The scorched remains of a body in the woods leads a Montana deputy to a sex-trafficking cult in this thriller.
Residents of Monastery Valley spent much of August battling wildfires. So they quickly notice smoke coming from the forest during the community’s Labor Day fireworks show. Looking into the matter, Deputy Andi Pelton finds a smoldering cabin. The human bones among the rubble could be the result of an accident, but clues found at the scene later upgrade the case to murder. Around the same time, Andi’s psychologist boyfriend, Ed Northrup, sees a female patient who displays signs of multiple personalities and cryptically tells him, “Bishop burned the lady in the fire.” Instead of the woman returning for treatment, Ed receives an anonymous note implying she’s been kidnapped. Ritual aspects to the murder point to a cult’s involvement. So Ed, who’s treated cult survivors, joins the investigation. It’s soon apparent that the potential cult and Ed’s enigmatic patient are somehow tied to sex trafficking. Ed and Andi’s personal lives are already in disarray, as she remains reluctant to accept his marriage proposal. And the case isn’t making things any easier, particularly after an unauthorized cleanup of the crime scene and the inexplicable disappearance of evidence. As in earlier novels in Percy’s (Nobody’s Safe Here, 2016, etc.) series, dynamic characters are immersed in fully engaging melodrama. In this third installment, Andi and Ed’s relationship is complicated by her attraction to a deputy and the psychologist’s unconcealed jealousy. Likewise, Ed’s 17-year-old adopted daughter, Grace, is anticipating losing her virginity during Homecoming festivities. The mystery is initially riveting, especially the intermittent perspectives from the ambiguous but unsettling baddies. But the latter half loses a bit of steam: Readers will likely foresee a plot turn well before Andi does. Still, the author’s confident writing turns seemingly mundane scenes into memorable moments, as when Ed’s new truck horn at a parade, “which could’ve served a tug boat in a night hurricane,” inadvertently silences the cheering crowd.
New and recurring characters alike reinforce this solid mystery series installment.