From the hills of Santa Barbara to a liaison in Nicaragua, Smith’s (The Psychology of Sex & Gender, 2006) energetic mystery, the first in a planned series, pieces together a fast-paced tale of murder and love.
After a well-to-do screenwriter claims to have accidentally discovered the gory remains of a beautiful young woman at Painted Cave, in Santa Barbara, Calif., Detective Robin Crane—a smart, ambitious and attractive single mother—is assigned as primary detective on the case. Partnered with her ex-boyfriend Detective Doug Debayle (with whom she’s still in love), Robin leads the investigation, and the two are aided by the expert forensic guidance of a no-nonsense medical examiner. Meanwhile, an older case resurfaces with possible connections: A young woman named Sara Castillo had been killed in a supposed car accident on a foggy night in 2006. It turns out that both of the victims were beautiful Latina students with strikingly similar features. Enter professor Plask, a noted university academic who travels to Nicaragua for anthropological research and who, it is soon discovered, has questionable forays with his female students. Could the publicly respected professor be involved? Or is the screenwriter who discovered the body at Painted Cave setting the stage for a twisted new script of his own? This whodunit mainly focuses on trying to capture the nefarious villain, culminating in a horrific—and surprising—tragedy and subsequent arrest. Smith adds splashes of romance as the detectives dig their way through evidence with some bantering and sexual tension. The book brings to mind episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, with changing dates and characters that can be a bit dizzying at first (the old, unsolved murder begins in the prologue). However, the author clearly notes all dates in the chapter titles, and readers who persevere will soon see the connections among characters. A somewhat unexpected romantic conclusion, which comes quickly in the book’s epilogue, feels contrived, but it leaves the door open for further installments in the adventures of the gutsy Robin Crane.
A plot-driven tale of intrigue and human attraction.