And with Carolina Slade, an amateur sleuth despite her job description that includes "investigation" on behalf of the US Department of Agriculture, suspense and risk are necessities -- they keep Slade happy, and they connect her to a pro investigator, her romantic partner Wayne Largo.
So when a radio host takes Slade along to witness a newly discovered corpse and pushes her to follow the trail of possible corruption within the USDA, that should be a happy moment, right?
Ooops. Not this time. Slade's seriously confused about her relationship with Wayne (and it's getting worse), her boss is determined to strip her of any investigatory possibilities, her co-workers are under threat because she can't handle all of this, and the crime field is widening with every moment that she's forced to spend detouring around those roadblocks.
I've been a fan of C. Hope Clark's mysteries since the start of her Carolina Slade mysteries, set in the coastal Lowcountry of South Carolina, where community has Kevlar-strong threads and knotted webs of connection, much like my home terrain of Vermont. For example, Slade's contacts tug her into a coffee gathering right away, to set her straight on what she needs to resolve (as well as the murder):
I then studied the women. "Hello, I'm Carolina Slade. Which one of you is Mrs. Cassie Abrams?"And that's the least of the misstatements, accusations, and threats Slade's going to have to cope with. Meanwhile, she may mess up her personal life even further.
The one who raised her hand held the coarsest stare. Gray-headed, hair up in a bun, the charcoal pants outfit hinted her new role as widow. "I am she. And you have some accounting to do."
"Pardon me?" This felt more like an ambush. Made me wonder how much Lottie had exacerbated her story to draw this crew. ... [I turned my] attention to Cassie, who chose to continue speaking in lieu of letting me give the accounting she'd just demanded.
"That vamp y'all put in your office here. Despicable. Manipulative. You planted her, I say. Using her ways to entice our men to come in, sign on more debt, then y'all take all this credit for serving Newberry. Even confiscate our land."
C. Hope Clark is a pro with lines of tension, twist of plot, and above all, a protagonist whose courage and pain are front and center. I couldn't put this one down.
No, you don't need to read the others in the series (or Clark's other series, the Edisto Island books) to enjoy this one. And they do keep getting better ... but I'm guessing after you savor this one, you'll want the set. Classic amateur sleuth work, with extra high suspense and personal challenges. What's not to like? (As long as it's in the book, not in the living room, right?)
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.