Nov 05 2019

Anything For You (Valerie Hart #3) by Saul Black

Anything For You by Saul BlackWhen San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart is called to her latest crime scene, a deadly assault in an upscale neighborhood, she isn’t prepared for the victim’s identity, or for the emotional turmoil it brings to her newly reconstructed life. Having put her days of robotic alcoholic promiscuity behind her, she’s reconciled with her husband, police computer technician Nick. Their relationship has improved to the point of trying now for children. So the reminder of an illicit liaison from the days she put behind her is the last thing she needs.

Thing is, as far as affairs go, it was all rather tame. Valerie and prosecutor Adam Grant had gotten drunk together one night then gone back to her place, where they had proceeded to fall fast asleep. There had been some preliminaries but no consummation, and the two had been on smiling terms on the few occasions they’d seen each other afterwards. As such, Valerie is reluctant to recuse herself from the case: she’s a good investigator and she wants to find justice for a person whom she liked but didn’t like enough to allow herself to get emotionally compromised over. Plus, she’s morbidly curious as to Rachel, the wife Adam told her he’d never cheated on.

For good or ill, morbid curiosity is one of Valerie’s driving factors:

In her early teens she’d dated a guy who had a fetish for getting into buildings when they were unoccupied. Together they broke into (or concealed themselves in until after hours) their school, the bus depot, the local swimming pool, a couple of cinemas, and three or four private residences. They did no damage, took nothing. Just went through various drawers and wardrobes and cupboards, barely exchanging a word. Neither of them knew quite why, but it was irresistible. Incredibly, they never got caught.

Now there was no getting caught. Snooping was what she was paid for. Being Police was a backstage pass to the world behind the world, the people behind the people, the lives behind the lives. The dirty thrill of it had never diminished. Finding what was hidden. The dark secret. The awful treasure. That was the force that drove her. Justice was an incidental by-product.

Fortunately, Valerie is usually pretty good at finding justice, too, not only for the dead but for those who survive. The object of her curiosity, Rachel, was also injured in the attack that killed Adam. Prints found at the scene point the finger at Dwight Jenner, an ex-con Adam helped put away. Dwight has since disappeared, and the key to finding him lies with the mysterious blonde bombshell of a girlfriend whose involvement with the Grants’ lives may go back further than anyone realized.

This was an impressively crafted mystery, particularly in the way Saul Black uses the shifting perspectives of Valerie and the mysterious blonde to manipulate the readers’ sense of reality. I was actually less shocked by whodunnit than by the clever revelation of how. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was this impressed by the use of a framing device in a mystery novel.

Valerie is also a refreshing heroine, particularly for a police procedural. She’s aware enough of her own flaws to understand why she sometimes makes bad choices, and is smart enough to at least try to resist. She knows she’s damaged, and the thought of motherhood does little to assuage her fears regarding her own moral character. This case especially, with its tangled relationships and twisted, fearsome loves, will dig up some really strong feelings as to what she herself might be capable of:

So far Valerie’s love had been for her parents and her sister and Nick. Would she kill to save them? Undoubtedly. Would she kill to avenge them?

No, she supposed, if she had impregnable faith in the law.

Which she did not. How could she? She was the law–and her faith in herself was ravaged, riddled, rotten with doubt.

Anything For You is a thrilling page-turner that starts out slowly before rocketing through twists galore to uncover the identity of a woman who would kill for love. It can be brutal in its examinations of sexual desire and misconduct, but still centers the experiences and opinions of two strong women with opposing senses of moral justice. Valerie especially is an impressive creation: frank about her flaws, uninterested in being nice, and dedicated to discovering the truth, no matter where it may lead her.

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