In Blake’s debut thriller, an art teacher is suspected of murder as she tries to avoid becoming the real killer’s next victim.
Brookefield College professor Bianca James’ quiet night alone in her classroom comes to a startling conclusion when she finds a dead body in the storage area. She didn’t know the victim—fill-in custodian Lisette Divac, dead from a gunshot—but Riley’s Peak, Pennsylvania, police chief Carmichael thinks that she might have pulled the trigger. It is a bit odd that Bianca, who unsuccessfully tried to revive Lisette, later threw out her own bloody clothes. But Carmichael’s suspicion could also have political motives, as quickly wrapping up the case could help garner him a senate seat; it could also be more personal, due to his anger over Bianca’s association with an ex-cop—her ex-boyfriend, Dylan Tierny. Complicating matters is Finn, Dylan’s brother, who’s also the detective working the murder case. He and Bianca share a mutual attraction, which doesn’t slip past the envious, frequently drunk Dylan. Meanwhile, Bianca and her math professor friend, Maris Romero, compile their own suspect list, which includes psychiatrist Jewel Glasser, Dylan’s girlfriend, who clearly dislikes Bianca. Finn, however, has a theory that Bianca, not Lisette, may have been the killer’s intended target. This is seemingly validated when someone leaves a threat in her freezer: a paintbrush with “U R NEXT” written on the handle. The author provides a stable foundation for her story by filling in the characters’ backgrounds. Finn, for example, had serious trouble back at his old Pittsburgh job, and Bianca’s distrust of police stems in part from the insensitive way an officer handled her late mother’s personal effects years ago. The romance between Bianca and Finn has a steady, rewarding build, and also seems true to life; the stubborn woman and overprotective man even have the occasional tiff, with Bianca hanging up the phone on him more than once. Blake wisely allows the drama between the players to take precedence over the standard mystery elements. The prose, rather appropriately, is often colorful, as when Bianca sees Jewel “creeping toward her, hatred burning in her gold-flecked, green eyes.”
A murder mystery fueled by melodrama and a vibrant cast of characters.