NC author Karen Pullen introduces readers to SBI agent Stella Lavender in this first of a planned series, Cold Feet.
Using Stella’s humor along with nice twists of plot, Pullen’s series promises to be a winner.26 year old Stella has been working as an undercover drug agent, to the chagrin of the grandmother who raised her.
Fern is an accomplished painter, a good-looking woman who doesn’t believe in marriage, who still lives in the farmhouse where she raised Stella after her own daughter disappeared.
Stella is still smarting after breaking off her wedding earlier in the year to a fellow agent. Unfortunately, she still works with Hogan Leith, a terrific computer analyst and researcher whose skills she will need sooner than she thinks.
Fern’s client, Tricia Scott, has commissioned Fern to paint the cover for her soon-to-be-published religious inspirational book. When she invites Fern to her son’s wedding, Fern drags Stella along to the event, held at the gaudy Rosscairn Castle Bed and Breakfast, built in 1915 by a millionaire to be a sized-down replica of Bonny Prince Charlie’s summer home. There’s enough Black Watch plaid and ceremonial swords to create a formal but gloomy atmosphere.
It’s a day off for Stella, or at least she thinks so as she surveys the assemblage gathered on a tented side lawn. After half an hour of waiting, Stella’s antenna twitch when the maid of honor appears and urges the innkeeper to follow her back into the house. Stella escapes to find a ladies room, but follows the sound of agitated voices to a room at the end of the hall and pushes the door open.
” ‘Dead’ and ‘Bride’ don’t belong in the same sentence, but this bride was dead.”
And readers are off and running with Stella, who juggles her night-time undercover drug-buying duties with a secondment to the murder investigation of Justine Bradley, headed up by the handsome Lieutenant Anselmo Morales. The bride has been poisoned, resulting in a horrific death, and Stella is determined to uncover her murderer to prove to her boss she can handle being a permanent part of the murder team.
With her evenings filled with her partner, Fredericks, a foodie who regales Stella with his cuisine and dinner parties, Stella juggles walks with her dog, Merle, with her daytime investigating with Morales. She also hits up Hogan for needed background research, which put them in several interesting situations.
What comes to light during the bride’s autopsy sets off an unusual chain of events that will bring all of those at the wedding under the microscope.
Things become even more complicated with the arrival of Jax Covas, a man with more than the hint of a pirate about him due to his black patch over his left eye, whom Fern met at the wedding. He has promised to rebuild her chicken coop and garden but Stella thinks there’s chemistry between her grandmother and the courtly gent.
Pullen does an admirable job of plausibly crossing plot lines between the various characters. She also illustrates the danger and intrigue of the world of drugs to those who sell it and those who become enslaved to it.Her North Carolina setting springs to life, too. There’s danger, romance, and more than a fair bit of Stella’s dry humor as readers become engaged with this resourceful and interesting character.Athor Margaret Maron says: “Pullen combines good suspense with such nice touches of humor that this strong debut promises to turn into a habit-forming series.”