A New Hampshire private eye in Florida with her boyfriend works an off-the-books case—the search for a blackmailer—in this mystery.
Sarah Woods just got her private investigator’s license mere weeks ago, but she’s in Palm Beach for pleasure. More specifically, for alone time with her boyfriend, Max Stevens, already in Florida updating a security system for real estate mogul Dennis Foster. Sarah’s a bit concerned about her beau working with Jennifer Healy, his ex and Dennis’ personal assistant, who recommended Max for the job. But the detective will soon have her hands full: after Dennis dies from a sudden heart attack, his widow, Brook, asks for Sarah’s help in finding someone who had blackmailed her with photographic evidence of an affair. Brook’s paid off the blackmailer but now wants the person identified, especially because the leverage is gone. Sarah has her more seasoned partner, Carter, fly down, and the two start their investigation with the likely suspect of Angela, Dennis’ estranged daughter who happens to despise her stepmom, Brook. Delving deeper into the case, Sarah uncovers secrets that point to other prospective blackmailers. And she can’t help but be distracted by Jennifer, whose apparent grief over Dennis’ death seems to be an excuse to get closer to Max and maybe drive a wedge between the couple. Jennings’ (The Art of Duplicity, 2013, etc.) novel takes a curious approach to the familiar scene of a character dropping dead at a dinner party, as it sparks not a murder mystery but a blackmail case. Sarah is engrossing, fully embracing her few shortcomings. She and Carter, for one, aren’t above violating the law to resolve the case (a little breaking and entering, perhaps), while distrustful Sarah furtively peruses one of Max’s texts. The protagonist’s first-person narrative is dry, perfectly suited for private eye Sarah, as if she’s mentally checking only pertinent details, like someone’s attire or lack of social skills. But it does nothing for her relationship with Max; their intimacy is a simple “roll in the hay,” giving potential infidelity minute impact. Readers will likely guess a plot turn or two, but there are enough to keep the story moving at a delightfully steady pace.
A quick but diverting read, sublimely led by a grounded detective who earns her series.