Evie Blackwell loves her life as an Illinois State Police detective . . . mostly. She’s very skilled at investigations and has steadily moved up through the ranks. She would like to find Mr. Right, but she has a hard time imagining how marriage could work, considering the demands of her job.
Gabriel Thane grew up in Carin County and is now its sheriff, a job he loves. Gabe is committed to upholding the law and cares deeply for the residents he’s sworn to protect. He too would like to find a lifetime companion, a marriage like his parents have. . . .
When Evie arrives in Carin, Illinois, it’s to help launch a new task force focused on unsolved crimes across the state. She will work with the sheriff’s department on a couple of its most troubling missing-persons cases. As she studies old evidence to pull out a few tenuous new leads, she unearths surprising connections. One way or another, she knows Gabriel Thane and his family will be key to the answers she seeks.
The post office lights were on, but Ann’s rental car was gone. The yellow convertible still sat on the street where Gabriel had parked it. He tapped on the door glass, pleased to see Evie had locked herself in.
Evie came over to unlock the door.
“Dinner,” he said by way of a casual greeting, nodding to the two sacks he carried. “Sorry I’m later than I intended.”
“No problem. How about over there?” She pointed to a free table.
“Ann get away okay?”
“Yes. She’ll text when she’s home.”
He unpacked the disposable plates and utensils he’d brought and set out the meal. Ann’s wall was mostly as he had seen it earlier, while Evie’s wall had grown considerably in details. “You’ve been busy.”
“First day game plan – get set up.”
“What’s day two?”
“Shove case details in my mind until they leak out.”
Gabriel smiled at Evie’s description. He began to walk through the Florist crime wall, reviewing the photos, the timeline. He paused at the end to review her list of questions. “I don’t know whether to be insulted or impressed,” he said, “that you want my alibi for the night they went missing.” She’s not messing around.
“Someone in the department. Someone in the county. Maybe job-related – a person Florist arrested. Or it was a family thing.”
Gabriel knew he was a good cop, thought of himself that way, but she said it so casually. Someone in the department . . . Or it was a family thing. It felt hard to breathe.
He turned toward her and found her watching him steadily. He pushed his hands into his back pockets. “You’re right. But those aren’t casual categories.”
“Going to get protective, Gabriel?”
He thought about the missing deputy, his wife and son. He let out a huff of air. “No. You ask your questions. That’s why you’re here.”
“Was he having an affair? Was she?”
Gabriel simply grimaced. “I’d say no, but we’ll check it again. You don’t mince words.”
“I don’t like wasting time. If this was a typical case, it would have been solved by now. In order to discover what someone else didn’t see, I’ve got to come at it from as many hard angles as I can find.”
This wasn’t going to be a casual look at the case, a simple review of what others had done, but cutting through that work to discover what others had missed. “Evie, I think you’re going to wear the department out over these next couple of weeks.”
Her eyes glinted with humor. “You’ll all survive me, Gabriel.” She turned back to the table. “Let’s eat.”
If you pick up Traces of Guilt looking for a romantic suspense, there’s a possibly you will be disappointed with this latest release from Dee Henderson. On the other hand, if you enjoy the intellectual exercise of solving the unsolvable via good, old-fashioned detective work, then this could be right up your alley, because Carin County has two baffling cold cases that Evie Blackwell is determined to finally lay to rest.
The first case involves the disappearance of a six-year-old girl, Ashley Dayton, who went missing thirteen years ago when her family stopped in Carin County on vacation. The second case involves the Florist family, a case close to the hearts of many in Carin County, particularly the Sheriff’s Department. Deputy Sheriff Scott Florist, his wife, and his eleven-year-old son left on a camping trip twelve years ago and never arrived at their destination. Neither their bodies, nor their truck and campervan, were ever found. It’s as though they just vanished into thin air.
Gabriel Thane is the Sheriff of Carin County, like his father before him, and keen to do all he can to help Evie, but he doesn’t hold out much hope of success. As a long-time friend of the Thane family, Ann Falcon (from Full Disclosure) has also come to Carin County to assist Evie, and it turns out she may hold the key to solving one of these cases. However it is information that will deeply impact the Thane family, revealing a disturbing truth about another young girl who grew up in their community; a young girl who was Joshua Thane’s best friend, and who is about to return to Carin County on a heartbreaking mission of her own.
This novel kept my interest, and I am looking forward to future releases in this series, but there were a few things that prevented me from giving it five stars. To begin with, although I have enjoyed the non-standard characters that Dee has been writing about in recent years, they are all beginning to sound a little similar. I would go so far as to say that they tend to be one of two extremes: either deeply emotionally scarred, or so analytically aware of both their own and others’ emotional needs that they are completely even-keeled and give the impression of being somewhat detached from their own emotions. It probably doesn’t help that there is a subdued, almost minimalist quality to Dee’s writing at times, which leaves a lot of emotional inference in the reader’s hands.
Secondly, I generally enjoy a broad cast of supporting characters, but in this novel we have seven different point-of-view characters throughout the novel: Evie and Gabriel, Ann Falcon, Gabriel’s brothers (Will and Josh), Will’s girlfriend Karen, and Josh’s childhood friend, Grace Arnett. This not only felt a little excessive to me, it also seemed unnecessary, particularly in the case of Will and Karen. They were infrequent characters whose situation was all but irrelevant to everything else that was going on in this story, which leads me to think that it was setting the stage for a continuation of their story in the future.
In the case of Josh and Grace, I felt as though we only scratched the surface of their story. Grace’s story is a tragic one, and so on one level it is impossible not to care about her, but I felt like I could have become so much more engaged if I had been given more time with her. And while there was a measure of physical resolution for her, she obviously has a long way to go on her emotional journey – a journey that received very little page time in this novel despite being the most compelling. The reader is led to assume that Josh will take that journey with her, and perhaps that is something else for a future novel, but then again, Dee doesn’t always wrap her characters’ stories in a neat bow.
As for Evie and Gabriel, they spend a lot of time getting to know one another in this novel, but it’s difficult to say any more than that. I’m interested to see where it’s going, but the romantic element in Dee’s novels post-O’Malley series has been anything but standard, so I’m not going to make any predictions.
Finally, in terms of the investigations, I enjoyed the process of trying to uncover new clues and investigating new avenues of inquiry but, true to life, it was not a fast-moving plot. I also found the resolution somewhat anti-climactic.
So there you have it. Some mixed responses on my part. As the beginning of a series, this has caught my interest, but if there is not a continuation of some of these stories in later books, I will feel a little cheated.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Release date: 3 May 2016
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Author’s website: http://www.deehenderson.com/