A luxurious and lethal spa provides the setting for this debut thriller.
Most people wouldn’t accept an anonymous gift of a weeklong stay at an exclusive resort. But when former college professor and divorcée Charlotte “Charley” Anderson receives a calligraphed invitation to the famous Rancho Verde Spa in Santa Fe, she simply asks, “What time is check-in?” The hard-drinking New Yorker identifies herself as “new money.” A horrific accident 10 years ago scarred her physically as well as emotionally, but it also provided her with a multimillion-dollar settlement. However, her college fired her when it was revealed that she’d been having an affair with 19-year-old student Mark Bailey Elliot III. At the resort, Charley discovers that Mark’s late mother, Margaret, used to be a frequent visitor. She also finds out that Margaret and numerous other guests apparently became hooked on pills before committing suicide. Mark, who’s now married and living in Dallas, hasn’t seen Charley in a decade, but he still considers her the smartest woman he ever knew. He proves to be the financier of her spa stay, and he asks her to find out inside information about the place, which he thinks is linked to his mother’s death. PI Nash Pope, who speaks Spanish and some Navajo, also helps. Divorced Charley’s heart beats faster at the thought of being with Mark again, but a kidnapping alters those plans. The author gets points for delivering a flawed, feisty protagonist in this series starter: “Charley carried her scars like some people carry a .45—hidden, only brought out when needed.” Readers will also find the multicultural cast of characters to be welcome, and Long’s descriptions are vivid, detailing such things as a New Mexican landscape (“The soft colors of the sage and sand were backlit by the brightness of the red rock formations and the incredible blue of the sky”) and a pair of designer stilettos. The plot, however, is distractingly convoluted; even Charley marvels at everything she’s gone through.
A colorful but overly complex origin story of thrills, kills, and strong wills.