Fear the Darkness: Becky Masterman Sunday, Mar 1 2015 

FearDarkness
Becky Masterman took readers by storm with her retired FBI agent, Bridget Quinn, the protagonist of 2013’s Rage Against the Dying, which introduced the feisty newlywed in a suspenseful debut. She returns to Tucson with Bridget and her husband, Carlo, in this year’s Fear the Darkness, and it’s every bit as suspenseful and compelling as the first.

Much has been made of having a 50+ protagonist as the center of a series, and it’s a refreshing change to see a strong woman who knows her own mind and can give as good as she gets in many circumstances. With Carlo’s history as a lapsed priest, Bridget is trying out a church with him, and making friends in the community. Their life with their two pugs is starting to settle into suburban bliss when her ill sister-in-law dies, and Bridget’s brother begs them to take in his seventeen-year-old daughter for the summer to complete the residency requirement for college. The couple’s trip to Florida for the funeral gives readers a glimpse into Bridget’s family and background, and when Gemma Kate arrives, it’s bound to change the dynamic of their home.

With Gemma Kate suddenly thrust upon them, the adjustment period is rocky right from the start. And then one of their beloved pugs almost dies just as Bridget agrees to investigate the death of local couple’s son. Could the pugs illness been a deliberate poisoning by Gemma Kate? Was the boys death a suicide, a tragic accident, or a case of murder?

Bridget and Carlo soon realize they don’t really know the stranger in their midst, family or not, nor what she’s really capable of–and then Bridget starts to have unusual medical symptoms just as her investigation heats up and she will have to call on all of her skills and training.

How the two are connected will come as a surprise to most readers, and that’s one of the skills Masterman employs in this thoroughly satisfying outing. Auntie M enjoyed seeing another side of Carlo, the professor Bridget loves, and how this later-in-life marriage and its adjustments affects them both. Entertaining and quickly read, this sequel is another thrilling winner.

Karen Pullen: Cold Feet Sunday, Feb 3 2013 

NC author Karen Pullen introduces readers to SBI agent Stella Lavender in this first of a planned series, Cold Feet.517MZsVDAdL

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.”

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