For Julia Gooden, the job comes first. That makes her a challenging character, when you consider she's also a mom to two small boys -- in fact, almost a single mom, since she's only starting to consider letting her estranged husband back into the family's life.
Her career also pits her directly against her husband David at this moment, as he is the prosecutor taking a mob figure to trial, determined to keep witnesses and testimony secret for as long as possible, to secure the safety of those on the stand. When a rival newspaper picks up details that Julia might have exposed if only she didn't have to be so careful of her husband's position, her own job prospects take a hard blow. But that's nothing compared to the violence and risk ahead, as her efforts to keep her family safe take her behind the crime scenes, into serious conflicts of interest.
Adding yet another layer of suspense and darkness to Julia's life is her past: not just the years when her marriage "worked" but also the childhood crushed by the kidnapping of her brother, who still hasn't been found -- one reason, in fact, that she's kept her "maiden" name despite marrying.
All this comes to a head in a hospital room, as Julia wonders whether David can even hear her trying to encourage him to recover from an act of terror -- and steps into deep trouble through a routine gesture:
She notices a cardboard box containing David's belongings on a stand next to the bed, including his clothing he had carefully selected for big day one of the trial. Julia inspects the items in the box: David's cell phone, wallet, blue suit coat and dress pants, white button-down shirt with the gold stripes she picked for him just hours earlier. ... Julia tucks the box under her arm as Dr. Whitcomb pokes his head inside the door.What Julia will later find on that significant cell phone shifts the balance in this intense thriller, and will also affect her interactions with a local police detective. Layer after layer, she's got to figure out who around her is trustworthy -- and whose duplicity is going to wound her yet again.
"Ms. Gooden, I'm afraid it's time to leave."
Julia leans in close to David and whispers in his ear, "I love you. Fight with all you've got."
And, oh yes, somehow save her job, if possible.
This is a fast-moving and suspenseful tale, with enjoyable complications and twists throughout. Julia Gooden won't be my favorite character of the month -- I didn't like some of her choices, to the point where I wouldn't actually want her as a friend. But that's OK: I still want to follow her investigations, here and in future books of the series.
I also get the strong impression that Haseldine -- a former crime reporter herself -- is positioned to get steadily stronger in this genre. Worth going along for the ride!
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.