This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Genres: Mystery Romance, Romantic Suspense
Published by Montlake Romance
Released on March 17, 2020
Home was a place of dark memories and a painful past, but now Detective Bree Taggert has rushed back after a frantic call from her younger sister only to discover Erin is dead and her husband, Justin, is missing and a person of interest to the county sheriff’s department. Jumping into a new Melinda Leigh series was something I did with all the excitement of a five year old with a pile of birthday presents to unwrap. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to love what I got.
Cross Her Heart is book one of the new Bree Taggert series, but it wasn’t far into the story that I had a sense of familiarity and realized that the setting was in the same world (county) as the earlier written Scarlett Falls trilogy and its spin off the Morgan Dane series. There are even a couple crossover bits that fans will enjoy spotting though readers new to the author and her backlist can rest assured that this can be picked up and started without feeling anything is missing.
Retired Sheriff’s K-9 deputy, Mike Flynn and his retired service dog, Brody, went to pick up his friend for his addiction meeting and gets no response at the door. He goes around back to find the door open and a horrific scene in the bedroom. Justin’s wife, Erin, lies murdered on the floor. Interim sheriff and everyone else are certain it was Justin. Mike has known Justin since they were kids and that the guy was deeply in love with his wife and would never have done this. But, it looks bad with Justin missing.
Mike doesn’t trust, but few at the sheriff’s department after his boss the sheriff got brought down for corruption and several were likely complicit. He’s pretty sure the career-ending shots caused by friendly fire at him and Brody being ‘accidentally’ sent in through the wrong door at a scene were meant to get rid of one who was a witness and threat to the sheriff before he was brought down. Mike has no idea how many of the sheriff’s loyal crew are left in the department, but he knows for a fact that the patrol officer captain promoted into the temp job of sheriff is in over his head with this murder case.
Bree is a tough Philly homicide detective and arrives in her hometown after a cryptic, scared voice message from her sister, Erin, brings her running. Their family’s dark past of her parents’ murder-suicide and domestic abuse affected them all differently and caused Bree to be reared away from her siblings. They were all slightly distant from each other, but kept in touch. Now she has a grieving teenage nephew and young niece who need her and the potential for their father, her sister’s big past mistake to show up and claim them. She is determined to find their mother’s killer and is slowly grasping how Erin’s death has just changed her life. Mike Flynn is adamant his best friend didn’t do it and she can see his concern about the investigation. They team up and go on the trail of a killer who is watching her closely and just as determined not to let her get close to the truth.
Like with her older series, this one offers the complete package of a complex storyline, characters’ backstories, and a writing style that is deceptively simple and easy to read. I enjoy the ease of slipping into her books and getting behind a tough, but intelligent heroine like Bree Taggert. She is skilled and has her weaknesses like her fear of Mike’s K-9 partner or what is sparking between her and Mike, but she isn’t stupid and does the best she can with all the emotion load she is carrying. Mike is also a sympathetic main character just trying to figure out his life after his career is taken from him. He’s good with training dogs and he has good instincts about people. He’s reliable and best of all, he was able to treat Bree as an equal partner in their private investigation.
Bree and Mike definitely have something together, but I enjoyed that its still a tiny flame at this point. They are in the middle of an emotional case and grieving. They didn’t trust each other’s motives at first or methods. The author wisely didn’t try to force the attraction, but will let it unwind over the course of the series.
Like her earlier books, the investigation is not a plot in isolation. There are surrounding layers. Justin’s drug addiction, family grief, past family tragedy, conspiracy in the sheriff’s department, threat of a custody battle, and adjustment to new reality.
Besides Mike and Bree who share the narration as main characters, there are several other great characters. The kids, Bree’s brother Adam, Bree’s former detective partner Dana who comes to help out mostly at home with her delicious cooking, Marge, the sheriff’s department secretary who knows everything and everyone, Mike’s confidential informant and also a drug dealer. It was colorful cast who I look forward to seeing in future series books. There was a quick cameo from a favorite character in an older series and I hope we get more of those cameos and crossovers in future.
The murder itself had me scratching my head over motive for the longest time. It was literally just before the reveal that I caught a glimmer, but by then, it was in the open. Clever mystery with a few suspects and a steady trail of clues. There are a few check ins with the killer that don’t do more than offer flashes of their thinking. When the reveal came, my mind shot back to the little things that should have led me there and I could appreciate how the author fooled me to the end.
All in all, it was riveting and I was always reluctant to put it down. It’s a great start to a new series and I can’t wait for more. Romantic suspense and thriller romance fans who like it moderately gritty with a well developed plot and cast of characters should give this a go.
Incidentally, I read this as a Buddy Read with Anne @ Books Are My Heart for the COYER Winter Friends Buddy Readathon. I had a blast reading along and shooting comments back and forth as we discussed our impressions along the way. Pretty fun that we both squeed over the same fun surprise. In the end, we were on the same page about it all and gave it the same rating. Don’t forget to check out Anne’s tour stop and review that posts on March 12th at her blog.
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