conscience tells her she needs to use her skills to help a grieving family find their daughter’s long-missing remains. The problem is, Alice was last seen in Julie’s hometown—a place so full of traumatic memories, the very idea of returning there nearly paralyzes Julie.

Clear boundaries help Julie overcome her fears and take the job. She’ll go all out with her search, but only for one week. An end date in sight will ease the anxiety she and her FBI boyfriend have about the price she’ll have to pay to do the right thing.

Despite a growing sense of foreboding as she hits one dead end after another, Julie is driven to keep looking for Alice. But after receiving vile threats and with her self-imposed deadline looming, Julie realizes she was right to be afraid—and she worries she may not survive this case.

Rating: B-

A Grave End is the fourth – and possibly final? – book in Wendy Roberts’  series of suspense novels featuring Julie Hall, a young woman who has the ability to locate dead bodies using a pair of dowsing rods.  Julie is a complex, prickly character; an alcoholic in recovery, she’s the survivor of a particularly brutal childhood during which she suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her grandmother.  She got away from her small home town of Blaine, Washington, as soon as she possibly could and simply the thought of going back there is enough to send her into a tailspin – but she now finds herself unable to refuse a request from a dying man desperate to find the remains of his daughter-in-law, a former schoolmate.

Julie is very much in love with her boyfriend, FBI Agent Garrett Pierce, whom she met in the first book in the series.  They live together and are committed to each other – and at the end of the previous book, A Grave Peril, they exchanged rings, although Julie is adamant she doesn’t want to get married, and Garrett – who is a widower – respects that decision.  Julie is, however, still struggling with the demons of her past, and six months before A Grave Endbegins, went on a bender one night when she’d gone to a bar to meet with an informant.  If the guilt over falling off the wagon wasn’t bad enough, somehow she managed to lose her ring, which is one of a matching pair and irreplaceable – and to make things even worse, she has no real memory of that night, other than of meeting a man with striking green eyes and going outside with him… and she can’t be sure she didn’t betray Garrett in the worst way possible.

So Julie isn’t in the best of places when she receives the request to find Alice Ebert’s remains.  But back when they were in school, Julie realised that, even though she and Alice didn’t have a lot to do with one another, one thing they did share was the fact that the adults in their lives were physically abusive, and Julie felt that made a kind of bond between them.  So she feels she owes it to the other woman to try to find out what happened to her and to at the very least, ensure that her body is at last laid to rest.  Her first step is to travel to the Ozette Correctional Center to visit Alice’s husband, Roscoe, who was convicted of her murder.  Roscoe has always protested his innocence, in spite of the fact that Alice’s blood was found in his truck, and after hearing again the story of the night Alice was killed, Julie agrees to think about taking on the task.

Leaving the facility, Julie heads towards the home of a woman who had contacted her via her website asking for help in locating her daughter, who recently disappeared.  As the weather worsens and the rain starts to fall in torrents, Julie’s rods – which are next to her in the passenger seat – take a violent swing to the side, and she knows there’s a body around there somewhere, most likely in the deep ditch by the side of the road. Another motorist pulls up and offers to help, introducing himself as Raymond Hughes as Julie prepares to head down into the ditch to investigate.  Sure enough there’s the body of a young woman down there, and after Julie has called it in, Ray, who is rather too friendly and enthusiastic for her peace of mind, tells her that he’s a psychic and that he’d actually recommended the missing girl’s family get in touch with her to see if she could help.  He goes on to suggest that maybe he and she could work together sometime, but by then, all Julie wants to do is to get home.  Before she can leave, however, she’s severely rattled when, after shaking hands, Ray tells her something he can’t possibly know, something about the night she fell off the wagon.

Julie decides she’ll give herself a week to come up with a solid lead as to what happened to Alice, and if after that, her investigation is going nowhere, she’ll accept defeat.  Going back to Blaine is hard, but the conflicting picture she’s getting of Alice and the veiled hostility of many in the community convince Julie that the generally accepted story concerning Alice’s death is the wrong one and make her even more determined to find Alice and bring her some peace.

I enjoyed A Grave End, and especially liked the way Julie’s character has evolved.  She’s still abrasive and not the easiest person to warm to, but she’s making good progress in dealing with her issues; she has regular sessions with a mental health professional, she has developed a strong relationship with her friend Tracey (who is her complete opposite!) and Garrett is her lodestone (although we don’t see very much of him here, he’s rarely far from Julie’s thoughts).  The fact that she is finally able to return to her home town is a big step; she probably wouldn’t have been capable of it before now, and the way she is able to deal with the way some of the townsfolk treat her shows a lot of determination and strength.  The plot is well-put together, but the secondary plotline – in which Julie falls victim to a whack-job who put me in mind of Norman Bates – just didn’t work for me.  I’ll admit that there’s one surprise I hadn’t forseen, but otherwise, it’s a bit clichéd and the identity of the villain is pretty obvious.

Still, the central mystery is intriguing and the author does a great job when it comes to creating that slightly creepy, everyone-in-everyone-else’s-business atmosphere typical of small towns.  I knocked off half a grade point for the weak sub-plot, but if you’re following the series, then A Grave End leaves Julie and Garrett in a good place, and the whole series is definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for suspense novels featuring a different kind of heroine.

