Wednesday, February 19, 2014

J. T. Ellison, WHEN SHADOWS FALL: Forensic Detection and Suspense

[Note: Publication date Feb. 25 -- a good time to preorder, or to ask a local independent bookstore to be sure to stock this title!]

It's time for forensic pathologist and investigator Dr. Samantha Owens to take a break from the losses and stress of front-line detection (see Edge of Black and A Deeper Darkness), so she's accepted a teaching slot at Georgetown University, while her lover, Xander (Alexander Whitfield), nurtures her recovery with weekends at a forest retreat with their affectionate dog. Or at least, that's how she thought things were heading. But the arrival of a letter from a man she's never heard of, Timothy Savage, throws everything off kilter. Savage is begging her to investigate his own death -- a death that's only just taken place, and that's already been deemed "self-inflicted."

But it's not. And to go with that discovery, Sam finds that the deceased has a will with a bunch of legatees who turn out to be connected to the years of crimes and disappearances -- as well as a kidnapping demanding the immediate attention of the team she's suddenly working with. There may even be a chance to save other lives along the way:
She looked down at her hands and realized she was covered in blood. Davidson looked down at her, and silently handed her his handkerchief.

She wiped her hands on it, watching the white stain red.

His voice was shaky and she realized he was fighting back tears. Her estimation of him went up a few notches. He swiped at his eyes.
At stake for the investigation: the life of a child, and maybe the lives of five other children taken previously. At stake for Sam: her emotional stability, as she wrestles with the loss of her own husband and child from the past, the effects of previous investigations on her soul, and how to handle a love relationship she can't quite commit to, while also juggling two jobs and confronting a violent and twisted religious group that sure looks like a cult. Not to mention emotional complications with other investigators on her team, too:
She thought about his words. Having this conversation with Fletcher was utterly bizarre, but she sensed he wanted to have it. They'd been dancing around it for months. She knew Fletcher had feelings for her. She simply never acknowledged them. It was too much to deal with -- she'd had two years of grief and numbness, and suddenly, three months ago, in the course of a single week, she'd lost another man she used to love and, while investigating his death, found Fletcher and Xander. Two wonderful men who were both good for her, in their own ways.

Two loves lost. And two found. But only one made her heart sing.
Obvious comparisons, because of the forensics aspect, are to crime fiction by Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell, plus Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series. But Ellison writes very differently from all of these; her investigator, Sam Owens, is refreshingly sane and balanced, and her decisions work toward solving the crime, rather than toward increasing her own pain. Count on thriller-speed action with a complex but emotionally accessible investigator who grows and changes as she increases her own capabilities and the success of her team. Ellison often teams up with Catherine Coulter, and the strong story strands and supportive threads of romance reflect that expertise. If you're new to the series, you'll still be able to enjoy WHEN SHADOWS FALL without extra explanation; if you're already following it, this is an eminently satisfying addition to the earlier Sam Owens investigations.

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