A swiftly paced murder mystery anchored by two charming, hardworking detectives.
Cassie Maltos, a troubled teenage shoplifter with a rap sheet, has issues with just about every authority figure imaginable. When she and her mother are discovered murdered in their home, juvenile probation officers Christian Vargas and Daniel O’Callahan are immediately assigned to investigate the double homicide. Vargas has a personal stake in apprehending the vicious murderer: She’s spent years coaching Cassie to avoid the manipulations of her thuggish boyfriend, Tommy Calander, and focus on her singing talents and long-term goals. Although Cassie’s father, Jim, is initially a prime suspect, author O’Rorke (Always Another Dawn, 2000) ably provides a bevy of other possibilities, including a mysterious man involved in the meth trade. Vargas, who attends psychotherapy sessions to process her traumatic childhood, sleuths the case like a pro, tailing some Mustang auto-club members and a teenage truant named Lilly Host, who offers up Cassie’s diary for leads. The detectives soon end up at the Desert Evangelist Church, whose communicants speak in tongues and where Cassie was a member of the church youth group. It’s led by slimy minister Jason Roads, a man with a rap sheet for indecency. As Vargas and O’Callahan probe further, they find their own lives in jeopardy. O’Rorke, a Washington state–based mental health therapist specializing in high-risk teenagers, knows her mystery’s terrain well and brings her expertise to bear on the labyrinthine plot. She also stokes some much-needed romantic tension between Vargas and the handsome, soon-to-be-divorced O’Callahan; her new beau, Matt, livens things up further. Although the action culminates in a conclusion that some readers may find overly complicated, this inaugural entry in the author’s new mystery series is a creatively conceived, rousing whodunit.
A well-crafted suspense procedural with promise and potential.