A Grave Peril (Bodies of Evidence #3) by Wendy Roberts

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Sometimes at night, she can hear the dead calling.

Julie Hall’s job is to find bodies. For the sake of her sanity, she’s taking a much-needed break—but the dead don’t wait. With bodies piling up alongside her guilt, she knows she has to dive back in, despite pushback from her FBI boyfriend, Garrett Pierce. But Garrett is working a troubling case of his own and no longer seems like the man she fell in love with.

Despite his warnings—or maybe because of them—when Garrett goes missing, Julie has no choice but to use her skills to find where the cartel buries their victims…before he becomes part of the body count.

Rating: B

A Grave Peril is the third book in Wendy Roberts’  Bodies of Evidence series featuring Julie Hall, a young woman with the unusual ability to locate dead bodies using a set of dowsing rods.  I’ve been meaning to dip into this series ever since I read AAR’s review of the first book, A Grave Calling, but haven’t managed to get round to it yet – so when I saw this book was available for review I decided to pick it up.  A Grave Peril works fairly well as a standalone, as the author has included enough information about Julie’s backstory to fill in any gaps for a newbie, although I think I’d have benefitted from reading the earlier books in order to get a fuller picture of the events that have shaped her.

Julie Hall has been in a relationship with her FBI agent boyfriend Garrett Pierce for a couple of years, and they’ve recently bought a house together, a fixer-upper in a quiet neighbourhood near Seattle – which isn’t quiet enough for Julie’s liking, mostly because she grew up in an isolated environment and doesn’t like having neighbours. But… it’s a nice house and she’s starting to feel safe there; plus she knows her aversion to having people around is one of the many issues she needs to work on.

After the truly harrowing events of the last case she worked on (detailed in book two, A Grave Search), Julie is taking a break from her business – Divine Reunions – to recuperate, but lately has been feeling ansty about getting back to work.  Her inbox is overflowing with requests for help finding the bodies of loved ones from people desperate for closure and to find and bury their dead, and Julie decides it’s time to ease herself back in.  She’ll take on a request she received a few months back from a mother desperate to find the body of the son who went missing while out hiking in the forest near Spokane.  Garrett – who has been away from home working a case for the last week – isn’t wild about the idea of Julie taking on this job without him there to support her, but she agrees to take a friend with her when she drives out to Hog Lake, and that eases his mind a little.

But just as Julie is starting to feel more like her old self and regain confidence in her dowsing ability, Garrett starts to act strangely.  She knows he’s working a big case – although of course he can’t tell her about it – but when he makes it home, he’s snippy and distant, and although he tells her he’s been recused from the case (because he’d discovered his late wife’s brother was involved), the next day, he’s gone again and is back working it.  Julie can see he’s rattled, but doesn’t want to add to his worries by asking too many questions; she agrees to take on another job – this time searching for the body of an eight-year-old girl – but becomes uneasy when she doesn’t hear from Garrett.  It’s unlike him not to text or call once a day, even if it’s just a brief ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I love you’; he doesn’t answer her calls or texts, and days later, after finding a message from him telling her to “trust no-one” Julie’s worries multiply.  She starts to think that he’s in over his head and decides to try to find him herself, even though it means putting herself in danger – as that’s what he’d do for her if the situation were reversed.

From reading reviews of the earlier books, I gather that this storyline is a bit of a departure because it focuses more on Julie and her relationship with Garrett than on her working on her dowsing cases.  Not having read those (yet), I can’t make comparisons; but I can say that I enjoyed this book for what it was, and found it a fairly absorbing read.  Julie is clearly battling some very difficult problems – alcoholism for one – and suffers PTSD as the result of an abusive upbringing; she’s a loner who struggles to form relationships, or rather, shies away from them because her past has taught her, over and over, that the only one she can rely on is herself.  Falling in love with and learning to trust Garrett (who is, incidentally, over twenty years her senior) are huge steps forward for her, but she fights every day to stop herself retreating into her protective shell.  Garrett’s erratic behaviour would be hurtful for anyone on the receiving end, but for Julie, it’s a knock to the fragile new reality she’s attempting to construct for herself – and it’s a testament to her strength and resilience that she doesn’t just fall apart or retreat to the bottom of a bottle.

Even though Garrett is absent for a large part of the book, the author does a good job of showing the strengths – and weaknesses – of their relationship through Julie’s thoughts and actions.  The fact that she wants to save him from whatever mess he’s got into speaks to the depth of her love for him, as his desperation to keep her safe and out of it speaks to his; but Julie’s trust is shaken, especially by some of the things he says to her (out of fear and frustration it’s true, but still) near the end, and she starts to wonder if maybe love isn’t enough.

There are only a handful of secondary characters in the book, and the standout is Tracey, Julie’s only real friend – the only person she’s let get close enough to attempt a friendship anyway – a pink-haired, quirky young woman who struggles with health issues (she has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) but who is there for Julie and helps buoy her up when things look bleak.

I enjoyed the book overall, although the climactic showdown was a teeny bit… well, anticlimactic, and I can’t say I found Garrett all that appealing.  But then this was my first time reading about him – and he doesn’t get much page time – and judging from Lynn’s review, he makes a better showing in the earlier books.  Still, A Grave Peril gets a mostly thumbs-up for its unusual premise and prickly, complex heroine – I’m definitely planning to read more in this series.