I live in a northern state, so the illegal immigration problem that plagues south western border states isn’t really on my radar. Reading Body Heat, which dealt with this problem and the emotions surrounding it was a real eye opener for me. I am far from an expert now, but do feel I have a bit more of a grasp on what people in the far lower 48 are sometimes thinking and feeling about this controversial issue.
Murder is never a good thing, but what is happening in Police Chief Sophia St. Claire’s back yard is a complete nightmare. Twelve Mexican nationals have been killed crossing the border, all shot at point blank range. The killer is making no effort to hide what he has done, showing that he is clearly out to make a point. But the only point people in Bordertown seem to be getting is that Sophia is no closer to solving the crimes with a twelfth body piled in the morgue than she was with the first. And that little fact could cost her her job. Struggling to get along with the coroner, town council, and the detective from a neighboring community who has been assigned the case, the last thing Sophia needs is for some maverick from a private agency to start messing around in her crime scenes. Especially a maverick she has some bad history with.
Roderick Guerrero has no desire to go back to a hometown that contained so much misery for him. As an elite member of Department Six, he is a man used to taking only those cases he wants – and those that pay well – and this looks like neither. But something pulls him back to face his demons, and one of those demons just happens to be Sophia. She may not want to work with him, but his background (including his Hispanic heritage) makes him a far more qualified candidate to solve this case than anyone else working it. But Rod’s aversion to all things Bordertown begins to weaken as he sees the passion and devotion Sophia brings to her job. Once this case is over will he be able to just walk away from the girl who once so easily walked away from him?
Novak weaves a really compelling tale of how difficult things become when people break laws, even for good reasons. I had no idea just how much crime had sprung up around the immigration issue and it was interesting to read about the dangers of safe houses and coyotes, the problems with drug mules and gangs and all the other “businesses” that have come up around the simple act of crossing from one border to another. Equally interesting was the very real issues that ranchers face, from the trash left behind and the cattle killed by people trespassing through their land. I thought Novak did a really good job of painting neither side as the bad guys; there were difficult and compelling problems to work through on both sides of the issue.
Equally well handled was the issue of Rod’s parentage. As a bastard child of a Mexican migrant worker and a wealthy rancher, Rod’s very existence had been a slap in the face to his father’s legitimate family. I liked how humanly everyone responded – there was no glossing over of the difficulties, no one big happy family moment to make it all better. Things were strained for a reason and any healing done was done very, very slowly and carefully. It just all rang very true for me.
Rod himself was an interesting character, full of drive and ambition but good about working with others. He was a former SEAL, but that wasn’t thrown in our face as often as it is with many SEAL books. It was a point of pride for his father, and a source of self-satisfaction (in a good way) for him. But it didn’t serve as some shortcut to define the character so much as it explained a lot of his toughness and can-do attitude. Once the romance portion got going, I thought Rod seemed real – not overly romantic, but with feelings that were very deep and giving toward the object of his affection.
Sopia, however, was a problem for me. I got whip lash watching her go back and forth from competent to complete twit. The way she handled her “professional” relationships really didn’t earn a lot of respect from me, nor did the way she could break and enter one moment and then congratulate herself the next for not murdering someone in cold blood. I know the west is supposed to be a bit wild, but I bet even there they expect their chief of police to be law abiding. Her background also just didn’t ring true for me. And call me cantankerous, but what she did to Rod in the past pegged her as a “mean girl” for me throughout the book.
The mystery of the book was well handled for the most part, even if the ending did seem a bit melodramatic. I found the setup for the ultimate reveal to be good, and there were enough red herrings to keep you guessing till near the end.
Much about this book was average, but solid writing, especially the deft handling of the controversies surrounding Rod’s family and the immigration issues, pushed it into more memorable territory. I would recommend it to any romantic suspense fan looking for a tale that contains a little more than the usual cops and robbers story line.