Forensic artist Gwen Marcey is between jobs when she accepts temporary work in Pikeville, Kentucky—a small town facing big-city crime. But before Gwen can finish her first drawing of the serial rapist who is on the loose, the latest witness vanishes. Just like all the others.
Gwen suspects a connection between the rapist and the “accidental” deaths that are happening around town, but the local sheriff has little interest in her theories. When her digitally-obsessed teenage daughter joins her, Gwen turns her attention to a second assignment: going undercover in a serpent-handling church. She could get a handsome reward for uncovering illegal activity—a reward she desperately needs, as it seems her breast cancer has returned. But snakes aren’t the only ones ready to kill. Can Gwen uncover the truth—and convince anyone to believe her—before she becomes a victim herself?
In a thrilling race against time, When Death Draws Near plunges us into cold-case murders, shady politics, and a den of venomous suspects.
The scent of dried leaves and asphalt greeted me as I opened the door to my room. I paused, then flipped on the light. The sheer curtains in the living area puffed and swirled as chilly air blew in.
I didn’t remember opening the window.
From my position by the door, I could see most of the two rooms. Empty. Swiftly I pulled the pepper spray from my purse. In four quick steps I was in the bedroom. The closet door was open with only my meagre wardrobe hanging inside. The bathroom was empty. Nothing looked out of place.
Returning to the living room, I checked the window. The sash could only be opened a few inches before being blocked. No one could fit through the narrow opening. I was about to turn away when I gave the window a quick tug upward. It opened easily.
Biting my lip, I shoved the window closed and locked it.
Another tour of the room assured me it was empty. I placed the pepper spray back in my purse, took off my jacket, and tossed it on the bed. The white duvet was disturbed from when I sat on it earlier.
The phone rang.
Kicking off my shoes, I picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
A deep male voice said, “You need to leave before you get killed.” Click.
I gasped and dropped the phone. I spun, trying to remember where I’d placed Clay’s phone number.
The chocolate-colored scarf across the foot of the bed shifted.
My mouth dried. I grabbed the duvet and jerked it off.
The coiled snake reared its head and prepared to strike.
The snake shook its rattles, starting with a slow chchch, then speeding to a continuous cheeeeeheeeee. Its head waved side to side, its tongue flickering.
I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out. My body refused to move. My heart pounded in my head.
The bedclothes vibrated.
The snake turned its head and looked at the sheet.
I tore my gaze from the coiled beast and glanced down. I was still clutching the covers in a white-knuckled trembling hand. With excruciating slowness, I lowered my hand.
The snake watched, tail vibrating.
I edged backward, one foot, then another. How far can a snake strike?
The snake dropped its head.
I fled the room. Slamming the door shut, I headed to the lobby, clinging to the walls, my legs barely able to keep me upright.
I’m really enjoying this series. I’ve always been a fan of detective fiction, and although Gwen Macey isn’t technically a detective, she uses her skills in forensic art (drawing and analysing facial features) and statement analysis to help investigate the cases she’s called into. Author Carrie Stuart Parks has drawn on her own real life experience in creating Gwen’s character, and I have to admit my nerdy side geeks out a little at the glimpses we get into this highly specialised area of forensics! Gwen also has an unfortunate knack for getting caught up in the action, and the final third of the book made for gripping reading as Gwen tried to extricate herself from the situation she was in.
Having said all that, if you have a fear of snakes, then this might not be the book for you! When Gwen is flown out to Pike County, Kentucky, to help identify a murder victim, she also finds herself investigating the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ with Signs Following; in other words, Pentecostal snake handlers! (A sect that really does exist, I might add.) Let’s just say it’s a good thing Gwen is (marginally) better with snakes than she is with spiders! For my part, there were one or two scenes that had me shuddering. I’m glad it was Gwen and not me! I also thought Carrie Stuart Parks handled the sect well, neither promoting it nor denigrating it, but allowing the characters to present a variety of opinions and observations.
As with the previous two books in the series, the plot is intriguing and there is an interesting group of secondary characters who muddy the waters: especially when the main suspect accosts Gwen and her daughter, Aynslee, only to warn them, “Don’t trust anyone. Anyone. Do you understand?” before fleeing into the night. Things only become more interesting when Gwen and Aynslee attend a snake-handling revival at the behest of state senator, Arless Campbell, and his wife Blanche.
Plot and forensics aside, the other thing I love about this series is Gwen herself – her dry, often self-deprecating wit, and her personal struggle as a breast cancer survivor whose husband divorced her because she is now ‘damaged goods’. Again, the author has real life experience to draw on, and it shows. Aynslee is well-drawn too, matching her mother for dry wit and adding a wonderful relationship dynamic as Gwen tries to navigate life with a teen – although I occasionally wished Gwen would pull her up for being disrespectful with her ‘whatever’ responses.
This was a great read, and I hope it isn’t the last we’ll see of Gwen Marcey.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. This has not influenced the content of my review.
Release date: 2 August 2016
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Author’s website: http://www.carriestuartparks.com/