All that Cedar Valley Police Detective Gemma Monroe wants to do is enjoy her infant daughter’s first Halloween, but a trick-or-treating stop at an old friend’s place of business soon brings work back to the fore. Retired judge Caleb Montgomery has been receiving threatening letters for five months now but has only just decided to report them to the authorities. Gemma is immediately concerned and promises to make investigating the threats a priority, but figures she can start doing that in the morning. She and her family have only gone a short distance away from Caleb’s law offices, however, when a bomb explodes, shattering the night.
At first, the mountain of suspects looks overwhelming: it’s hard not to make enemies during a lifetime of overseeing criminal cases, after all. Gemma and her team think they’re narrowing the field down, following leads involving the questionable conviction of a serial killer as well as the vandalism of a local theater, when another shocking murder takes place. There seems to be no connection with Caleb’s death, until Gemma finds a crucial piece of evidence linking the two. Further digging indicates that the homicides might have their roots in her town’s murky past. Does she have a copycat killer on her hands? Worse, will the murderer continue a pattern of slayings that will surely take more lives?
This novel had some of the best foreshadowing and red herring management I’ve ever seen! I spent a lot of time worrying that the plot would zig, only to have it zag in thrilling new directions. I was also impressed with Emily Littlejohn’s willingness to explore some of Colorado’s near-lawless history, as the past comes back to haunt even law-abiding citizens like Gemma’s grandfather Bull, here in conversation with our heroine:
[“]There’s something wrong with Cedar Valley, Gemma. I think most people know it; they just don’t like to dwell on it. Much easier to turn a blind eye and go about the day, never acknowledging the terrors that run beneath our feet like sewer water.”
“Isn’t it like that in most places? All the towns in the valley were built by greed and heartache; pillage and murder. I’ve heard it said that as the buildings on Main Street went up, the blood of miners and builders ran down the streets like so much rainwater. And all the while, the founders, those old men we’ve all so quaintly taken to calling the Silver Foxes, smiled and counted their coin.”
History aside, another of the strengths of this book is Gemma herself. With a small child, a demanding job and a wedding impending, she struggles to balance all her obligations while never losing sight of her priorities or her sense of humor. Her fiance Brody is a great partner, even if he isn’t perfect, but realistically, who is? The important thing is that he understands and is responsive to what Gemma needs:
Brody took the baby up to bed while I emptied the delicious-smelling bags he’d brought in. Cartons of egg rolls, wonton soup, sesame chicken, and fried rice overtook the kitchen counter. I leaned over, rested my head next to the food, and said a lengthy and sincere prayer of thanks to Brody. The man knew that the way to my heart was through my stomach.
And it had been a very rough day, I told myself, justifying two servings of each dish. Actually, it was three servings of the fried rice, but that was hardly worth mentioning. Rice wasn’t that bad for you. Plus, it had eggs and vegetables in it. The whole thing was practically an omelet.
While this was the fourth in the Detective Gemma Monroe series, I found it highly accessible as a new reader, and really want to go back and read the other three in the series. Gemma is smart and relatable, and the mysteries that she investigates are both complex and thrilling. Ms Littlejohn deftly layers plotlines involving Gemma’s personal life with broader current and historical events to make for a meaty but compelling read that satisfies on so many levels. I’m especially interested in whether coming novels will see Gemma actually meet up with the mommy group she first encounters here in this book, as well as what she and Brody decide regarding their future in Cedar Valley. In Ms Littlejohn’s capable hands, the minutiae of Gemma’s personal life makes for reading as engrossing as the gripping mysteries the detective must solve.